Truth in the trenches

Others say it better than I do, but here goes.

There is a sinister agenda, or a war, Russian or otherwise, to undermine the value and reputation of scientific work and knowledge, which is gaining momentum at a frightening rate. Science is being contested by nonsense, and so far it looks as if science is losing.

Moreover, the nonsense has proven itself dangerous. The success of anti-vaccers is visible in the flaring up of measles and other preventable diseases, to name but one thing, and the first casualties of this war are already being counted.

One would think that with worldwide Internet access to more or less the entire bulk of what science (by way of scientific research, and the scientific method) has taught us over the centuries, most people would be reasonably science literate, but instead it has become a channel for exactly the opposite. The unchecked distribution of lies and misinformation undermines understanding of and trust in science. It seems that people don’t even know what science is! And if they don’t know what science is, they cannot tell the difference between actual scientific facts, and any crackpot story they find on blogs or YouTube.

It’s undermining not just science, but also truth. Once you no longer know what truth is, you’ll have no idea what to believe in.

The argument I often hear in defense of the nonsense is that, “It’s on the Internet. It wouldn’t be on the Internet if it wasn’t true!”

• • •

“It’s printed. Consequently, it’s fact.”

– The Historian, (The Little Prince, 1974)

“Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.”

– Homer Simpson

(Note: The following quotes by Asimov and Sagan refer to the United States, but I feel that they apply almost if not exactly as much to the rest of the world.)

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

– Isaac Asimov, 1980

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

– Carl Sagan, (The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1995)


• • •


For what it’s worth, I stand with science!

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