Monday, July 11, 2011

Science? Deliberate Ignorance? Choose...

This appeared in Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine dedicated to rational and critical thought and to using science, not dogma or superstition to find answers. It is available at some newstands. Individual copies can also be bought at



Keith Taylor

Perhaps fearful that even a small amount of it is a dangerous thing, knowledge is held in disdain by many Americans. Yet the same people accept ridiculous claims as long as they are they want to hear. And legislators know what that is!

Turn on C-SPAN and the chances are good you'll see a member of Congress leading a blind charge into the land of make believe.

Climate change? Some time back, the chair of the Senate Science Climate Change Committee invited a science fiction author, not a scientist, and certainly not a climatologist, to testify. Then, having heard what he wanted to hear, the Senator joined the author in declaring that the scientists' concern over the looming disaster was a myth.

That year was the hottest on record. So was the next and the next. The pattern continues, but thanks in part to the senator, the myth about a myth persists.

Science can be touted, but only if it reflects what a legislator thinks the majority of his constituents want to hear. One from the Midwest regularly holds forth on the virtues of ethanol to protect 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 soy beans gives a us net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere while decreasing the world food supply.

Deliberate ignorance along with jingoism and dogmatic stubbornness shapes too much of America's intellect. During the cold war we simply would not be beat or outdone by the Soviets, not even in silly things. In the late sixties someone in our intelligence services suspected the commies were keeping tabs on us with remote viewing. Not to be outdone in dumb ideas our army set up a program headed by the Stanford Research Institute -- no direct connection to the university.

By 1985 no useful information was gleaned by folks sitting around thinking real hard, so the Army ceased funding it. Still when an idea, no matter how wacko, gets the attention of Congress it's life is extended and the money keeps coming in.

Operation Stargate, as it was sometimes called, was kept alive. It only cost 20 million dollars and had some interesting results which couldn't be denied because they were never tested. In 1996 the Science Applications International Corp, a San Diego Based think tank had conducted some of the experiments. When I checked on it for a story, they admitted they participated in the program but all results are classified. I called the FBI and a PR guy also told me told they couldn't comment because it was classified.

The best I got was from a less reticent source, the grapevine. There I "learned" one remote viewer got a peek inside a Rusky submarine but wasn't able 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 for information which 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 ol' Tom would have to say about the citizenry which elected today's leaders.

Where do we get our wacko ideas? Try the information highway. The brightest scholars in history would envy today's Americans with who have so much valid scientific information available on the web. But today's Americans also have even more claims of things they want to believe, verification be damned!

Then they vote.

Is there help in stemming this tide of deliberate ignorance? Not from Texas it seems. In May, the Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum which undermined much of what we know about science and our past. Tom Jefferson who worried about such credulity was himself was downgraded, perhaps to make room for Jefferson Davis who was President of the Confederacy.

Because Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks, credulous ideas will be taught as fact to children across our nation. The pious Texans want us to understand that we were founded as a Christian nation, which might have surprised one of the founders. John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli which emphatically said America was in no sense a Christian nation. That treaty was ratified unanimously by the Senate and has never been withdrawn.

The Constitution's only mention of religion is to restrict it.

But today. America is galloping blithely down the road to blind faith in nonsense. Their race into credulous thinking is supported by the vested interests of those who want their next quarter's interests protected whether an interminably long summer bodes ill for our grandchildren or not.

We hear "oh scientists don't know everything" so often it ought to be a warning to 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 our findings of science tested it will be a disaster.

Can this disaster be avoided or averted? Sure, but it will take a massive effort backed by a knowledgeable populace.

Will it? Probably not unless more of the populace start looking for real answers That won't be easy when faced with relentless barrage of sophistic answers from deniers of hard facts. The ultimate refuge for deniers of hard facts is religion; every congressman except Pete Stark of Oakland claims a belief in a supreme being. , and only Pete Stark in Oakland will admit he didn't believe.

I hate to be contrary, but was anybody except me frightened when, at a political debate of would-be presidents, three viable candidates admitted they admitted they do not believe in evolution. And how much different are they from the rest of the candidates who will grudgingly admit they do believe in the most tested scientific theory of all time, but refuse to support it?

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

And don't forget the money! A recent headline blared: OIL BILLIONAIRES BACKING PROP. 23 -- a California effort to curb global warming. Yup, and that included a million from Koch Industries, ranked by Forbes as the second largest private company in the U.S.A. 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.

//Keith Taylor is a former president and current program chair of the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry living in Chula Vista, Ca. He can be reached at


No comments: