Living with a deep faith in science

science shirt

Last week’s post on Atheism as a sacred belief showed how atheists can be as dogmatic as anyone. The central insight is anything we care passionately about can become sacralized, and immune to reason. Even atheism. Since I’m a ra-ra science fan, science works that way for me. For example I love this “it works bitches” xkcd comic, and related t-shirt pictured above (only $19.99!). Not surprisingly, I can’t help but feel science denialism is a kind of sacrilege. I’ve already done a post on how science denialism does NOT exclusively come from the right. But this time wanted to dig a bit deeper, exploring the pitfalls of having a deep faith in science, as well as listing common anti-science beliefs.

Let’s start with this great quote every science proselytizer should know:

Science communication was once considered primarily a unidirectional conveyance of information, based on the assumption that if scientists and other experts could convey their knowledge to the public, typically through “data dumps,” society’s problems could be solved (i.e., if you knew what I know, you would believe what I believe). This perspective, “the science deficit model of the public”, is explored in a body of communications literature. We know it does not work.

Exactly. Love the pompous phrase “the science deficit model of the public.” With just a few more mandatory science classes all those stupid people will bow down to scientists. Naive on human nature to the point of being unscientific. Where unscientific is of course the ultimate science nerd insult. Anyway, if the public doesn’t care about a topic, naturally they’ll defer to scientific authority. For example the radius of the Earth is 3959 miles. Meh. But if the public does care, any conflict with sacred values results in science (or any other authority) losing. Lording facts over people won’t change minds. That takes reaching out with emotional connection to people on the other side.

What are some sacred values which might conflict with science? For liberals, it’s racial equality, environmentalism, and oppression of the poor. These are great values. But like any values lead to blind spots. For conservatives, it’s religion, social order, and market freedom. Again great values, though resulting in different blind spots. With that context, on to the list.

Commonly denied scientific views:

Of course we know the list above won’t change minds. There’s no information here you can’t find all over the web. So what’s the takeaway? Well if you are among the science faithful like me, the takeaway is to avoid thinking your love of science eliminates your biases. You just have different ones. For example I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that doing well on the SAT in high school doesn’t automatically make you a decent or even pleasant adult. And as for Star Trek, well, let’s just say it’s mediocre at best. Sorry. And if you are not a science nerd, and dis-believe something above, pause before you react. Consider whether your sacred values may, on rare occasions, partially distort your view.

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.

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