I’ve often wondered what it is I’d like to do in my life. Science, Mars, politics (of the non-traditional sort), education, alternate reality games have all appealed and continue to appeal. But perhaps one of the things I feel most passionately about is intelligent thinking and rational thought – science and the enlightenment, in short. Reading an article at the Columbia Journalism Review about how journalists feel the need to conduct ‘balanced’ reporting of things like creationism and abortion when empirically they are not balanced whatsoever simply makes me furious.
I don’t believe that all ideas and beliefs are equal to each other. I believe that there are such things as facts, and that there are competing positions – like creationism and evolution – that are by no means balanced in terms of factual evidence and theoretical underpinnings. Yet a good proportion of people who’ve had secondary or even university education – even a majority – would not agree, or even care. The notion that a handful (at most) of agenda-motivated scientists who say that smoking is not harmful, or that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, or that the MMR vaccine is not safe, are deserved equal time and consideration as the rest of the entire scientific community, backed by countless peer-reviewed, top-tier studies, is not even laughable. It’s disgusting. It’s even more horrific that most people don’t even give a shit, despite the fact that these issues affect them on a deeply personal level.
The typical and tired response to what I’m saying is, ‘Well, how can you say they’re wrong? No-one believed the Earth was round, etc etc.’ That sort of response is ridiculous. Firstly, science today is not the same as science as it was centuries ago, or even decades ago. Secondly, there is no scientific conspiracy to keep new theories down. In fact, speaking from experience, every scientist would like to be the one that transforms a field and the way we think about things.
I recall seeing a pro-smoking lobbyist on TV recently. When challenged with a new metastudy that showed unequivocally that passive smoking is extremely and significantly harmful to public health, this lobbyist said, ‘This study doesn’t have any new data, it doesn’t mean anything, and there are other studies that show passive smoking isn’t harmful.’ I was literally speechless. Not only does this guy misrepresent what a metastudy is, but he also goes and implies that all studies are equal, and if he has one that says passive smoking is fine – never mind whether it’s flawed or not – well, that means it’s fine. Even worse, I have no doubts that this guy is fully aware that he is misrepresenting the issue.
What I want to do is make people think rationally about these issues. I want them to understand what the scientific method is, what a theory means and what it means to prove something. I want them to think for themselves. And I think I can do it at the same time, and within, my other interests as well.