Being an engineer, I value logic a great deal. Give me a free body diagram any day over needless emotional drama. But in watching the continuous political debate unfolds on TV, I’ve grown increasingly concerned over the past few years with what seems to be a movement away from facts, logic and science.
In years past, the true kooks of our society busied themselves with tales of conspiracy. Did man really walk on the moon? Were UFO aliens abducting people? Was a secret society controlling all of the planet’s governments? Today, the tin foil hat segment of society seems to have grown into something scarier—an almost mainstream political persuasion that has taken hold of certain aspects of the far right.
If you would have told me 10 or 15 years ago that we’d be debating evolution or the scientific method, I’d have laughed it off. But it’s no longer a laughing matter.
Maybe the roots of this come from the very polarized political climate we have been subjected to. The right has taken to calling the media “the liberal media,” and some writers and commentators have responded by overusing the old journalistic ideal of telling both sides of the story. While both sides of issues should be represented, a line in the sand has to be drawn for when one “side” of an issue ventures into the ridiculous.
If people wish to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old, that’s their prerogative. However, that doesn’t mean that mainstream science and accepted theories, such as evolution, are some sort of fringe possibilities. The same goes with climate change. And vaccinations. Just because a handful of children are diagnosed with autism near the time that they received a vaccination does not mean the two are related, no matter how sad a situation for the parents involved. Correlation does not imply causation, but that’s a concept far above the attention span of many people today. Not to mention that celebrities railing against vaccinations don’t even seem to know what sample size means.
Earlier this year, a presidential candidate made a comment that Barack Obama was a snob because he wanted everyone to have a chance to go to college. Now, we could have whole separate arguments about Obama himself and the ridiculous costs of college nowadays, but that’s for another column. What bothered me about that sentiment was how it seemed to further illustrate the idea that education—greater individual knowledge—was no longer something we should all strive for.
A recent study published in the American Sociological Review found that among self-identified conservatives, trust in the scientific community fell more than 25% between 1974 and 2010. Meanwhile, the level of trust remained consistent for both self-described liberal and moderate voters.
Maybe this whole phenomenon is a natural kind of a pendulum swinging back to the increasingly technological society we live in. But so much of this thinking seems to be centered in the U.S.—a country that is not found in the top 20 for math or science scores. In a time when manufacturers across the nation are complaining that there aren’t enough highly skilled workers available, perhaps it’s time to rethink our priorities. Or would that require too much logic?
Can we remain a manufacturing power while rejecting basic science?
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