I was genuinely surprised by a statement appearing in a LiveScience article about a recent study that found American conservatives have lost faith in science over the past four decades. In the 1970s, around half of all conservatives had a great deal of trust in science, while today only around a third of conservatives trust science. Liberals and moderates maintained a fairly steady trust level, at around 47% and 42% respectively. The findings appeared in the American Sociological Review in an article authored by UNC researcher Gordon Gaulet.
I’m having difficulty getting past the idea that “being a conservative” means “looking for an alternative” to the status quo. This seems to be the exact opposite of the traditional definition of conservative, which, of course, was the defense of the status quo. This seems to be a situation where the political terminology and the plain meaning of words have diverged. Similarly, “liberal” used to imply a willingness to challenge the status quo, but now is applied to those who seek to maintain it. It is rather like Voltaire’s claim about the Holy Roman Empire being neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
It should disturb liberals and conservatives alike that a growing percentage of Americans, far more than half of all citizens, lack trust in science and are “looking for alternatives.” These alternatives include dogma, pseudoscience, and ideology. The trouble with these is that “bases of knowledge” founded on assumptions and dogma do not grow, develop, or change. They do not correct their errors, and they produce stagnation, or worse, destructive policies.
I get asked often why I bother critiquing Ancient Aliens and “alternative archaeology.” This is one reason. More than half of all Americans don’t have trust in the scientific project, and in that environment people looking for “alternatives” become open to lies, especially from those who use the language and trappings of science to proclaim their non-science and nonsense to be equal “ways of knowing.” If no one stands up to defend science against those who would profit from destroying it—in any and every field—we will live in a world where whole generations will grow up believing that ancient people rode dinosaurs to work at the extraterrestrial nuclear power plant.
Oh, right, that won’t happen: New York City banned dinosaurs from school tests and testing materials because they might cause students to think about evolution. They can’t return until we prove Jesus rode one. (Note to humor impaired: that link is a joke.)
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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