Science and politics

Interesting post at Daily Kos from their science correspondent, attacking the notion put about by some that science is dead. Apparently some dude on a right-wing blog made the claim that science has been dead since say 1850. DK responds:

I recommend you do not read the actual post on the Blogs for Bush site (That Jon is referring to), unless you're a masochist. The rant goes downhill from there, some of the comments are worse. The dingbat author's thesis is that science is 'dead,' that in fact science has been 'dead' since roughly 1850. Nothing to see here folks, ignore relativity and the atomic bomb, refuse that useless antibiotic and don't look at that flat-screen ...

Witty snarkisms aside, for rational conservative and centrist readers: I understand we may have profoundly fundamental differences in some matters of ideology, but I hope we can agree that this kind of shit is dangerous when and if it infects the powers that be. If the Blogs for Bush guy was just a lone wolf hysterically barking at the moon, it might be funny, it might be sad. Problem is, Bush and Rumsfeld and James Dobson and a third of the nation are out there with their eyes fully dilated yelping at the night sky with him.

The thing is, flat screen TVs, the atomic bomb etc. are technologies, not science.

And technology affects people in complex, multifaceted ways, not all of them desirable, even if we all could agree that science is desirable. As one of the comments to this post even points out:

In the forties, fifties and sixties there was excitement about things like space travel, men on the moon, James Bond high tech gadgetry, computers, and especially automobiles and other things that went really, really fast.

I can remember when people believed in science with a religious zeal. Guys read popular mechanics and tinkered with things in their basements, and in general we trusted our academic institutions to be like some sort of flawless priesthood, above the coruption of government and corporate funding and able to resist the corruption of the military industrial complex turning everything science came up with into some sort of weapon.

Then came "The Silent Spring", Earth day and concerns about overpopulation, polution, and war. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Challenger disaster began to give people second thoughts about where science was taking us.

Those things cost us our faith in science in the same way pedophilia in the priesthood makes some people a little more cynical about the advoce of their religious leaders.

An awareness of Global Warming and Nuclear Winters begain to turn perceptions of bright shiny science into something that always corroded its pipes and blew up its lab.

Most people have become dissillusioned with science. They think of it as something only a few really smart people understand and thus nothing to do with them.

Finally we got the corporate ludites who didn't want science messing up the bottom line. Industrial design has become all about the packaging and whats on the inside has become more or less irrelevant as long as somebody can sell it.

So no wonder people are skeptical of "science." Scientists have not only delivered a rather mixed bag of results (3 Mile Island, global warming). Add to that the claims that scientists have made that turn out to be misleading (such as on race-based drugs for example) and dispiriting ("evolution shows we live in a world without meaning or necessity for religion"--Richard Dawkins) and its likely that people will turn away from science, or at best learn the bare minimum they need to get through college.

A student said to me just last week "science is based on faith" (a mantra the creationists have used for years). There's nothing I would say that would persuade her of the truth of natural selection and descent with modification, mutation, genetic drift etc. But I know brow-beating her with the claim that science is the only way to know the world, and that it progressed from myth-religion-science surely won't do it. (Anybody feel we have left all myths and superstitions behind?)

We need a more realistic assessment of science as a human exercise of the creation of knowledge.

No comments: