Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Inoculation Against Charlatans

Listening to Rick Santorum rail against higher-education claiming that colleges drain young-adults of their faith by teaching the scientific method has left me fearing for the people of the United States.  Have we gone so far as to forget our country was founded on enlightenment-era ideas not the least of which being respect for and use of the scientific method?

Earlier today I read and reflected on this blog post by Chris Mooney in which he cautions scientists to be careful about their delivery when it comes to proposing new scientific ideas to tea party folk.  I left the post with a lot of unanswered questions.  How do you broach a topic such as, I don't now... THE AGE OF THE EARTH with people who start off thinking 6,000 years is the right answer?

How do you start a conversation politely with a person who sees you as a threat to their faith before you even open your mouth (or keyboard)?

Neil deGrasse Tyson has called scientific education an "inoculation against charlatans."
There's no greater sign of the failure of the American educational system than the extent to which Americans are distracted by the possibility that Earth might end on December 21, 2012. It's a profound absence of awareness of the laws of physics and how nature works. So they're missing some science classes in their training in high school or in college that would empower [them] to understand and to judge when someone else is basically just full of it. Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you.

The problem with this Dr. Tyson is that the people who need this inoculation most are the people who don't believe in vaccination.  At what age do you just give up on people?  How do you spread the vaccination to people who choose to be socially irresponsible?  I want to ask Chris Mooney and Neil deGrasse Tyson how these conversations ought to begin? One-on-one facebook conversations? Door-to-door visits by two young scientists in white lab coats and pocket-sized biology textbooks?  Perhaps large public lectures where an Erlenmeyer flask is passed around for donations?

How do you start fact-based scientific conversation with a religious adult?

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