I finally got around to reading the March issue of National Geographic, The War on Science, which examines why reasonable people doubt science. For us science fiction geeks, them is fighting words (metaphorically of course, I can’t run as fast as I used to). I’m one of those guys who thinks we should have clean fusion energy by now, and able to plan the next vacation at Playa-del-Mars. Why is water shortage even an issue anymore? Sigh. Never thought I’d actually see members of my fellow humanity view technical advancement as a bunch of mad scientists out to destroy the world.
Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted “If I were ever abducted by aliens, the first thing I’d ask is whether they came from a planet where people also deny science.”
Here’s what stood out for me in Joel Achenbach’s Nat Geo article.
“Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated by emotion, the biggest motivator remaining tight with our peers.”
Naysayers behave as if “… tribe is more important than truth,
Scientists behave as if “… truth is more important than the tribe.”
I believe a popular trope that best describes this situation is a Mexican standoff. As in the movie “Inglourious Basterds”, No Trust, No Deal.
Since the time humans collected in groups for safety and communal support, we’ve always had divided camps on important sociological matters. Being kicked out of the tribe, or worse, for thinking differently is a time-honored tradition of maintaining status quo. It took a few brave individuals and narrow escapes from burning at the stake to see progress. Just proving the world wasn’t flat claimed way too many lives.
I understand the initial resistance during a time when humans clutched to survival with deeply embedded spiritual roots. They had a good reason. Life in general, sucked. In many parts of the world, it still does. The last beneficiary of scientific and technological advancement was the common folk. Things didn’t get better until a couple of centuries ago. When it did, the net result was explosive human population growth. Anybody see a parallel here?
Achenbach’s article spoke mostly of American secular polarity, with egalitarian folks suspicious of industrial science on one side, and hierarchal industry leaders suspicious of government meddling on the other. Neither case is completely unjustified. All roads forward has had its share of rapacious potholes, but Achenbach tiptoed around the real elephant-in-the-room; the challenges science has thrust upon belief structures nurtured for thousands of years. Humans lucky to occupy the third tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are stuck on love and belonging. It’s that village thing. Folks just got off the ground floors of physical need and safety, a place where too many people still live. Those who can, pretend to play with esteem on the fourth floor, but are quick to return home to friends and family.
Naysayers tend to forget science is what made their lives better. Science tends to forget like-minded peers often influence naysayers.
Achenbach mentioned a primary plot string from the movie Interstellar, with a “downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, and school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.” Yeah, it’s just a movie, and I like dystopian stuff like that, but the subtle message is that a herd instinct of ignoring science is just as dangerous, if not more so, as the potential to engineer our own doom.
Until we humans get comfortable with straying from the familial refuge of our social village, we’re going to have to accept the presence of a few safety nets in our quest for scientific progress. Meanwhile, folks have to poke-up from their underground burrows to see what the new day has brought without scampering back in fear the light will bring six more weeks of winter.
Science and its naysayers need to build a little trust with each other. We should all be working on getting those trapped in Maslow’s basement, up to the fresh air, and focus on that which moves us forward, not what holds us back.
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