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08 September 2008

Why are Americans so Afraid of Science?

I originally posted this blog over at my local paper. I toned it down a lot though, because I live in theitard country. First, here is the blog as I posted it. Then I will add some additional thoughts on the subject:
So this week the Large Hadron Collider will go online. It's an incredible piece of machinery, that will hopefully truly expand our understanding of the universe. Yet, there are people (mostly in the US), that are protesting this device, fearing that it will destroy the earth. They cite things like "strangelets" and "micro black holes" amongst much worse non-sense.
Okay, what's that got to do with the title of my post? Well, it just seems that the US is falling further and further behind in any scientific endeavours. Not only that, we seem to be getting less and less scientifically literate. To be scientifically literate, you only need to (for example) understand an article on protein synthesis in a major news paper. You don't need to actually be able to go into a lab and perform the synthesis. In the United States, if you are a college graduate, you will probably have a 28% chance of being scientifically literate. If you have a High School education, then that chance is down to 7%.
To the people that are afraid of the LHC destroying the world, perhaps some words from a scientist that works there:
"What I would say is that it is not sensible to hold an opinion in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whilst I understand that much of the language of particle physics is opaque, there does come a time when it is worth accepting the views of experts. The analogy I would give is the design of aircraft wings - I am happy to trust an expert in aerodynamics to get it right rather than offer my own opinion about what shape they should be. It’s really the case that the particle physics community are sensible, rational human beings who go about their research because they believe that exploring the subatomic world is good for our civilization, not to mention interesting. It is also true that if anyone, including myself, had any doubt about the safety of what we are doing, we would stop immediately. I and all my colleagues consider our personal safety and the safety of our families to be FAR more important than the search for the Higgs particle - indeed, if the risk were even as high as 1 in a billion, or whatever people quote, then I would be campaigning with you to stop it."
Yet for some reason, people who can't even tell the difference between a boson or a fermion, think they can read an in-depth paper that they can't really understand and interpret it correctly.
And it goes further. Our lack of scientific literacy leads to bad policy decisions by our leaders. We engage in futile (but perhaps well intentioned) efforts to do things that are frankly just plain stupid. And speaking of stupid, how many of you actually know that the earth revolves around the sun? Statistically, 20% of you have it backwards!
All this, along with our horrible standing in education competence, leads me to believe that Americans must be afraid of science. Why else would we develop such an anti-science culture?
What are your thoughts on this subject?

Additional thoughts:
Sure enough, the first reply nailed it: "The more science, the less church is believable. I think that pretty much sums it up." Granted, considering the audience, I didn't want to be too in their face about it, so I softened things up a bit, especially in my follow up comments.

Today, not 24 hours after posting that, I see a blog on the paper about the LHC destroying the wold: Read the link at the danger of theitard idiocy, but it's frikkin entertaining/scary.

Sam Harris has touched on the subject as well, but it seems that we are slowly forcing ourselves into a third rate society of illiterates. And I lay the blame squarely at the feet of religion. Yes, yet another reason as to why it's such a poison to the advancement of our species.

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