Have we entered an age of denial?
That's the concern of Professor Adam Frank, who teaches physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. Noting in an op-ed in today's New York TImes, that since 1982, belief in creationism has increased, while the percentage of Americans that understand climate change has decreased, Frank worries about delivering students into "a society ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science."
Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.
Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.
The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.
Frank sees an urgent need for scientists and non-scientists, alike, to follow the lead of the late-Carl Sagan in being advocates for science in the public:
The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children.
Thankfully, these efforts will get some help when a reboot of Sagan's classic TV program, Cosmos, returns in 2014. Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan has teamed up with Seth MacFarlane and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the director of the Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, to create the new program. The trailer, seen above, was recently debuted at the Comicon Conference.
In a Reddit AMA interview, DeGrasse Tyson summarized the mission of the show:
“To remind people that science is not something to be feared but embraced. And that understanding our place in the universe, as revealed by the methods and tools of science can not only be intellectually, but spiritually uplifting.”
What else do you think needs to be done to support science?