Friday, April 21, 2017

March for Science?

Did ancient astronauts perambulate on Earth?  Does the Full Moon influence human behavior?
Do we need  medicine to be evidence-based; or should we try some colon cleansing,  or a detox, or faith healing, or homeopathy, or Ayurveda based on quantum mysticism?

In the absence of facts and proof, people need something to cling on to, something to believe in. That's normal, and has historically determined a large part of human behavior. But in the last couple of centuries a discipline has been embraced that can separate fact from fiction: science. Science tells us what the result will be when  the natural world is acted on in a certain way - what happens if we strike a ball, or mix chemicals together - and often tells us why, in a logical, theoretical framework.
The West  embraced science, and it fueled the technological revolution of the last century. But there is much more to do; we need to cure harmful diseases, find efficient, non-polluting forms of energy, new materials, and to understand the environment.

But since I have been back in the USA, i.e., for the last 10 years, reason, in general, and science, in particular, have been  under particularly strong attack,  from people who can't accept proven facts. They are denying the science because it doesn't fit their beliefs or feelings or desires.

For example:

- Many people still don't believe in evolution; others think GMO is dangerous.
- Many people don't believe in climate change; others think vaccines are  dangerous.
- Many people believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old; others believe in astrology.

These beliefs don't tally with the demonstrated facts, and so people believing them live at least to some degree in an alternate reality.

The problem is that more and more people in power in the USA are not accepting these facts as well. They are ignoring established facts in setting policy, and sometimes don't even want the truth to be determined, and so they advocate axing the science research programs that find the facts out.

Take climate change. Arguing what, if anything, to do about it is one thing. That is politics.
Denying that it exists, or saying you don't want to know whether it exists (which is effectively what stopping climate research would do)  is another. That is dangerous.
And the same goes for other critical issues in health, technology, energy and the environment.

Now, I am probably not going to March for Science on Saturday, mainly because the marches do not appear to be just for science, but for other issues as well, such as  diversity, inclusion, equity etc; and in choosing Earth Day they seem to be choosing which science they support most. Not that I disagree with these other issues per se, but I think that they are complicated and deserve separate consideration.

More importantly, though: welcome back to ignorance, America; I guess you were never very far away from us.

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