As I keep reading posts around Facebook and the web, there’s an emerging theme that I find greatly troubling. It’s a theme that partly inspired me to start this site. Increasingly, we hear these stories about “anti-vaxxers,” “climate deniers,” creationism, and the general trend of rebuking scientific discourse in this country. In all cases, there’s certainly room for healthy, genuine debate on various issues. But, that’s not what’s happening. The discussions are haphazard, sloppy, and filled with hypocrisy and irony – from both sides. Bias and generalizations take precedent over specifics and data. Individual, fringe, and questionable sources are trusted over broad spectrum research simply because it’s contrary.

I don’t blame the issues themselves, either. I like the thought that we can question virtually anything, and talk about it on the merits and value of the science and research behind it. No, what I see is much more scary in my opinion. What I see, I believe, is the result of us entering the second generation of an education system that is putting so much emphasis on teaching to tests, and is being used as a political battlefield. The result is that far too many people are becoming adults missing not just a fundamental understanding of the scientific method and how research takes place and is tested, evaluated, and agreed upon, but that they are simply not capable of critical thinking and problem solving. When people are saying “if all the scientists agree on it, I don’t trust it,” or “peer review processes are designed to squelch breaks in the consensus” – both sentiments I’ve read multiple times – we have a major problem at a basic level of understanding these processes.

In 66 years, we went from the first plane flight to landing on the moon. In the 46 years since then, we’ve stood almost still in so many ways. Sure, we’ve made many other advances in other areas, but I feel like that’s sort of symbolic of our backslide that will not get better until we address our education problem.

Scientific Literacy

  • Jonathan Dresner

    “Both sides”?

  • Kansanity

    While the anti-side of these debates tend to make claims that rely on specious logic and talking points at best, even the people trying to defend things like vaccines or climate change and such are making really bad cases – letting their own bias and emotions pollute points that would otherwise stand very well on their own. When challenged, they get defensive, or make ad hominem attacks rather than just sticking to the points.

  • Jonathan Dresner

    Maybe they just don’t see the point of engaging seriously with people who are so far gone as that.

    Maybe you’ll see that as an ad hominem, but I’ve been in enough of these discussions to have a pretty good instinct for when someone is serious about engagement. I’ve read enough of and about the other side of the climate change and vaccination debates to recognize dishonest and dead-end arguments, shifting goalposts, cherry-picking data, and redirection and tone policing, and knowing that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in a Kansas August of doing anything other than wasting time and energy confirming someone’s belief that they’re logically undefeatable and culturally beseiged.