Science education vs. proud ignorance.

I was having an imaginary conversation with myself yesterday, debating the question of why not allow people to have their misguided pseudo-scientific beliefs. I was thinking about it in context of things like ghost-whispering psychics, and wheat grass juice, and Airborne supplements, etc. Things which seem harmless enough (except for Airborne. You risk vitamin E poisoning if you take the recommended dose).

And I came to a similar, although less dreadful conclusion as today’s Cectic comic:

Cectic 18 April 08

This is one very real consequence of unfounded belief in falsehoods.

What I thought about yesterday was: If a person lacks critical thinking to the point of believing in the conspiracy theories (after they’ve been shown the rational evidence–after all, some theories seem quite reasonable until you understand the science behind some things), falling for the latest “health solutions they don’t want you to know,” Secrets of the universe that allow you to get anything you want, ghosts of the dead that can’t seem to just say a person’s name but can still have some message for that person–what else will they believe when it comes to political decisions? Decisions that involve laws, policy, tax spending? What’s guiding their decisions regarding how our increasingly scientifically dependent society is to be managed?

Also, what might be slighted when ones resources are going toward quackery? How much money is this person spending on herbal remedies that have no more affect than placebo that could be better spent on just healthier food? How much of their money that they could be saving for education or a house, are they spending on books that tell them they can have anything they want if they wish hard enough? What useful and helpful charities and organizations could better use their time and money instead of John Edwards and Kevin Trudeau?

(I’ll be the first to admit I’m somewhat hypocritical in this. I don’t spend money that would be better saved for a down payment or retirement on quackery, but some local restaurants have a lot of it, as does the Hamburger Helper company. When I think about how much money I could be giving the JREF or the Center for Inquiry or the EFF, or an IRA or a saving’s account….)

There’s an absolutely fantastic video of biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss discussing science and education:


Their conversational focus is on the issues of belief in Creationism (and it’s disguised twin Intelligent Design), and how dangerous it is, ultimately, for people to live in the world that we do while hanging on to anti-science myths. Primarily leaders and policy makers, but ordinary people, parents. Teachers, and people who set education standards.

To paraphrase Krauss, 50% of Americans believe in Creationism. The Discovery Institute and fundamentalists would say this is evidence that we should “teach the controversy” in schools. Give kids both sides and let them decide. Well, nearly half of Americans also don’t know that the Earth goes around the sun and takes one year to do so. By their rationale we should also be teaching Earth-centered astrophysics alongside helio-centric model of the solar system.

Science education is not supposed to support ignorance, but disabuse people of it. When Krauss informs Dawkins that 90% of teachers in primary and secondary school science have not themselves had a science class beyond high school, Dawkins becomes livid. Gobsmacked from that information. We live in the most scientifically advanced age in which we must have the ability to think rationally and critically as our medicine depends on it, our economy depends on it, our health our methods of safe transportation our military and legal enforcement, our future as a species depends on our embracing science and understanding it as a tool of discovery and understanding the natural world we live in–and we dismiss it and abuse it as a culture.

And much of us our proud of it. Wearing their disdain for the tool of science and rationality like a badge of honor. Whether it’s the Creationist fundamental or the New Age woo proponent.

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