Increased Cynicism Toward Science Hurts


Posted: April 1, 2012 at 4:59 a.m.

Nina Federoff is an accomplished woman. A pioneering researcher in plant genetics, she holds an honored professorial chair at Pennsylvania State University, is a member of the Santa Fe Institute on complex systems research, and was science and technology adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2010.

This story is only available from our archives.

Opinion, Pages 17 on 04/01/2012


Thanks, Professor Hobson. The problem is well described, but there's no solution, for these reasons.

Not everyone is good at thinking; in fact, half the population has thinking skills below the mean. And beyond the fact that thinking is difficult, it's frightening for many people; it's so much more comforting to accept pre-approved answers to difficult questions from the recognized authority.

Curiosity and thinking may lead one to comprehend some of the most elegant and incontrovertible of scientific principles: the facts of biological evolution and stellar cosmology. But, when the facts conflict with a literal interpretation of ancient writing which is revered to be truth beyond questioning, there's an impasse.

Then, a more penetrating question requires thought: if one's belief system, based on unchanging authority, disallows the acceptance of revealed truth based upon observation of the existing reality, what must be done?

The answer for many is clear: ignore reality and put all your eggs in the basket of sectarian authority, where the teaching always confirms that thinking for oneself is dangerous.

For some of us, a question leads to thinking; but, for others, thinking is out of the question.

Posted by: FrankLloydLeft

April 1, 2012 at 1:34 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

That's why I advocate increased cynicism toward religion (and most other forms of human endeavor.)

Posted by: CaptainQuint

April 1, 2012 at 1:50 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

The republican war on science is confirmed again in another study showing a consistent multi-decade increase in conservative distrust of science:

Conservatives versus Science: A New Scientific Validation of the Republican War on Science (and Republican Brain) Thesis


"…conservatives with high school degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees all experienced greater distrust in science over time and these declines are statistically significant. In addition, a comparison of predicted probabilities indicates that conservatives with college degrees decline more quickly than those with only a high school degree. These results are quite profound, because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives."

"The key question to pose, after reading Gauchat’s paper, is why this occurred. Clearly, The Republican War on Science’s politicization thesis is being strongly validated—a thesis that attributes the problem to the growth of a modern conservative movement, its need to appease its core interest groups and constituencies (corporate America, conservative Christians), its need to have its own alternative expertise and journalism (think tanks, Fox, Limbaugh), and so on."

Posted by: fayfreethinker

April 1, 2012 at 3:07 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

As usual, we hear from the George Soros Choir about the "politicization" of science that ignores so many facts as to be un-scientific in nature.

For those who slept through history class (which includes FFT, FLL and others), the co-opting of "science" by governments of all stripes has taken place for centuries, most recently during the development of nuclear power in the early 20th Century. Governments funded scientific research for a variety of uses, and in latter years, it was much more profitable to tailor research for the purpose of receiving grants. The debate over climate change was proven to be tainted by funding from those who wish to preserve their funding and by others who wish to enrich themselves.

What the columnist and his Daily Kos shills are angry about is that (insert boogeyman here) have, by reporting that the well of science has been poisoned, are at fault. It's much easier for pseudo-scientists to blame others than it is to practice real science.

Posted by: IrishMensa

April 1, 2012 at 11:21 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

IR: "The debate over climate change was proven to be tainted...">>

Excellent. Then you won't have any trouble backing up your claim and providing this proof.

"All scientific bodies of national or international standing agree with the basic findings of human influence on recent climate change.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientif...

"10 Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change" http://www.skepticalscience.com/10-In...

Posted by: fayfreethinker

April 2, 2012 at 1:47 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

GeneralJack, I'd advocate skepticism rather than cynicism.
"the skeptic is pushing the search for a solution while the cynic is simply focused on what is wrong."
"A cynic tends to be skeptical of good things; while a full-fledged skeptic tends to be skeptical -- to one degree or another -- of everything."

Posted by: Coralie

April 2, 2012 at 3:08 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Irish says "The debate over climate change was proven to be tainted by funding from those who wish to preserve their funding and by others who wish to enrich themselves."
Aside from the lack of evidence for "proven," a little common sense would indicate that the energy industry has a far greater investment in disproving anthropogenic climate change than scientists do in finding supporting evidence.
Just WHO is doing all this funding of them? Especially during the 8 years of the Bush administration when nobody wanted to hear what they were saying?
What about all the other countries whose science academies are in agreement with ours?
It's clear you're not a lawyer, because you'd never win a case with that kind of reasoning.

Posted by: Coralie

April 2, 2012 at 3:17 p.m. ( | suggest removal )