Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Danger of Science Denial

We are more prosperous and more educated than ever before. Most of the good life we live comes from technology that is based on scientific discoveries. A rational response would be a continuing respect for the discoveries of science, but the reverse seems to be happening. There are many movements aimed at undermining our undestanding of the world that has been developed by science. Some examples are:
* Climate denial
* Vaccine denial
* Opposition to Genetic modification of food
* HIV denial
* Alternative medicines
* Young Earth creationism
* Opposition to evoltionary theory
* Moonlanding hoax
* Belief in psychics and other paranormal phenomena
* UFOs

The first five examples in the list are causing deaths or will cause deaths in the future. The others, might not be as directly dangerous, but they undermine acceptance of science and rationality which is a more subtle but still serious danger.

The video presentation by Michael Specter discusses some of these issues. A brief bio of Specter can be found below the video. Two of my favourite quotes from the video are:

Be sceptical, ask questions, demand proof. Demand evidence. Don't take anything for granted. But here is the thing: When you get proof, you need to accept the proof. And we're not that good at doing that.

You know, science isn't a company. It's not a country. It's not even an idea. It's a process. It's a process. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But the idea that we should not allow science to do its job because we're afraid, is really very deadening and it prevents millions of people from prospering.

I also laughed with the audience when Specter described the alternative medicine industry as "big placebo".

Here is Specter's bio from the TED site:

Michael Specter's new book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, dives into a worrisome strain of modern life -- a vocal anti-science bias that may prevent us from making the right choices for our future. Specter studies how the active movements against vaccines, genetically engineered food, science-based medicine and biotechnological solutions to climate change may actually put the world at risk. (For instance, anti-vaccination activists could soon trigger the US return of polio, not to mention the continuing rise of measles.) More insidiously, the chilling effect caused by the new denialism may prevent useful science from being accomplished.

Specter has been a writer for the New Yorker for more than a decade; before that, he was a science writer and then the Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times. He writes about science and politics for the New Yorker, with a fascinating sideline in biographical profiles.

I particularly like this Specter quote, which isn't in the video:

"Denialism is a virus and viruses are contagious."

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