Why We Must Not Give in to Anti-Science Attitudes
It seems to me that, increasingly, Americans overall have become almost reflexively anti-science. Sometime, it’s a mild case and sometimes it is severe, but it is an affliction that ultimately can kill us if we don’t quickly take ourselves in hand. From the relentless denial of climate science, archaeology, carbon dating, and medical science on the political Right, to the reflexive, and often unfounded, rejection of genetically modified crops on the Left, we have allowed our fantasies to run away with us. What prompts this post, however, are the recent disgusting comments by Pat Robertson of “The 700 Club”:
“You know what they do in San Francisco? Some in the gay community there, they want to get people. So if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.”
Unfortunately, there are many people who will believe him. Not only will they believe him, they’ll send him a ton of support to continuing spreading not only homophobia, but fantasies about infectious diseases. Ultimately, because they have rejected scientific thought entirely and feel all the better for it. We can’t afford to let that kind of utter ignorance of the scientific process prevail. Just look what they have missed!*
• An enzyme inhibitor previously studied for a role in Alzheimer’s is found to have regenerative effects on hair cells in the inner ear; this may be useful in treating deafness.
• UK researchers cure blindness in mice using an injection of photoreactive cells; the treatment could be used to heal retinitis pigmentosa.
• Scientists restore brain function to stroke-affected rats with stem cells; this breakthrough may lead to more effective treatments for stroke patients.
• Researchers develop a painless skin patch that can be used to inject DNA vaccines without a needle, which increases the initial effectiveness of the vaccine delivered.
• Sickle cells can be induced to attack treatment-resistant tumors by cutting off their blood supply.
• A new molecular therapy which can cross the blood-brain barrier to deliver medicines to the brain has been developed, potentially helping to treat neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.
• An engineered strain of Vaccinia virus is found to triple the average survival time of patients suffering from a severe form of liver cancer.
We can’t possibly expect to keep up with science and technology discoveries in America if we refuse to understand and internalize what scientific discoveries are telling us. Obviously, not everyone has the aptitude to pursue one of the STEM fields as a career any more than we can all be great writers, artists, historians, singers, or architects just by recognizing the importance of those fields. But there is something you can do to bring more science into your consciousness: put aside 10-15 minutes a day to read the latest discoveries in science, healthcare, agriculture, or other STEM field that interests you. Turn off the mind-numbing reality show for just a few minutes. Shut down the gaming system a few minutes early. Tweet about whatever the celebrity gossip of the day is just a little less. Follow the CDC or NIH or NASA or other agency or scientific society on Twitter and make time to read one press release a day. Perhaps join a research study.
This much is certain: we can’t have anti-vaccination mega churches causing measles outbreaks. We can’t allow the next generation of potential scientists and engineers to think that “creationism” is actual science. And we can’t have overpaid televangelists telling their flocks that HIV-infected individuals spread the infection using magic rings. The last time I looked, this was not Middle Earth, but we do seem to be slipping into Idiocracy at an alarming rate. This kind of ignorance can wound, maim, and kill; increase your science literacy before it is too late to stop it.
*These seven random developments were from the first six weeks of 2013 and are limited by nothing other than my interests. The list is much longer (~90 groundbreaking articles), but these caught my eye, for fairly obvious reasons.