Science, American Style
Among the interviews we heard during the last NFL season, St. Louis Ram’s defender William Hayes made an astonishing statement, saying he doesn’t believe in dinosaurs: “No, I don’t believe dinosaurs existed. Not even a little bit. With these bones, it’s crazy because man has never seen a dinosaur, we can all agree on that, right? But we know exactly how to put these bones together?” You may be thinking Duh! — football player. But Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks are Stanford grads. They are smart guys. I’d be willing to bet Mr. Hayes never attended Stanford.
Americans’ appalling ignorance of science never fails to astound me, and like some kind of virus, it seems to be spreading. I was listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show “Star Talk” one evening. A listener called in and actually said: “We know there’s no gravity in space, so how come those rovers on Mars don’t just float away?” I nearly fainted. Just for the record, there is gravity in space; that’s been pretty well established.
Woodland, NC, December, 2015 — a solar energy company, Strata Solar, wanted to build a solar farm in the area and applied to have a parcel of land rezoned. With much support from residents, the city council voted it down, 3-1. During public comments, Jane Mann told the council she was “concerned that photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing.” I know, just bear with me. She then questioned the safety of passive energy, citing the number of cancer deaths in the area. “No one can tell me solar panels don’t cause cancer,” she said. Jane Mann teaches science at the local high school. Her husband, Bobby, added that solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and deprive nearby plants, which would then turn brown.
Americans don’t have a monopoly on ignorance, it only seems like it. Many evangelicals believe in the literacy of the Bible, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Therefore evolution must be a trick of the Devil to sabotage our faith. Because of SCIENCE we can tell how old things are with a pretty small margin of error. But you can’t convince people whose minds are already made up. Still, I say let people believe whatever they want. I just have to draw the line when it comes to public policy. When a U.S. Congressman running for the Senate says that women who are raped can’t get pregnant, because “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down” (Todd Akin, R-MO) it makes my gorge rise, as Hamlet would say. An Iraq war veteran, Aaron Miller (R-MN) said he was running for Congress so his daughter wouldn’t have to learn about evolution. Fortunately, he lost. Unfortunately, the halls of Congress already reek with the stench of scientific ignorance. The difference is that these people are being paid by the fossil fools industry to espouse their views, and paid well.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. He has called for the Obama Administration to account for air pollution regulations he says are not backed up by science. He’s tried to slash NASA’s budget for earth sciences. He has subjected grant reviews for the National Science Foundation to extra scrutiny. He rails against environmentalists for buying into the “climate change religion.” And he’s received more than $600,000 from the fossil fools industry.
Senator James “Mountain” Inhofe (R-OK) heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He’s also the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Last year he brought a snowball into the Senate chambers — during winter — to prove that global warming is a false doctrine.
The Miami Herald, Nov. 18, 2015 — Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials have been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, and volunteers (records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting). Yes, because denial has always worked so well in the past. Then we have failed presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, no stranger to denial. At the beginning of the current Congressional session he was appointed chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space Science and Competitiveness. Here’s one answer he gave when asked about climate change: “I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians (What? No scientists admitted?) and I think it has nothing to do with GDP or economic growth of the United States.” I’d like to know who his campaign contributors are, but I think I can guess. He said during a debate in September that there is nothing in the world that could convince him that it’s wise for America to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. He has also denied that humans have a role in climate change. What climate change? I thought he didn’t believe in that. But here’s a great sound-bite from him: “You can’t pass a law to change the weather.” This would all be quite comical, were it not for the grand irony that Florida will be more affected than any other state by rising sea levels due to melting polar ice.
Did you know that the Flat Earth Society is still around? There’s also an international version. I visited their websites, and they’re mostly grounded in a literalist interpretation of the Bible. One of their central arguments against the Earth being round is that it would mean that people on the other side of the world would be standing upside down. I’m not making this up. And in the 21st Century, can you imagine? I guess all those satellite photos are faked, and the astronauts are all either lying or delusional.
I don’t know which is more tragic: selling out one’s children, grandchildren, and the planet for money, or willful ignorance to the point of pride. There have been anti-intellectual movements in the past, Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Nazi Germany. None of them ended well. Old habits are hard to break, though. It took the Catholic Church 500 years to apologize to Galileo. I don’t know if they ever apologized to Giordano Bruno, who they burned at the stake in 1600.
We can all do our part for science and knowledge. The next time I run into someone who’s arguing against evolution, I use comedian Lewis Black’s technique: I just yell “Fossil!” It has a double meaning, you see.
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not yet completely sure about the universe. — Albert Einstein