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Thursday, August 22, 2013

'Welcome to the Age of Denial'

Adam Frank wonders how it became "politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact" (this one is also in today's links):

Welcome to the Age of Denial, Commentary, NY Times: ...The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. ...

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.
During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today.
The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. ...
Behind the giant particle accelerators and space observatories, science is ..., simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.

I've been trying to think of some reasons why it might have changed:

  • The cranks have always been there, but today digital technology makes it easier to gain a platform.
  • The stakes are higher, so winning is the only thing.
  • Scientists have pushed too far and offered evidence as though it were fact, only to have to reverse themselves later (e.g. types of food that are harmful/helpful) eroding trust.
  • Science education is so bad that the typical reporter has no idea how to tell fact from "manufactured doubt," and the resulting he said, she said journalism leaves the impression that both sides have a valid point.
  • Scientists became too arrogant and self-important to interact with the lowly public, and it has cost them.
  • The political sphere has become ever more polarized and insular making it much easier for false ideas intended to promote political or economic gain to reverberate within the groups.
  • Nothing has really changed, old people always think their age was the golden one.

What else might have caused this? What's the most important factor?

    Posted by on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 01:40 AM in Economics, Politics, Science | Permalink  Comments (153)


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