DELIBERATE IGNORANCE – Keith Taylor

I hate to be contrary, but was anybody other than I frightened when three viable candidates at a political debate of would-be presidents admitted that they do not  believe in evolution? And how different are these candidates from those who grudgingly admit they believe in the most tested scientific theory of all time but refuse to openly endorse it? - Keith Taylor

Perhaps fearful that even a small amount of knowledge is a dangerous thing, many Americans hold it in disdain. Yet the same people accept ridiculous claims as long as the claims support idea they believe in or want to hear. And legislators know what that is. Turn on C-SPAN, and the chances are good that you’ll see a member of Congress leading a blind charge into the land of make-believe.

Some time back, a U.S.Senator who denies human-caused global warming invited a science-fiction author – not a scientist, and certainly not a climatologist – to testify about climate change. Then, having heard from the science-fiction author what he wanted to hear, the senator joined the author in declaring that scientists’ concern over the looming disaster was a myth. That year was the hottest on record. So was the next, and so was the next. The pattern continues, but – thanks in part to the senator – the myth about the myth persists.

Science is sometimes touted by legislators, but only if it reflects what the legislator thinks the majority of his or her constituents wants to hear. One representative from the Midwest regularly holds forth on the virtues of ethanol in protecting us from the climate change he doesn’t believe in. I’ve never heard him own up to the scientifically tested and vetted fact that ethanol made from corn or soybeans gives us a net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere while decreasing the world food supply.

Deliberate ignorance, along with jingoism and dogmatic stubbornness, shape too much of America’s intellect. During the Cold War, we simply would not be beat by the Soviet Union, even in regard to the paranormal. In the late 1960s, our intelligence services suspected that Soviets were keeping tabs on us via remote viewing. Not to be outdone, the U.S.Army set up a program headed by the Standford Research Institute (which had no direct connection to the University). By 1985, no useful information had been gleaned by folks sitting around thinking really hard, so the Army ceased funding it. But when an idea – no matter how scientifically baseless – gets the attention of Congress, its life is extended and the money keeps coming in.

Operation Stargate, as the U.S.’s remote-viewing project was sometimes called, was kept alive. It only cost $20 million and had some interesting results that couldn’t be denied – because they were never tested. In 1996, the Science Applications International Corp, a San Diego-based think tank, conducted some Operation Stargate experiments. When I checked on this organization for a story, the people I talked with admitted they participated in the program but told me all the results were classified. I called the FBI, and a public relations representative also told me that he couldn’t comment on the project because it was classified.

The best information I could get was from a less reticent source: the grapevine. There I “learned” that one remote viewer got a peek inside a Russian submarine but wasn’t able to see anything classified. Nor was she able to determine which ocean the U-boat was in, but it was somewhere. As a retired Navy cryptologist, I was amazed at the ability of an outfit to spend so much money for information that could be gleaned by just thinking.

Thomas Jefferson warned us, “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic”. You have to wonder what Jefferson would have to say about the citizenry that elected  today’s leaders.

Where do we get our wacko ideas? Try the Internet. The brightest scholars a history would have envied today’s Americans, who have so much valid scientific information available  to them. Yet today’s Americans also believe what they want to believe – verification be damned!

Then they vote.

Is there hope for stemming this tide of deliberate ignorance? Not in Texas, it seems. Last May, the Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum that undermines much of what we know about science and our past. Jefferson, who worries about such credulity, had his historical role downplayed – perhaps to make room for Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederacy.

Because Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks – and is therefore very influential regarding what textbooks are sold  nationwide – such dangerous ideas will be taught as fact to children across our nation. Pious Texans want us to understand that we were founded as a Christian nation, which might have surprised many of its founders. John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which emphatically designated America as in no sense a Christian nation. That treaty was ratified unanimously by the Senate and has never been withdrawn.

Today America is galloping blithely down the road to blind faith in nonsense. Such uncritical thinking is supported by those who want their next quarters’s interest protected whether an interminably long summer bodes ill for our grandchildren or not.

We hear the phrase “scientists don’t know everything” so often that it ought to be a red flag for every skeptic. We who believe in science are also dismissed with the canard that we are merely eccentric. After all, deliberate ignorance works wonders for the deliberately ignorant. To those of us who want our history untainted and scientific findings tested, deliberate ignorance is a disaster.

An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic - Thomas Jefferson

Can this disaster be averted? Sure, but it will take a massive effort backed by a knowledgeable populace. Will it be averted? Probably not – unless more of the populace starts looking for real answers, which won’t be easy in the face of such a relentless barrage of sophistic answers from deniers of hard facts. The last refuge for deniers of hard facts is religion; every congressman except Pete Stark of Oakland claims a belief in a supreme being.

I hate to be contrary, but was anybody other than I frightened when three viable candidates at a political debate of would-be presidents admitted that they do not  believe in evolution? And how different are these candidates from those who grudgingly admit they believe in the most tested scientific theory of all time but refuse to openly endorse it?

Science can’t compete with charisma except in the real world.

And don’t forget the money! A recent heading in the San Diego Union – Tribune blared: “Oil Billionaires Backing Prop.23” – an efforts to thwart an earlier law designed to fight global warming. Yup, and that included a million dollars from Koch Industries, private company in the United States. It is also among the top ten polluters. I’m proud to say my state rejected the self-serving proposition.

We’re in a world of hurt here folks, and you can take that from a very worried but eccentric curmudgeon.

Courtesy: Skeptical Inquirer – July/August 2011

 

Keith Taylor is a former president and current program chair of the
San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry and lives in Chula Vista, California.

 

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