Science and the unwashed masses

The Swedish prime monster Freddy Reinfeld was interviewed on TV News last week. At one point he was replying to questions sent in by viewers, and one question went like this: “What are you slobs doing for the environment?”

reinfeldt.jpg

Figure 1: Freddy wondering if his party logo is fascist enough 

While we all know that the answer is “very little actually” but he anyway tried to muddle his way through, repeating whatever had been battered into his brain by his advisors a few months before. Among other things he mentioned that ethanol fuel has far lower emissions than gasoline (not true) and that we need not worry about flying as a source of greenhouse gasses because the airlines will come up with technical improvements and new fuels to salve our collective conscience (also very unlikely).

The man obviously has no grasp of science or technology. Not unusual, really, as few politicians have. Tony Blair, interviewed in New Scientist, also professed an utter lack of knowledge about science. He mumbled that perhaps he should have paid more attention to it in school. And as for Bush…well let’s not even go there, shall we?

This is quite odd really, since these same politicians base many of their decisions on “evidence”. The “evidence” for the war in Iraq, the “statistics” leading to energy policy all over the world, all of this signed under by men who have not the slightest fucking clue what they are talking about.

All modern governments understand very little or nothing about science, and yet tend to have a childlike belief in its power. Everything will be mended by the anonymous guys in the thick glasses, they promise us. Water shortages, climate change, fish depletion, fossil fuel extinction…all will be made right by those dudes in white. But when a vast majority of the world’s scientists tell the politicians that something must be done about this or that problem, they are usually ignored.

The politicians get away with this because the general public also has no idea about science. And by science I don’t mean technology and gadgets, but the art of critical thinking. A glance at any magazine aimed at the middle-aged female market will show you that critical thinking (also known as “lack of faith”) is not really a valued asset in our time. But this is no accident – a population that understands and accepts the central message of Science – scepticism and the necessity of proof – is much, much harder to trick, deceive or lie to.

You don’t have to have a university degree to live scientifically; you just have to require proof (or at least an absence of disproof) for the things you claim to believe. This opinion is not widespread. The phrase “but I can feel that it is true!” is far too commonly used, and being an idiot today is almost applauded (Jackass, Big Brother, any movie with Jack Black or Jim Carrey).

And all of this perhaps explains why science and critical thinking, despite our crushing global problems, is still not a priority in schools today – the last thing a politician really wants is a public who know when he is talking through his arse.

/ paddy (and thanks to Carl for showing me the way)

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13 thoughts on “Science and the unwashed masses

  1. Interesting stuff. Science is about critical thinking but politics is about convincing the majority of people in your constituency that you are right/worthy/generally good so that they will vote for you. Politics is not about doing stuff based on valid reasoning. Look at the Bush/Blair basis for going to war, fabricate evidence – links to terrorism/weapons of mass destruction, spout noble ideals – spread democracy, and then finally rely on the old chestnut of ‘faith’ – belief in what you are doing is right. They were criticised continually and ultimately proved wrong on every count but on they go.
    Another slant on global warming. A guy in work, generally narky and right wing (likes shooting), described how the burning of fossil fuels isn’t the problem, its people. Overpopulation. If there were only a few of us we probably couldn’t consume enough to cause any trouble. On a tv programme the other night about why we should give up flying, it was claimed the ‘middle class’ population of India will be 400,000,000 by 2010. Most of whom have never flown and are raring to go! Thats about 100,000,000 more than the population of the USA.
    What politician is going to address this?
    Maybe the next Hitler isn’t far away…

    Stuart.

  2. Have you ever noticed how people who say that there are too many people in the world never offer to fuck off and die as a noble sacrifice to give the rest of us a better chance.

  3. STu: I think your workmate is right. A big problem is over-population but not a single politician dares to say so in case they are branded a fascist. A population of a billion or so could get away with most anything, but with 10 billion we are largely fucked. However, the burning of fossil fuels (and using more energy that we can replace) IS the real problem behind climate change and the population only magnifies that threat.

  4. I know, I Know, I Know. But, who is not going to burn the fossils? Those who are addicted to it already or those who have never had the chance to? Hands up!
    Or hands up if you volunteer to die!
    Personnally I want to hang around just to see what happens.

  5. I’m not saying we should kill off lots of people – just make less of them, and accept that we just can’t all have as many babies as we feel like. With just 2 kids per family, the population will soon come down, and who wants more than 2 kids anyway? Smelly little bastards…

    But STILL no politician will stand up and say “Hmm, perhaps if we encourage people to have less babies, and not more?” Not forbid them, just encourage them.

  6. Men nog är väl den orättvisa resursfördelningen och den västerländska överkonsumtionen ett större problem än befolkningsfrågan? Om man lutar sig för mycket på befolkningsfrågan hamnar man lätt i ett synsätt som innebär att bara “dom” blir färre så kan “vi” leva vidare som vi gör.
    Det har gjorts flera studier som visar att jordens resurser räcker, utan överutnyttjande av icke förnybara energikällor. De stora problemen uppstår om västvärlden (eller “norr”) fortsätter öka sin konsumtion och dessutom exporterar sin livsstil till “syd” i stället för att tillsammans utveckla ett mer hållbart samhälle. Precis det som håller på att hända nu alltså.

    För övrigt har du förstås rätt angående politikerna och vetenskapen. Som en tröst kan jag berätta att när regeringen just gjort sig av med den gamla Miljövårdsberedningen som faktiskt gjort en hel del nytta så behöll man två forskare från beredningen som rådgivare, Christian Azar och en till som jag glömt.

  7. Annaa: Of course it is our lifestyle that is the major problem, but not the only one. We must get rid of our consumerist and wasteful system and not export it to anybody else.

    However, overpopulation in developing countries will cause disaster for them long before they reach our level of living. Water depletion, soil degredation, over-fishing…too many people is simply NOT the way to go, and this must be seriously looked at in a global way. Contraception, abortion, education and power for women, in the poor world AND in the rich world, and no more fucking politicians saying “we need more babies”. We already HAVE more babies, they are just in the wrong place.

    My main point is that nobody has the guts to say that there are too many people – and I don’t just mean in the developing world, I mean everywhere. Sure, the more people we have, the more chance we have of getting another Einstein or two. But as stupid people outnumber smart people, we also get a few million more morons for every genius.

    And, more to the point, what fucking use would Einstein be at fixing world hunger? The man was a theoretical physicist…

  8. Paddy,

    Very interesting point about critical thinking, I started to see the light over at badscience.net.

    I think this question gets even more interesting when you look at the role that education has in it. Don’t know if you remember when they started changing the system in Ireland, more of a focus on preparing people for work instead of life. (not saying that before was better, but whoever came up with that one should be shot).

    I used to love media studies class, we would rip news stories apart. Don’t know if that was only at my school, though. Think it was a pet project from our English teacher.

  9. when you put it like that, you’re right, been brainwashed brainwashed by a catholic education.

    But then again, take smoking, you learn:

    how to lie your ass off to get out of difficult situations,

    how to weasel out of cunts taking what’s yours,

    my 100m sprint improved a lot,

    how not to get caught

    That’s not a bad bad start off when you go off into the great unknown ………

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