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joigus

America's Divorce from Science

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The Trump Administration seems to be getting quite explicit lately about something that's been in the air for quite a while. The man himself and some of his officials seem to be taking the anti-scientific discourse up a notch. Very worrying news coming from the US these days. I thought I'd never see the day:

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/14/opinions/another-day-another-trump-outrage-on-climate-and-science-oreskes/index.html?fbclid=IwAR38oXn2xJLdp5rjnPZHeAsQtNSkkptKuZy_C3Sd3LJ5c2Usyv08TAzySQ8

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/trump-biden-climate-change-fires.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR38oXn2xJLdp5rjnPZHeAsQtNSkkptKuZy_C3Sd3LJ5c2Usyv08TAzySQ8

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/caputo-virus.html

What are your thoughts?

 

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40 minutes ago, joigus said:

The Trump Administration seems to be getting quite explicit lately about something that's been in the air for quite a while. The man himself and some of his officials seem to be taking the anti-scientific discourse up a notch. Very worrying news coming from the US these days. I thought I'd never see the day:

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/14/opinions/another-day-another-trump-outrage-on-climate-and-science-oreskes/index.html?fbclid=IwAR38oXn2xJLdp5rjnPZHeAsQtNSkkptKuZy_C3Sd3LJ5c2Usyv08TAzySQ8

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/trump-biden-climate-change-fires.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR38oXn2xJLdp5rjnPZHeAsQtNSkkptKuZy_C3Sd3LJ5c2Usyv08TAzySQ8

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/caputo-virus.html

What are your thoughts?

 

I think he might be right by saying that "It will get cooler, you'll see"

Press button -> nuclear winter -> it gets cooler.

Edited by koti

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53 minutes ago, joigus said:

What are your thoughts?

People get the government they deserve. Unfortunately it based upon a majority of views and en masse people can be as thick as two short planks nailed together, no matter how detailed and substantiated are the warnings shouted from the sidelines by the minority. The technological (and social) advances of the USA were made under bipartisan governments that appreciated and understood the value of science. Trump, who makes G.W.Bush look like a genius and Richard Nixon like an honest man, lacks either the interest or the intellect to counter current trends, but rather sees benefits in it, since it plays well with his followers.

If he can be defeated in November I suspect the situation can eventually auto-correct, but if he gains a second term I fear for the future of the country - at least until population demographics reduce the influence of certain segments of White America.

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I think it is wrong to narrowly focus on the Trump administration. It is merely the result of at least decades of anti-science sentiments. One of the main topics used to be creationism which got a strong push into the open in the 2000s (incidentally one of the reasons why I joined this forum). The movement started well before that, though and was an alliance of industrial interests, conservative leadership and media. In essence it was a broader effort to undermine the very concept of scientific validity and thereby allowing  politicians to act without the constraints of reality.

Key efforts were obviously put on areas with monetary interest, such as climate change denial and over time it morphed into a weird form of conservative identity. Originally a bit fringy, over time it it became the mainstream we see today. This is not exclusive to the US, even in other Western countries, such as Canada, and Australia similar political efforts were made to silence scientists involved in climate change research. However, the cultural identification with denial seems to be an US export.

 

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6 hours ago, Area54 said:

People get the government they deserve.

That statement seems a little unfair. The majority of the US did not vote for Trump. The majority of 'voters' in the US did not vote for Trump. And that is just looking at the US. Surely the people of North Korea don't 'deserve' Kim Jong-un. The list of despots goes on and on.

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11 minutes ago, zapatos said:

That statement seems a little unfair. The majority of the US did not vote for Trump. The majority of 'voters' in the US did not vote for Trump. And that is just looking at the US. Surely the people of North Korea don't 'deserve' Kim Jong-un. The list of despots goes on and on.

Well the original is more direct: it makes no mention of "majority" and implicitly blames the entire electorate:

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite. - Joseph de Maistre

I introduced the notion of "majority" to relieve others of blame. On reflection I may have been too gentle. As a UK citizen who has become increasingly dismayed by the quality of government I must accept responsibility for failing to adequately hold politicians to account. Simply voting in every available election and referendum is insufficient, and debating the matter with friends and colleagues is entertainment, not activism. Thus, I am not making any criticism of US voters that I don't make of myself.

In the case of the last US election the majority of voters either voted for Trump or failed to vote at all. Consequently, they got the government many of them wanted and that all of them (sadly) deserved.

The founders of the US put their lives on the line to get the government they felt they deserved. Many of those lives were called upon. The indifference to politics of a substantial body of US voters is a stain on their memory.

Your point about Kim Jon-un is well taken: I should have made clear that the quote is normally taken to refer to democracies.

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, CharonY said:

I think it is wrong to narrowly focus on the Trump administration. It is merely the result of at least decades of anti-science sentiments. One of the main topics used to be creationism which got a strong push into the open in the 2000s (incidentally one of the reasons why I joined this forum). The movement started well before that, though and was an alliance of industrial interests, conservative leadership and media. In essence it was a broader effort to undermine the very concept of scientific validity and thereby allowing  politicians to act without the constraints of reality.

Key efforts were obviously put on areas with monetary interest, such as climate change denial and over time it morphed into a weird form of conservative identity. Originally a bit fringy, over time it it became the mainstream we see today. This is not exclusive to the US, even in other Western countries, such as Canada, and Australia similar political efforts were made to silence scientists involved in climate change research. However, the cultural identification with denial seems to be an US export.

 

I must say this comment is making me think a lot. Political movements don't just pop up by spontaneous generation. They capitalize on some previous climate of opinion, discontent, etc. For some reason a fundamental disconnect between science and some sectors of the general public has grown, and I would like to understand the roots of that.

Maybe such a connection didn't exist in the first place, and people who are trying to turn to science in search of answers are easily disappointed, maybe because of the very simple fact that opinion is not enough, and they don't expect that.

I saw a cartoon the other day suggesting that it's to do with science and scientists sounding arrogant in the ears of big swathes of the public. I'm not so sure about that, but there seems to be a communication gap.

10 hours ago, koti said:

I think he might be right by saying that "It will get cooler, you'll see"

Press button -> nuclear winter -> it gets cooler.

 

Creepy!

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Not really Zap.

4 hours ago, zapatos said:

That statement seems a little unfair. The majority of the US did not vote for Trump.

When you add up the people who voted for D Trump, and the people who are indifferent to bad government that they can't be bothered to vote, you end up with the disaster that is the current US government.
Either way, you get the government you deserve; only about 28% ( 55% voter turnout, 28% Clinton, 27% Trump ) of the electorate was against a D Trump presidency, or cared enough to go to the trouble of voting.
Do you think they know better now, and you'll get more than 55% of eligible voters participating n November ?

 

1 hour ago, joigus said:

I saw a cartoon the other day suggesting that it's to do with science and scientists sounding arrogant in the ears of big swathes of the public. I'm not so sure about that, but there seems to be a communication gap.

There are many times I'll be in casual conversation with friends/acquaintances, and a question will come up which I know the answer/solution to, but I feel the need to intentionally dumb it down, or even worse, just smile and say nothing at all; I guess I don't want to be perceived as an aloof, know-it-all. And I'm far from it, I can just imagine the trepidation of some really intelligent and well educated people.
( you're not very popular if you start talking about Black Holes and Quantum Gravity at the next dinner party; you may not get invited back )

Edited by MigL

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24 minutes ago, MigL said:

( you're not very popular if you start talking about Black Holes and Quantum Gravity at the next dinner party; you may not get invited back )

And try gracing the dinner table with a conversation about feldspar. You'd be shown the way out before the dessert.

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America and science were never really married. It was more of a booty call / crash on the couch every few weekends kinda situation

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1 hour ago, joigus said:

I saw a cartoon the other day suggesting that it's to do with science and scientists sounding arrogant in the ears of big swathes of the public. I'm not so sure about that, but there seems to be a communication gap.

I think that was always a bit the case. Scientists were perhaps respected, but also considered aloof, ivory tower elites. In my experience there have been a lot of measures aimed at making science more accessible. For example, we often have to put in news reports about our research that is for public consumption and almost all grants require to have a layman summary. But as a whole I do not think that it has moved public perception much.

 But I think that the process of actively disbelieving science has started from the top. Now, social media are instrumental in drowning out information, further accelerating the process and so far we do not have any real means to slow it down.

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Climate change is real and the ramifications are significant. There is no need to exaggerate it. Those who do are also divorcing themselves from science.

That's not directed at anyone on this Forum but on the topic of America's divorce from science.

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1 hour ago, J.C.MacSwell said:

Climate change is real and the ramifications are significant. There is no need to exaggerate it. Those who do are also divorcing themselves from science.

That's not directed at anyone on this Forum but on the topic of America's divorce from science.

I will say that it depends on the extent of exaggeration and whether it is based on misuse of science or just taking the worst (but still realistic) prediction. It is quite a bit of a difference compared to, say, a multi-billion dollar campaign to downplay it.

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3 hours ago, MigL said:

When you add up the people who voted for D Trump, and the people who are indifferent to bad government that they can't be bothered to vote, you end up with the disaster that is the current US government.
Either way, you get the government you deserve; 

Still seems like an unfair statement to me. I'll buy that the Trump voters got what they deserved. Maybe even those who can't be bothered to vote. But what about the rest of us? Sounds like I deserve Donald Trump for making the mistake of choosing to be born in the US instead of Canada (or Italy as the case may be).

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1 hour ago, CharonY said:

I will say that it depends on the extent of exaggeration and whether it is based on misuse of science or just taking the worst (but still realistic) prediction. It is quite a bit of a difference compared to, say, a multi-billion dollar campaign to downplay it.

Given. But supplies too easy fodder for a multi-billion dollar campaign.

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Here's the cartoon, by the way:

Before anybody says anything, I've got several issues with the cartoon. I'm concerned with the "kernel of truth" part of it, that's all.

10 hours ago, iNow said:

America and science were never really married. It was more of a booty call / crash on the couch every few weekends kinda situation

I tend to see it more about heterogeneous demographics, rather than ups and downs or one-night stands. But I wouldn't know. I'm not an American. :) You must have a reason to say that.

 

 

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5 hours ago, joigus said:

You must have a reason to say that

Experience

5 hours ago, joigus said:

rather than ups and downs or one-night stands.

I see what you did there :D

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16 hours ago, MigL said:


( you're not very popular if you start talking about Black Holes and Quantum Gravity at the next dinner party; you may not get invited back )

The last dinner part I went to was with a bunch of physicists, so YMMV

17 hours ago, joigus said:

I saw a cartoon the other day suggesting that it's to do with science and scientists sounding arrogant in the ears of big swathes of the public. I'm not so sure about that, but there seems to be a communication gap.

OTOH, the knowledge deficit model is known to fail pretty spectacularly in many cases. Focusing on one issue is shortsighted. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions.

If the objection is emotional or irrational, it’s not communication of facts that is the problem, or the solution. And presenting sound science just makes these people dig in and hold on to their beliefs. Having one’s world view be upset tends to be an uncomfortable experience. One may resort to grasping at straws, or conspiracy, or whatever, in order to prevent that.

 

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35 minutes ago, swansont said:

If the objection is emotional or irrational, it’s not communication of facts that is the problem, or the solution. And presenting sound science just makes these people dig in and hold on to their beliefs. Having one’s world view be upset tends to be an uncomfortable experience. One may resort to grasping at straws, or conspiracy, or whatever, in order to prevent that.

I grew up with a dad that always had to be right, despite the evidence; "an expert is just a drip under pressure" was his favourite saying.

Some of us have a hard road to tread, let's not dismiss those of us who grasp at straw's when the road is not easy to read...

 

Edited by dimreepr

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16 hours ago, CharonY said:

I think that was always a bit the case. Scientists were perhaps respected, but also considered aloof, ivory tower elites. In my experience there have been a lot of measures aimed at making science more accessible. For example, we often have to put in news reports about our research that is for public consumption and almost all grants require to have a layman summary. But as a whole I do not think that it has moved public perception much.

Mmmm. Maybe that's because when someone is mature enough to watch or read news reports, it's already too late.

Same reason why it's inconceivable that a person who studies science should not know who Shakespeare or Van Gogh were or what they did, it is inconceivable to me that a person well learned in the humanities should not know in simple terms why we know the Earth is billions of years old, or animals and plants evolve, or everything falls with the same acceleration in a vacuum. Those ideas can be explained without mathematics, or very technical vocabulary or complicated reasoning.

I think it is incumbent upon everybody involved in science education to devise ways of teaching science that are suitable to the non-scientific mind, that can be easily assimilated by everybody, and make a permanent part of a person's education, irrespective of what they do.

Some politicians, ie., don't seem to understand that long-term (climate) change is far more predictable than tomorrow's weather for very good reasons (one is concerned with averages over centuries and continents; the other with right then and there). Anybody can understand that if properly explained. These people suffered a deep alienation from science very early in their lives, and I would like to know why and what can be done to put an end to this tragic scientific illiteracy.

I've been arguing for years about the necessity that journalism becomes a speciality of every technical branch of knowledge. Such specialists should be trained in making the messages from science percolate from specialists to general public. Techniques of general journalism are simply not good enough.

The Donald Trumps and Michael Caputos of this world don't come from a parallel dimension. They've been raised here.

1 hour ago, swansont said:

If the objection is emotional or irrational, it’s not communication of facts that is the problem, or the solution. And presenting sound science just makes these people dig in and hold on to their beliefs. Having one’s world view be upset tends to be an uncomfortable experience. One may resort to grasping at straws, or conspiracy, or whatever, in order to prevent that.

I understand there's always going to be die-hards. Denial is a part of human nature. But politicians should be better than that. Better education can limit the damage.

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I don't know enough about current trends in the US to assess the level of truth in the proposition that 'America is divorcing itself from Science', or for instance if true when it might have started.

I know even less about 19 century Science in America, though I understand that earlier B. Franklin had great standing.

In 19 century Europe and in particlar the UK, there was a burgeoning of Science.
Much of this was driven by religous men intending in some way to justify God and his teaching.
Also during this period many from the arts side were also practioners of Scinece, eg Wordsworth, Coleridge, Browning.

I don't see either of these imperatives in much evidence today.

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2 hours ago, joigus said:

I think it is incumbent upon everybody involved in science education to devise ways of teaching science that are suitable to the non-scientific mind, that can be easily assimilated by everybody, and make a permanent part of a person's education, irrespective of what they do.

We have and had a number of outreach programs and those are generally well-liked. One popular format was essentially renting a pub and have a member of faculty just talking about something within their realm of expertise (think Ted talks with less polish and much less sales). It is also something that especially younger faculty eagerly pick up, which is quite a bit different to the professors I had when I was a student a long time ago. However, obviously there is some self-selection going on. Most folks going to those events are those that are already interested in science or at least are not active science deniers. In many cases I feel it is not due to lack of engagement, rather by growing up in an environment that has a strong anti-science identity. These most prominently (and traditionally) include religious groups, which, ironically, see discussions about evolution as a form of indoctrination (and in fact, there are students who are utterly surprised how much sense it makes once they get out of their household, so it is not entirely impossible). More recently climate change has become trigger word or even "equity".  In other words, I do not think it is the message itself or even the delivery, but rather the fact that there are groups that strongly identify with an issue to such a degree that they block off any form of discussion.

The related issue is that those group also see education as indoctrination, which is a key element of the anti-science movement. In other words, if folks manage to make sure that at least part of their identity is tied to a specific issues and then on top make the reject any different information, you have the recipe for outright science denial. This is one of the reasons why in recent times media as well as academia were called liberal bastions, in an effort to make people cut themselves off from information. 

 

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22 hours ago, joigus said:

I saw a cartoon the other day suggesting that it's to do with science and scientists sounding arrogant in the ears of big swathes of the public.

I find this to be true, and I find that both parties are responsible.

Some people of science tend to forget how long it took them to get to where they are now. Understanding a concept or readily being able to discern science from pseudoscience is a skill that is developed over many years and with a lot of effort. It is easy to get frustrated with someone who seems oblivious to a concept that to a scientist is so obvious. It is often difficult to determine if someone is closing their ears to science or if they are just not experienced enough yet to process the information they are being given.

I find that lay people often respond out of emotion instead of reason, and therefore find people of science to be arrogant. People generally do not like being told that they are wrong, sometimes spectacularly, and that they are often wrong because they were duped. That is tough on the ego. It is easier on the ego to get angry at the person correcting you, than to acknowledge that you were a fool. 

Edited by zapatos

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4 minutes ago, zapatos said:

[...]

Some people of science tend to forget how long it took them to get to where they are now. Understanding a concept or readily being able to discern science from pseudoscience is a skill that is developed over many years and with a lot of effort. It is easy to get frustrated with someone who seems oblivious to a concept that to a scientist is so obvious. It is often difficult to determine if a someone is closing their ears to science or if they are just not experienced enough yet to process the information they are being given.

[...]

Good point. That's called the curse of knowledge. It doesn't happen only to scientists, though.

There's also the curse of expertise.

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