Lately I’ve been following recent discoveries in the science news more than in the past. And I’ve realized, as I attempt to talk with other people about the stuff I find interesting, there is very little interest in science in general in our wider society. I am boring, and yet, to myself, this stuff is fascinating! Where is this disconnect coming from, this shrugging off disinterest at best, antagonism at worst, toward the best method in our possession as humans for gaining an understanding of our world?
Our brains are extremely belief sensitive, and this knowledge draws me to science in a way I can’t explain. Imagine what it is like to become a person that is not only skeptical about the world around them but about their own ideas, so that they understand the illogic that makes themselves them, or me me. I question myself on my views, such as with my views about racism, sexism, homophobia–am I seeing these things clearly enough or too clearly? It is easy to see a boogie man where there is none. But I have to say, even atheists, although logical, from my observation frequently are not logical enough when it comes to themselves–which makes me wonder about me. I think it is sometimes easier to see outside of ourselves more clearly than we see ourselves. People are emotional. We tie our thoughts into our emotions, especially those strong chemical emotions based in our memories. Am I missing something, I ask myself, some truth about myself?
I read an article in Shermer’s eSkeptic periodical today that grabbed my interest (as much as his stuff does!): Denialist Demagogues and the Threat to Science. The article is a review of a book by James L. Powell on the general reaction to the science of climate change called The Inquisition of Climate Change. Frightening how adamantly people deny climate change is a reality. It’s not even an area for debate in the scientific world, even conservative scientists knowing it is real. But scientists are painted as left-wing liberal conspirators, driven by a desire for riches and pushing a liberal agenda. This despite most scientists being too interested in their science to give much attention to politics at all, almost across the board. Scientists simply aren’t interested in politics. There are no riches to be found in science, except metaphorically speaking in reference to knowledge. But interestingly, there is a disparity in pay for the science professions when compared to those of the people who attack science with their rhetoric the most vocally, such as businessmen and politicians. Most scientists spend 5-7 years in grad school only to make teacher’s salaries or receive fragile “soft money” grants to do their research; lucky if they are one of the few to get a six figure salary as they near their retirement as scientists. What scientists as a whole do pursue is the truth, but people cannot sift through their own perceptions based in belief to understand this concept. They can only understand scientists as they understand themselves. Their minds are clouded by their own perceptions. So all kinds of ulterior or manipulative motives, often their own, are ascribed to scientists.
Knowing fundamentalism well, I personally think some of these people probably think Satan is at work in science, with His Satanic hands over those of the scientists. Donald Prothero, the geologist reviewing Powell’s book, quotes Powell regarding this conservative belief that scientists have an agenda and support “belief” in something–such as an anti-God agenda or an agenda to destroy America as we know it:
Scientists…show no evidence of being more interested in politics or ideology than the average American. Does it make sense to believe that tens of thousands of scientists would be so deeply and secretly committed to bringing down capitalism and the American way of life that they would spend years beyond their undergraduate degrees working to receive master’s and PhD degrees, then go to work in a government laboratory or university, plying the deep oceans, forbidding deserts, icy poles, and torrid jungles, all for far less money than they could have made in industry, all the while biding their time like a Russian sleeper agent in an old spy novel? Scientists tend to be independent and resist authority. That is why you are apt to find them in the laboratory or in the field, as far as possible from the prying eyes of a supervisor. Anyone who believes he could organize thousands of scientists into a conspiracy has never attended a single faculty meeting.
Powell’s main point is that the current right-wing attack on climate science is very similar to how the Inquisition threatened Galileo because he spoke truth to power. Ironically, Rick Perry even managed to further emphasize his ignorance of science when in a recent debate he said he admired Galileo and how he “was outvoted for a while.” Bad analogy, Rick! If Perry actually knew any science, he would realize that Galileo was championing an unpopular scientific idea (heliocentric solar system) that was “outvoted” by the conservative power of that time, the Catholic Church and the Inquisition. Eventually, scientific truth won out, not the political delusions of the conservatives.
What’s crazy is these climate change scientists receive death threats, with one climate change scientist finding a dead animal lying on his doorstep. A dead animal. For some reason I don’t think it was intended to be interpreted like a rat gift from a cat… As though these scientists are some kind of activists. Maybe they are? Activists for the truth. Check out these articles on the death threats received by climate scientists, so intimidating they have begun to disguise their identities from the public!:
Sometimes I think we live in a world of apes with the ability to speak, and we call ourselves humans, but we are really just another kind of ape that has gone insane and is now aware of our existence and mortality…but we are still just animals mainly acting on instinct…and we must destroy any perceived threats to our manufactured reality and identities.
Science is not a belief, no more than atheism is a belief in nothing. But people insist on this because they MUST fit science and atheism into their own box. It is how they are able to integrate it into their belief systems. Why do I personally love science? Because, I can’t get outside of my perception, but science brings me closest to seeing through the fog of human bias. As Prothero writes:
There may be biases in our perceptions, and we may want to find data that fits our preconceptions about the world, but if science is done properly, we get a real answer, often one we did not expect. That’s the true test of when science is giving us a reality check: when it tells us something we do not want to hear, but is inescapable if one follows the scientific method and analyzes the data honestly.
Thomas Henry Huxley said it best over 150 years ago: “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”