Do people really love science, or neat pictures of space, and dinosaurs?

Very many people talk about how they love science. But they are only fans and fetishists without patient skepticism and suspension of judgment as well as curiosity. Without these things there is no science of any sort. It is all the more obvious when the greater number are interpreting any crisis (real or imagined) that we still live with the fear-driven speculation of the dark ages.

One sees more anger at quoting facts and efforts to be accurate than any supposed fondness for science and rational methodology. The ones capable of conscientious science are still rare exceptions in the superstitious population; most people only dabble in the coolheaded traits of logic and epoché.

The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust. There is probably a sizable segment in any population that believes scientists should be rounded up and killed.

— John Derbyshire

My favorite example? My pleas for sanity during the last big pandemic flu scare. I dared to point out that, contra media-stoked fears, fewer people were dying than was usual for a flu season. Keep in mind that since I worked for one of the preeminent flu vaccine experts at the time who had hired me off a $10 million pandemic flu grant, and I was thus well-informed on epidemiological developments, I should have been listened to that the media-driven emergency was unfounded on mortality rates. Compared to statistics, each death was anecdotal evidence, however much it was a personal tragedy (a distinction a great many cannot grasp). I am still waiting on that apology for how I was shouted down by some for thinking (and being right about the “pandemic”) while people were frightened, instead of joining in the freakout.

Or take the example of current hysteria about nuclear power in Japan, whereas:

Nuclear fatalities in the last ten years: 7
Wind farm fatalities in the last ten years: 44.
In those ten years nuclear provided thirty times the energy of wind. This means in the last decade, nuclear has been around 200 times safer than wind on an energy produced/accidents basis.

Ours is not a scientific age, but a deeply and spontaneously irrational one, if we are speaking about the predominant influences. Science has not been absorbed into society and properly accounted; only the love of technology and what it can bring.

One cannot hope to solve a problem of such depth without first identifying it without illusions, including those of Enlightenment Reason and Scientific Revolution being as easy as intent, and as though the human race is progressing on a teleological march of history.

The truth is this problem is not solved, and we are not on the way to solving it, despite tremendous interest in science and massive social investment in science—much of which became sheer scientism, instead, or pseudoscience.

The only hope of a more pervasive solution comes through proper education of intellectuals, as well as a better-informed and applied human psychology that admits that conscious and deliberate reason through systematic thinking is not a primary human trait but a secondary one requiring special training and an amenable disposition. (I have noted other factors of educational decline in this essay, including the way schools developed for instruction.)


One response to “Do people really love science, or neat pictures of space, and dinosaurs?

  1. I think people will begin to take science more seriously once we get the money out of it, i.e. corporations & the bottom line dollar. If you think about it, what Rockhound said to Harry Stamper in the movie, Armageddon, “Did you know we are sitting on 2 million gallons of fuel, a nuclear weapon and a thing with 270,000 loose parts that was built by the lowest bidder.” There’s the rub – lowest bidder. Corporations who will risk lives by cutting corners to merely save money. That is scary.

    This sort of thinking is detrimental to the scientific community overall because as long as profit is the number one goal, sights set on safety will always take a backseat.

    I don’t think the average American fears science as much as they do ‘lowest bidder’ mentality. Remove that, and you’ll have far more people in this world backing science efforts to do all sorts of things.

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