There’s an interesting article that’s making the news today from Gfk Public Affairs & Corporate Communications that states that 51 percent of Americans question the Big Bang Theory. Teaching political science at a community college, I have no problem adding that if you asked those same people surveyed if they even knew how to explain the Big Bang Theory, chances are pretty good that you’d get a bunch of clueless responses. You see, I think something much worse is happening than people are squeamish on current accepted scientific knowledge; I think the real problem is that not only do people not know what’s current in scientific knowledge, but they believe that because they have an opinion, that somehow that’s some kind of knowledge, too.
Let me explain. Some years ago, I was working for a hotel back when I got out of the service. A young woman who worked in human resources was engaging me in a conversation one day in the employee cafeteria, where she was explaining to me why she thought that I was incorrect for indicating that the time line was not 2000 years old until December 31, 2000, rather than on the day the world counted as January 1, 2000. In other words, my argument was that for a full 2000 years to pass, you have to actually finish the 2000th year. Anyway, regardless of who was right or wrong, she explained that I couldn’t be correct because “the majority of people think the way she thinks” as opposed to the “bizarre” interpretation that I was giving. I then explained that scientific knowledge is not survey based, and she made some really strange response of how most people wouldn’t think that (the irony of that response didn’t escape me then either).
This is how I see the current state of knowledge in the United States today. People no longer rely on evidence or even on scientific theory but think that if they can argue some kind of rudimentary logic, then it must be as good an explanation than if you were to offer formal proofs. I believe part of the problem stems from science’s mistaken usage of the word “theory”, which causes so many people to think that the “theory of evolution” is just a theory, which to them means it has as much ground as the “theory of imaginative fiction” because the word “theory” is involved.
I was watching this week’s COSMOS, and I would like to say that it brought up something brilliant that so few people will latch onto. And that was the struggle that geochemist Clair Patterson underwent when he was trying to prove lead poisoning was killing people in the 20th century. What the episode did a great job of exposing was how easy it was for one doctor, on the payroll of the lead industry, was able to convince so many people that lead wasn’t a problem, when today there’s not a scientist alive who wouldn’t claim it was killing people in the way it was being used in industry. If that episode did anything for the future, I hope that it got people to pay closer attention to what big business tries to “sell” as “safe” whenever there’s something that should be scrutinized a lot more before being made mainstream. But we’re stupid people, which means we’ll take “experts” at their word, conduct surveys of the rest of us who don’t know better, and continue to enrich people who don’t care if they kill us while they profit off our dead bodies.