Sunday, March 8, 2009

The End of Idiotocracy?

I am hoping, perhaps naively, that the anti-science anti-intellectual feelings that had permeated much of the higher echelons of the American government are finally being swept into the trash bin.

As has been documented in books such as Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science”, the late Bush administration not only downplayed the importance of science in informing policy decisions on complex issues, but that administration was openly hostile to science itself. They seemed to prefer simple reflexive answers to more thoughtful nuanced analysis and creative problem solving.

There are, of course, still a lot of stupid people in places of influence and a lot of stupider people willing to follow them. Why is that?

I don’t think the United States has a disproportionate number of stupid people. I simply feel the stupid people we have wield a disproportionate amount of power and influence.

Part of the problem, I think, can be traced to the American preoccupation with fairness. We often feel it necessary to give “equal time” to “both sides” of any given issue. While on the surface this tendency is well-intentioned and admirable, it misses a crucial point: in the scientific arena some ideas are simply better and are backed up by far more evidence than others. Evolution, for example. Any objective analysis of the evidence will show conclusively that evolution is the theory most consistent with the observed facts in an overwhelming number of scientific disciplines. Creationism and “intelligent design”? Not even close.

Yet, it is still felt by many that these “alternate” theories should be given “equal time” out of a sense of “fairness”. But that’s not how science works. A theory is either backed up by the facts or it isn’t. It has to EARN a place in the discussion through evidence. If “intelligent design” can be supported by hard evidence, let’s see it. I, as well as most who value truth, want to know what that truth is, even if it is ugly or inconvenient. In short, if there is evidence out there that some of my beliefs are wrong, I want to know about it. And if the evidence is convincing, I will alter my views to conform to this new knowledge.

Strangely, those who arrogantly think they know everything generally turn out to be the real idiots. Those with real brains readily concede they may be wrong.

I’m hearing whispers that “brains are back”. I certainly hope so!

1 comment:

  1. "We often feel it necessary to give “equal time” to “both sides” of any given issue."

    My mom thought that creationism should be given equal time in schools because "what's wrong with presenting both sides?"

    I asked her how far should it be taken. Would she want kids to learn "Christian mathematics"? That 2+2=4 only because God wants it to? Should "equal time", i.e., half the class be devoted to that?

    And I then reminded her that there are more than two theories on the origin of the universe. In addition to science and Christianity, should we also give "equal time" to every religion?