The Consequences of Ignoring Science

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While no one in my family is a scientist, I grew up in a science literate family. My parents subscribed to Scientific American and Discover and several other periodicals. Our home library was filled with books written by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stephen Hawking and others. We even attended university lectures with Dr. Gould and Dr. Hawking.

We watched Nova and kept an eye out for any interesting science documentary that aired. Because of this I have a deep love and appreciation for how science works, more so than most laypeople. And though it is not perfect because, after all, scientists are only human and subject to their own biases, prejudices and egos, science, unlike religion, has a mechanism where it corrects itself when confronted with new knowledge, even if some of those truths are hard to face.

Debunking is one of the strongest tools of science. When I evaluate a claim I look at the arguments for both sides, like I did with vaccines. I found that the anti-vaxxers ideas were demolished when you looked at them under a microscope. But as a psychologist, I’m well aware of confirmation bias, where we look for information that confirms our view point and ignore those that don’t.

And one of the many things that frustrates me right now is that through the findings of science, we know a lot of solutions to our modern problems, yet due to either ideology, religion, or greed, we don’t implement them.

This can happen both on the far right and the far left side of the spectrum. Vaccine denial and this elevation of all things natural is something I tend to see more on the left, for instance. Either way, this is a problem.

For instance, we know a lot about how to create good schools. We know that children learn through play, and that developmentally a lot of kids aren’t ready to read until they’re 7 or 8. Yet we insists that kids sit quietly at their desks and read at 5. Changing this doesn’t need to be expensive, but I’ve found people are extremely reluctant to let go of their fears of their child falling behind if they don’t do desk learning at five and have homework, and it’s not rational.

We know spanking doesn’t work and leads to more behavioral problems, yet as someone who has taught parenting classes, parents want to do it. When you ask them, “if you could raise a child successfully without spanking, would you?” They’ll say, “no.”

We know vaccines are a major medical success that have saved the lives of millions of people and that they don’t cause autism. We also know that if we get better at screening for autism at earlier ages we can get autistic people in quality therapeutic programs that will help them to better function in a world dominated by neurotypicals. Yet millions are wasted and time has been lost in implementing programs that will help autistic people thanks to the anti-vaxxer movement.

We also know that preventable diseases are coming back thanks to the anti-vaxxer movement.

GMOs have been around for thousands of years and there’s no evidence to substantiate claims that they are harmful. And they have the potential to create food that is healthier and puts less strain on our environment to grow (though it is also possible that these claims are exaggerated). Applications I have heard include genetically engineering trees to absorb more carbon dioxide and stall global warming, for instance. Yet there are a group of people vehemently against anything “unnatural.”

We know that birth control, particularly LARCs, decreases the risk of  unwanted pregnancy and also causes the abortion rate to drop significantly. And we know that people’s quality of life improves when they aren’t struggling to provide for more people than they can afford to. We also know that our Earth’s resources are finite and we humans are straining them. The Philippines offers a cautionary tale for what happens when people are denied access to birth control. In short, overpopulation, crowding and hunger.

From cutting down medical costs (birth control is cheaper than getting pregnant and giving birth), improving the quality of life for women and families (pregnancy is not fun at it’s most benign and possible fatal at it’s worse), to keeping the population under control and fighting global warming, making sure that every person who wants birth control gets it appears to be such a non-brainer that it infuriates me that because of religious notions of morality that don’t hold up to any scientific scrutiny, it isn’t.

Yet, we may not need to worry about any of the above for much longer because of global warming. Scientific consensus is unequivocal. It is happening and it is a great threat to humanity. Whether it will merely reduce our quality of life or wipe us out is uncertain, yet either way we need to act now.

What gets in the way is sheer greed and short term thinking. And that’s not acceptable

While we don’t have all the answers, I truly believe that we know enough and have the smarts to combat the world’s problems. What we lack is initiative, long term thinking and common sense. This attack on science greatly concerns me. A god is not going to descend and save us. We need to do everything we can to support the sciences.

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