Tuesday, November 11, 2014
It's a very frustrating problem. As the old saying goes, "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up," and that is indeed how most people work most of the time.
If you don't already know about it, and you're into deep thoughts, you might want to bookmark Massimo Pigliucci's webzine Scientia Salon. He discusses a recent conference on denialism at Clark University here. We are currently in a very dangerous historical moment (my point, not his) in which a basic membership requirement for one of the two major parties in the world's most powerful nation is to believe a whole lot of important stuff that is not true.
The trap is that facts, reason, critical thinking -- none of these are of any use. In fact, research shows that when confronted with contrary facts, true believers just did in deeper.. An endless parade of experts can testify in front of James Inhofe's committee presenting every possible proof that humans are changing the planet's climate and that the consequences will be catastrophic, and the denial will just grow deeper.
So what is to be done? Obviously if I had the magic bullet we wouldn't be in this mess, but I will say that the key to the problem is more cultural than it is intellectual. We have to make saving the planet something the cool kids do, in essence. I largely credit the entertainment industry with the astonishing cultural transformation regarding attitudes toward homosexuality. The only people who are really going to establish the truths of evolution, environmental threats, macroeconomics (no, cutting rich people's taxes does not create jobs), and the fallacy of "free markets" are movie and TV producers, fiction writers, comedians, celebrity chefs, and such. Scientists should keep saying what they believe and keep answering questions, but the only ones who are going to accomplish very much are also entertainers -- Neil DeGrasse Tyson and his ilk. He pays as much attention to his costumes and his hairdo as he does to his words, and well he should.