Reaction has been varied regarding a video seemingly depicting a human sacrifice on the grounds of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, the location of the Large Hadron Collider and cutting edge particle physics research. Some people are chuckling at the spoof while others see it confirming their dark suspicions and sinister worldview. As a science advocate who knows that people all too readily subscribe to truly outrageous ideas about how the world works, I’m angry at these participants who were clearly CLUELESS about the damage they could do to the beleaguered reputation of big science.
A ubiquitous, overly-simplistic idea about science should be put to death. It is that of the public as an empty vessel that awaits filling with scientific facts. Then education will be achieved (level up!) and we can all make smart and informed decisions.
That’s utter tosh (as the British say). Nonsense.
As much as we would like to think learning is as direct as that, the public, which is made up of many people with all kinds of values, is not homogeneous and objective. We don’t just accept facts and then know stuff. Facts have to be applied. A corollary idea is that of linear science-based decision-making. That is, if we know the scientific facts about a problem, we will use that to determine what action should be taken about it. Agreed? Hardly. That’s hilariously naïve. This just does not happen for several reasons: disputed “facts”, different personal and social values, and the complexity of problems (many smaller problems inside an overarching problem) makes a linear approach about as unrealistic as a cartoon diagram of evolution showing arrows from monkeys to man.
Facts will fail
The article that provided the impetus to write this piece was by Sarewicz in 2004 [D. Sarewicz. 2004. How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse. Env Sci & Policy, 7: 385-403] In it, he uses an example of the history-changing Bush v Gore Presidential election of 2000. No matter what “facts” were – that is, the “official” number of votes declared – would that be the basis for general acceptance in such a close contest? I doubt it because there were disputes regarding votes for either candidate. (Remember the hanging chad?) Sarewicz can’t imagine that it would have been quickly solved (and we needed it to be) so a political/judicial decision was accepted instead.Read More »
Rhetoric seems to reign supreme in the US these days. When the audience lacks critical thinking skills and the ability to objectively question the speaker (usually a politician), we are in deep trouble. When fear –> anger –> violence happens and all reason is lost, then we can justifiably worry. I don’t comprehend politics very well. It confounds me. But what I do know is that we certainly need to be applying critical thinking and sound skepticism to the claims coming out of politicians these days. Their language, their ideas and their attitudes are getting worse.
We know that even lone lunatics don’t live in a bubble. They are influenced by outside events. That’s why, when there is an act of Islamist terrorism, we quite rightly want to know if it was, implicitly or explicitly, encouraged by other actors. We do not believe – at least we should not – in collective guilt or punishment but we do want to know, with reason, whether an individual assassin was inspired by ideology or religion or hate-speech or any of a hundred other possible motivating factors. We do not hold all muslims accountable for the violence carried out in the name of their prophet but nor can we avoid the ugly, unpalatable, truth that, as far as the perpetrator is concerned, he (it is almost always he) is acting in the service of his view of his religion. He has a cause, no matter how warped it may be. And so we ask who influenced him? We ask, how did it come to this?
Puzzling, inconclusive study shows male rats placed in artificial environments and evenly dosed with cell-phone-like radiation across their whole bodies for nine hours a day over two years show slightly more rare heart tumors yet lived longer than those male and female rats NOT exposed to radiation
That is more accurate a description than the current hubbub coverage regarding a recently completed study done by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) regarding cell phone use. I hesitate to post the ACTUAL headlines that were used because they are misleading, potentially causing concern where, in real life, there is little reason to be concerned. But, because headlines need to be short and grab your attention, and that news orgs like to use fear to get hits, you’ll see much punchier headlines that DO mince words.Read More »
I’m usually pretty good at spotting the “small print” on gimmick mailers and promotional contests. The latest one from a local car dealership was well-hidden. I looked and looked. Got out my hand-lens and scanned the tiny print in the margins. Hmm. This one was sneaky.
Mail flyers from car dealers that say you’ve won cash or prizes are bogus ploys to get you to come to the business. This one, from Brenner Pre-Owned in Harrisburg, PA and addressed to “Future Customer”, contained a scratch-off ticket. Some contain “keys” that you bring into the dealer to try for a new car.
There is much ado, again, about soft targets in skepticism – the topics that are easily dismissed, should be ignored, are a waste of time and effort. So some say. Once again, we hear that we should be paying greater attention to things that really matter like cancer and war. Therefore, I’m getting the impression that people like me who write about these oh-so-silly things like cryptozoology, paranormal and misleading news stories are less important in the skeptical scheme of things. No one is listening to me, says John Horgan, who has a shallow and limited knowledge about the skeptical community and astoundingly is out of touch with public interest.
These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.
Gosh, this crap is SO OLD. “Bashing”? “Tribe”? “Ignore me”? “Preaching to the converted”? All very wrong.
Pushing this sloppy argument shows you are completely out of touch with the average Joe Q. Public (who really DOES believe in ghosts, Bigfoot, and thinks the government is spraying mind-control chemicals). Or, some wish to emphasize their own agenda and values like world peace, equality, animal rights or social justice for marginalized communities which makes them feel morally superior, I guess. Or, like I’ve experienced, it’s used by people who are annoyed that you keep ruining their great comment threads by inserting relevant questions and correcting their ridiculous inaccuracies – harshing their mellow. They want you out of the way so they can keep up their carefully constructed worldview. Those are all valid social reasons, if problematic in parts, and an indication that in the real world, dealing with “soft targets” requires tact, perseverance and a strong backbone.Read More »