Monday, April 12, 2010

Michael Specter: The Danger of Science Denial

If you had access to a time machine, would you go forward or backward in time? Forward absolutely - gimme the good stuff. A lot of people would like to go back - see some dinosaurs, Cleopatra, crap like that. I too have some times and places I'd like to experience -  ancient Greece and learn from Aristotle, even more ancient China and talk with the Buddha, experience a Jimmi Hendrix concert live at his peak - you know the greats!

Right now, even though we are at an all time high of technology and knowledge, it seems we are at the precipice of a great back slide - a new intellectual dark age where people no longer believe that science is factual. Where ancient homeopathic cures are more trusted than modern medicine because they are deemed 'natural' therefore better and because the ancients knew something that we don't today. Yes, it is true that aspirin is derived from the bark of a willow tree. But, it took chemists to distill out the curative chemicals and concentrate them so we can take two small pills and don't have to boil down large quantities of bark to make a bitter liquid (of an uncontrolled and unknown concentration) to drink.

Here's the problem, an easily grasped belief seems more true and real to a lot of people than real science, that is very difficult to understand. I don't pretend to understand all of the science I believe in. To a large degree I am taking the word of the scientists that they are conducting their experiments correctly and are reporting the results correctly. However, what I do have over a concocted belief is the all mighty Scientific Method. Test your beliefs against the scientific method and see if they hold up - then I will believe.

Genetically Modified foods create mutant monsters?! Tested false. There are some concerns, but let's not dismiss them without knowing the facts. GM foods on my plate? Yes, a second helping please. Do you realize that without GM foods we'd never be able to feed the billions on this planet? Plant disease resistance, drought tolerance, vitamin enrichment are not bad qualities. So GM foods or vast famine; don't trust me, do your own research. Or just go eat a petroleum-based cream filled, yellow dye colored artificial sponge cake and be quiet.

Vaccines will give children autism and a host of other nasty diseases? What you believed was wrong. Tested false. Vaccines against disease? Yes, please. If I never get the flu again, I buying my doctor a gold-plated putter for his short game. Vaccines have been proven over and over to not cause autism, however they DO prevent or polio, rubella, and other crippling and debilitating diseases; once again don't trust me, look it ups on your own. And don't trust an entertainment celebrity as an authority, go to the people who do research and have professional degrees and careers established on science. Or you could dig out the leg braces that your great grandfather wore because of his brush with polio and oil the hinges because your child might need them.

Because, let me tell you people, prayer and placebos did not make your vitamin enriched breakfast cereal, your pasteurized milk and your smart phone - science did.

Placebos are fine until belief replaces science, then people die. And it is a slippery slope once your beliefs start to replace fact. Did bleeding ever cure anyone? Can acupuncture cure cancer?

And now a short video...

For some unrelated amusement on this topic listen to Brian Dunning of the podcast Skeptoid sing "Buy It!"

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