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  #1    
Old February 26th, 2013, 06:21 PM
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Inspired by an interesting discussion I just watched on a local public-broadcast current affairs / journalism programme, I figured I'd bring the topic here.

Why is skepticism of science apparently on the rise? Throughout society. Not just, as would frequently be assumed, on the "right" side of the political aisle (most notably today towards climate change and evolutionary theory) but on the so-called "left" as well (vaccinations, wind turbines, genetically modified organisms, nuclear power).

Is it the fringes of political ideologies? Of society? Are we not educated enough? Why are we skeptical of what scientists and peer review largely agree upon and tell us are true (which seems to annoy the right) or safe (which seems to annoy the left)?

Which isn't to say that skepticism or free-thinking isn't beneficial, but why do we as a society tend to not merely question science but try to deny it (or prove it wrong, in a very unscientific way)? Why the mistrust of science on the whole?
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Old February 26th, 2013, 06:27 PM
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Perhaps the rise in skepticism in scientific fact directly correlates with the failures of the educational system since the 80's. Fundamentalism takes hold in times of crisis or uncertainty.
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Old February 27th, 2013, 12:47 PM
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Maybe it's partly to do with how we live in a world where everything seems to have two sides now.

I have vague memories of school were we talked about how at some point (the 70s? the 80s?) it started to become a thing in public discourse to view two opposing points of view as equal even when one side was supported by 90+% of scientists, or women, or whoever. You could say "Well, the debate isn't settled" and things like that and make it seem like both sides were equally valid. Today it's even easier because you can always find someone who seems knowledgeable about whatever the topic is with a counter view, like a meteorologist who doesn't believe in climate change.

That kind of atmosphere (haha) makes it hard for less discerning, less scientifically minded people to know what's what. You kind of fall back into a skeptical stance on everything you hear. Added to that, I think we cynically expect everyone to have ulterior motives. Corporations only care about money so they would have reason to lie when they tell you GMOs are safe, and so on. I don't think we're ultimately critical of science, but that we're having more fundamental arguments and science is one of the mediums we do it through. Religious fundamentalists, for example, want everyone to follow their rules, but it's not very persuasive to just go out and say that. Discredit someone's science and you discredit them and what they stand for.
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Old February 28th, 2013, 04:53 AM
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Perhaps the rise in skepticism in scientific fact directly correlates with the failures of the educational system since the 80's. Fundamentalism takes hold in times of crisis or uncertainty.
Not saying you're wrong, but I'd just like to know some of those specific educational failures in the 80's compared to education before then. I personally think that while education has always been a VERY flawed institution, you could argue that education itself has gotten better with new technologies that grant us access to more knowledge. In fact, since World War II, colleges (and I believe high schools) based a core curriculum (Columbia University and West Point for example) directly in response to threats to U.S. security, so the importance of education should be correlated with its improvement. But now I'm more interested in what you think!

As for the question, I think Triforce has touched on the point about free-thinking and skepticism, and I think this is the reason for the skepticism of science. And it's not just science, either; with information coming at this society's generation at full speed from all kinds of directions and media, everyone from our parents to our teachers told us not to believe what you see on TV or the internet. It wasn't always a given that media would lie to us; this idea was actually heavily and ubiquitously reinforced by the Vietnam War, disillusioned vast amounts of American citizens and was a lesson to them to be more skeptical of the practices of their government and the media that can easily be manipulated based on personal or national interests. Naturally, the next question we would ask is then what could we believe? Even the most credible institution of science and its methodologies are doubted because of the media through which we receive this information.

I think when you get right down to it, it's all about trust, which we've been taught to have little of when we learn. It's a confusing idea, which is why we're confused about science.
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Old February 28th, 2013, 07:08 AM
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Not saying you're wrong, but I'd just like to know some of those specific educational failures in the 80's compared to education before then. I personally think that while education has always been a VERY flawed institution, you could argue that education itself has gotten better with new technologies that grant us access to more knowledge. In fact, since World War II, colleges (and I believe high schools) based a core curriculum (Columbia University and West Point for example) directly in response to threats to U.S. security, so the importance of education should be correlated with its improvement. But now I'm more interested in what you think!
It's no secret that our average test scores have been mediocre for several years and have even dropped further in recent years, America is 20-something now in terms of average SAT score if I remember right. (Whether from poor teaching or the increasing access to the test by minorities and disadvantaged whites who usually score lower)

On top of that, education budgets at a state and local level have been on the chopping block for budget cuts and are usually some of the first things to get cut. Schools have to do more with less, which doesn't nessicaraly mean they'll fail - my alma mater's average expenditures per student has fallen a few hundred dollars since I graduated while keeping our 'Excellent With Distinction' score from the state. But I also live in a pretty advantaged/affluent district with a multi-million dollar high school, outfitted with new computers, new textbooks, etc. And we still had to make several painful budget cuts in the past decade or so. Imagine what failing districts had to go through financially.

And the technology can improve by leaps and bounds, but it's irrelevant if the schools don't have the money to afford it. Money is the thing your average suburban Midwest school district does not have. And Columbia and West Point don't really apply here/ need to worry about money, with mammoth endowments, worldwide notoriety, and such. And the watering down of curricula to suit ineffective state tests, i.e, No Child Left Behind, hasn't helped either.
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Old February 28th, 2013, 07:51 AM
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It should be pointed out that science is only mistrusted when the results of whatever experiment is being done doesn't benefit the general populace. A scientist who believes climate change is real is being paid off by the government, but a scientist who has a theory that climate change is actually totally natural and not worth worrying about is of course a genius who couldn't have any ulterior motive. I mean admittedly it's easier to believe a scientist who believes in climate change is being paid off by the goverment than that the guy against it is trying to make a name for himself or whatever, but still. I think it comes down to people taking any possible excuse to deny something bad is happening.
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Old March 5th, 2013, 12:13 AM
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A lot of the problem is mis-communication and ignorance on the subject or subjects. Mainstream media and certain political / religious affiliation and mindsets are primarily the cause.

People who think or trust a source in a particular manner will continue to the believe it from their regular sources of how they think, regardless if the facts are true or not.

Your average conservative oldtimer who spends his time watching FOX News already has his heart and mind set on what the idiot box is telling him. If the TV or famous celebrities that he "trusts" say that "Global Warming doesn't exist" then he'll most likely believe it.

People are stuck in the mindset of how they were raised and the environments they are currently in.

To someone who currently thinks rationally, they're already in the mindset on how to judge and when to be skeptical of something, and when to trust something, as well as which sources to trust.

A good majority of people believe in really, really stupid things. Not because they're not educated, but because they already think they know what they already are set in their mind to know as true.

The mistrust is basically an indoctrination process... of not just religion, but of a set of views, morals, and values each person and who they associate with have. Some of these groups KNOW they're wrong and lying, and they need such individuals who already think like they're thinking, to stay like that.
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Old March 5th, 2013, 09:37 AM
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I've something else to add which I'd forgotten to do. Though there is skepticism on the 'right' and 'left' they aren't really about the same things. Distrust of nuclear power has precedent in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima, and in general the left side of skepticism boils down to "Whoa! Are you sure this is safe?" and the distrust isn't directed squarely at science, but more on the policy makers who want to implement that science. The left knows that science works, but tends to think people aren't being careful enough and want more assurances. Not to say that some don't take it too far. It's not really so comparable to a right-wing distrust of science which is a more fundamental distrust of basic theories (like evolution) AND the implementation (such as contraception).
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Old March 6th, 2013, 04:20 PM
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Usually strongly held religious beliefs lead to people being skeptics of scientific events, theories, actions, and products that could potentially help society.. And cure some issues.. But people are too stubborn to consider trying them before shooting the idea of say, abortion, down.

Lots of people just are skeptics because it seems either too good to be true or just not believable enough.

I just wanna say the human race has come a long way and we are now in the 21st century. I mean it wouldn't hurt to just realize we are growing so much as a species.
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Old March 10th, 2013, 10:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TRIFORCE89 View Post
Inspired by an interesting discussion I just watched on a local public-broadcast current affairs / journalism programme, I figured I'd bring the topic here.

Why is skepticism of science apparently on the rise? Throughout society. Not just, as would frequently be assumed, on the "right" side of the political aisle (most notably today towards climate change and evolutionary theory) but on the so-called "left" as well (vaccinations, wind turbines, genetically modified organisms, nuclear power).

Is it the fringes of political ideologies? Of society? Are we not educated enough? Why are we skeptical of what scientists and peer review largely agree upon and tell us are true (which seems to annoy the right) or safe (which seems to annoy the left)?

Which isn't to say that skepticism or free-thinking isn't beneficial, but why do we as a society tend to not merely question science but try to deny it (or prove it wrong, in a very unscientific way)? Why the mistrust of science on the whole?
Some people are afraid of technology and science, thinking it's the devil (which is money by the way) trying to corrupt our minds. But the 1% have already brainwashed us anyway.
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Old March 11th, 2013, 06:13 AM
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Some people are afraid of technology and science, thinking it's the devil (which is money by the way) trying to corrupt our minds. But the 1% have already brainwashed us anyway.
I have no idea what you're talking about XD
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Old March 11th, 2013, 10:23 AM
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I have no idea what you're talking about XD
If I may attempt to interpret: there are people who distrust technology and science, usually people who believe that either things are changing too much/too fast, people who can't keep up with the changes, or people who think think things used to be better in "the good old days." Whatever the case, technology is the sign of how things shouldn't be. They moralize, painting our scientific knowledge as morally bad for us (a.k.a. the devil), a temptation for us to turn away from good values, hard work, respect for our elders, etc. for the convenience of modern tech or the alternate answers to the questions of the universe that science provides. Essentially, they fear that science will supplant their view of the world. But all of this is inconsequential because the top 1% of income earners already have us in an economic death grip and their influence has influence has turned us from both science and good old fashioned values as we strive to empower and enrich the already rich in the misguided belief that their wealth will benefit the rest of it.

That's my take anyway: Old fashioned people don't get technology, think science destroys religion, but none of it matters because we're not addressing the economic issues.
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Old March 11th, 2013, 10:33 AM
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If I may attempt to interpret: there are people who distrust technology and science, usually people who believe that either things are changing too much/too fast, people who can't keep up with the changes, or people who think think things used to be better in "the good old days." Whatever the case, technology is the sign of how things shouldn't be. They moralize, painting our scientific knowledge as morally bad for us (a.k.a. the devil), a temptation for us to turn away from good values, hard work, respect for our elders, etc. for the convenience of modern tech or the alternate answers to the questions of the universe that science provides. Essentially, they fear that science will supplant their view of the world. But all of this is inconsequential because the top 1% of income earners already have us in an economic death grip and their influence has influence has turned us from both science and good old fashioned values as we strive to empower and enrich the already rich in the misguided belief that their wealth will benefit the rest of it.

That's my take anyway: Old fashioned people don't get technology, think science destroys religion, but none of it matters because we're not addressing the economic issues.
Well... luddites essentially. While I don't agree with them, I think their view is primarily out of self-preservation - not religion (or however it is that the devil comes into play here). There's always some element of the population that resists change - primarily in response to changes brought about by technology and science.

The latter part though. 1%, economics, and whatever still seems entirely random in the context of the rest of the content
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Old March 15th, 2013, 06:09 PM
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It's no secret that our average test scores have been mediocre for several years and have even dropped further in recent years, America is 20-something now in terms of average SAT score if I remember right. (Whether from poor teaching or the increasing access to the test by minorities and disadvantaged whites who usually score lower)

On top of that, education budgets at a state and local level have been on the chopping block for budget cuts and are usually some of the first things to get cut. Schools have to do more with less, which doesn't nessicaraly mean they'll fail - my alma mater's average expenditures per student has fallen a few hundred dollars since I graduated while keeping our 'Excellent With Distinction' score from the state. But I also live in a pretty advantaged/affluent district with a multi-million dollar high school, outfitted with new computers, new textbooks, etc. And we still had to make several painful budget cuts in the past decade or so. Imagine what failing districts had to go through financially.

And the technology can improve by leaps and bounds, but it's irrelevant if the schools don't have the money to afford it. Money is the thing your average suburban Midwest school district does not have. And Columbia and West Point don't really apply here/ need to worry about money, with mammoth endowments, worldwide notoriety, and such. And the watering down of curricula to suit ineffective state tests, i.e, No Child Left Behind, hasn't helped either.
Definitely agree with the point about budget cuts to education on all levels hurting the system, as I live in an area where a lot of schools have been shutting down in recent years. Really makes me wonder where our taxpayer money goes, but since I don't know much about government spending percentages, I'll definitely look into that soon.

I also agree with standardized test scores not being up to par because that's what the data tell us. But I don't agree with using standardized test scores with measuring the quality of the American education system because it ignores the idea that other countries could be stepping up their game (for lack of a better term), changing formats of standardized tests and, like you said, increasing minority and less privileged citizens influencing the measures of central tendency. All in all, it seems like an iffy correlation.

I also think that what you said about needing money to implement technologies into the system isn't necessarily true within the context of the argument. Think about this in terms of standards of living; households with the median family income back in 1913 wouldn't have had internet access, but 100 years later, that is almost certainly the case. This can be applied to schools as well; I doubt if the average school back in 1913 would have had a computer class.

Legislature regarding school policies has had its ups and downs. You can bring up No Child Left Behind, but I can bring up desegregation of schools. In either case, this also isn't a good lens through which we can evaluate the detriment or improvement of schools longitudinally. And this is my main argument; that education hasn't really improved or failed over time. It has done both in different ways, and in some cases very obvious ways, and it's hard to make an argument based in change over time in this case. I think this needs to be viewed within various contexts, such as what education is trying to accomplish at a particular time, if it actually does so, and what means are used to improve the transfer information.

(Sorry it took a while to reply, busy ish going on!)
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Old April 3rd, 2013, 05:53 PM
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I've something else to add which I'd forgotten to do. Though there is skepticism on the 'right' and 'left' they aren't really about the same things. Distrust of nuclear power has precedent in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima, and in general the left side of skepticism boils down to "Whoa! Are you sure this is safe?" and the distrust isn't directed squarely at science, but more on the policy makers who want to implement that science. The left knows that science works, but tends to think people aren't being careful enough and want more assurances. Not to say that some don't take it too far. It's not really so comparable to a right-wing distrust of science which is a more fundamental distrust of basic theories (like evolution) AND the implementation (such as contraception).
This is a great point. To me at least, the skepticism from the left comes from misgivings about how humans will handle such technology, and how things like economics, politics, and human error can play a factor. (Going with Nuclear power, think oversight, regulations, keeping facilities safe over time, etc.)
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Old April 3rd, 2013, 07:36 PM
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If an aspiring scientist may add his opinion:

I think a lot of science skepticism is BS. Especially GMO's (I'm majoring in political science and biochem, so I have a bit of expertise here). It's common knowledge that one gene --> one protein. GMO's are basically regular every day organisms with extra genes here or there. These genes may introduce a new protein which provides some nutrient altogether, or a protein that increases the expression of another protein, so that'll increase the nutrient indirectly. That's it. It's hard to create Franken-foods, in fact, from a biochemical perspective, I can't even envision that as possible. If you want to engineer a chicken with two heads, you'll have to identify that gene which causes "head-budding" and then you have to get the protein product to the proper place when the embryo is developing, so you'll need another gene, and so on and so forth. We know what genes look like, what coding begins them, and what coding ends them. So I think it's hard to insert a gene within another gene "by accident" because that would mean you are an incompetent biochemist and did not pay attention in Grade 12 biology.

As for adding genes, I would say it is highly unlikely to make food unsafe, or poisonous. It's a common theme in biology that biological systems are highly regulated. Things evolved for millions of years to get to where they are now. If you inadvertently introduced a toxin into an organism, most likely that organism will die because it did not have a mechanism for keeping itself safe from that toxin.

The only negative aspects of GMO's are economic, and that gene flow into the ecosystem can screw up biodiversity, but that again is economic as well because most of the crops we grow are bioengineered anyways through breeding and are not native to the ecosystem they're in. It's a big threat to farmers who don't have as high yields, but I wouldn't call the food itself unsafe.

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Quote:
but why do we as a society tend to not merely question science but try to deny it (or prove it wrong, in a very unscientific way)?
I don't think I'll ever understand how an intellectually less rigourous answer could defeat something that has a lot more substance. And I don't know why people try. If they want to prove it wrong, then they should follow scientific principles. I feel that a lot of this is brought up by politicians and journalists that have no expertise in these matters, and more concerned about their own interests.

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To me at least, the skepticism from the left comes from misgivings about how humans will handle such technology, and how things economics, politics, and human error can play a factor.
A scientist would say "that's the engineer's problem". We're here to come up with ideas and experiments, engineers turn them into realities XD

--

Climate change is pretty legit. Scientists across the board agree that it is happening. Dissenting views tend to be propagated by the media. Science doesn't lie. You have hypothesis that are supported or not by evidence. Everybody can look at the evidence, and some people can have differing views, but all of those views are backed by evidence. It's not stuff that is somehow far away, inaccessible to the average person, though that's what the media would like you to think. Everybody can educate themselves in science, or at least basic concepts and understand where these scientific claims are coming from.
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