Saturday, August 24, 2013

The age of denial

Physics professor Adam Frank writes in a NY Times op-ed that we are in an age of denial:
Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.
Well-funded? Hardly. Nearly all the money is in anti-creationism evolution, such as this UC Berkeley site. There is not one school district in the USA teaching creationism. There used to be a class at Ball State University that included intelligent design among many other readings, but a campaign to fire the professor has resulted in the class being canceled.

Frank would be more persuasive if he could give an example of a scientific fact being denied.
So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.
Compliance with the recommended schedule of 20 or so vaccinations dropped to 94% in Oregon. Those who refuse are not necessarily denying any facts. Most of the vaccines are against diseases that are not present in Oregon anyway.
During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today.
The trouble with Sagan is that he became primarily involved in philosophical and political issues of dubious scientific merit, such as intelligent life on other planets and nuclear weapon disarmament.

Contrary to Frank, I think that respect for science is higher than ever. I don't see the public denying scientific facts. It is to the public's credit if they are skeptical about political pronouncements by scientists.

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