By Robert A. Vella
The egg-head, or academic nerd, is a stereotyped caricature of someone immersed in scientific pursuits. From the Enlightenment era through the 20th century, it reflected a generally positive connotation of the brilliant yet reclusive geniuses who advance human knowledge (e.g. Albert Einstein). Juxtaposed against this stereotype is one far more insidious which has been used to demonize entire groups of people with calamitous effect, the derisively named slope-head or dim-witted neanderthal (e.g. the fictional character Homer Simpson).
But, as western cultures started to decline in the 21st century, the egg-head stereotype turned more negative. It began to reflect a connotation of the corrupt establishment elitist, the self-serving technocrat who had lost all touch with humanity. At first, this view propagated within the ranks of political and religious conservatives who were rebelling against public policies and opinions driven by science such as climate change mitigation and the questionable legitimacy of biblical history; however, it soon migrated into other demographic groups as well. Anti-science attitudes subsequently began to emerge among left-wing anarchists, nihilists, survivalists, various forms of mysticism, the homeopathy and anti-vaccine movements, and – more worryingly – among mainstream citizens disaffected by neglected and failing education systems.
The failure of education has resulted in a growing sociological trend where people revert back to our primal instinct of relying on the quicker but less accurate process of subjective intuition rather than on objective analysis. This not only reinforces preconceived notions and self-assuredness, it also creates cognitive resistance to learning. Extrapolated on a cultural level, it can eventually lead to retrograde civilization like what occurred in Europe during the Dark Ages.
The biggest misconception about science is that it is directly equated with governmental authority. Science is simply a tool, and it can be used by policy-makers in an appropriate or inappropriate manner. Science is also a process – an empirical process – of understanding which evolves over time. Its studies are numerous and varied; but, only those which are thoroughly peer-reviewed, its results verified through observation and experimentation, its conclusions ratified through consensus, meet the threshold accepted science. People who are inclined towards absolutist arguments, or who are determined to push specific agendas, are incompatible with the scientific method. And, despite its limitations, science remains unchallenged as the best path towards human understanding ever conceived.
In the following C-SPAN Book TV video (1 hour, 50 minutes), author Shawn Otto discusses this “war on science” which has erupted in recent years. His speech focuses primarily on politics and the media, but the sociological implications are both obvious and intertwined. In the question-and-answer period at the end, an audience member identified a very perplexing issue: Those who need to read your book, Mr. Otto, probably won’t.
Watch the video: Book Discussion on The War on Science – Shawn Otto talked about his book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, in which he argues that scientific fact is devalued in favor of political and media interests. He spoke with Albert Teich.