America is sorely under-informed when they are voting on issues that are related to the scientific community
For too long now, scientific illiteracy has negatively influenced the political process, which in turn negatively affects the lives of Americans.
We are seeing this most recently with climate change bills struggling in Washington, and have seen it many times in the debates over evolution and creationism in public school science classes. At the heart of these issues, there is empirical evidence that weighs in much heavier on one side. When citizens aren’t aware of the science, their voting against scientifically based bills impedes on the progress of America as a worldwide leader.
Thomas Friedman had an excellent article in the New York Times on Nov. 17. In it, he deftly tore apart the arguments of the “drill-baby-drill” proponents. The central point was this: If you don’t believe in global warming, fine, but opposing the research for alternative energy and only wanting to drill for more oil will only support interests of those who we don’t want it to.
The world is becoming more Americanized and more populated. If the more populated world of 40 years from now is still concentrating on using only oil, the power of the world will lie where the oil is, which is in the Middle East. If America develops new sources of energy, we will become the first nation to move beyond the age of oil and will cement our place as a global leader.
This is an example of how scientific illiteracy is ruining America. Those who don’t understand the science and vote in its opposition undermine not only truth, but progress. With the two issues I proposed at the beginning of this article, climate change and evolution, there are known facts that exist.
Evolution is overwhelmingly true, and the overwhelming majority of scientists accept it as fact. Giving equal time to pseudo-scientific ideas such as creationism or intelligent design in a science class is not academic freedom, it is academic dishonesty and intellectual fraud.
Climate change is a newer cause for conflict compared to evolution. There is a scientific consensus that the planet is getting warmer, but what directly affects this is still being debated. Regardless of whether or not global warming is true, it is in the interest of everyone to support research for cleaner and more environmentally friendly energy.
While other political issues are driven by moral or ethical preferences, there are issues directly related to science where an objective truth can be reached. Avoiding that truth or denying it is regressive in nature. There are many factors that play into the lack of scientific understanding. Religious biases can play a role, as can pseudo-scientific ideologies.
Science is a part of public life. It is at the heart of many technologies that Americans enjoy every day. It is sad, though, when people use the technology to better their life, but have no awareness of how the science behind it works. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to get a PhD in a science related field, but a basic understanding is essential.
As the late, great Carl Sagan wrote, “Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world