The War Against Rational Thought

We have a President who cannot accept the fact that he lost the popular vote count and that his inauguration crowd wasn’t the largest ever. Despite innumerable scientifically proved facts, such as increasing global temperatures, the massive shrinkage and loss of glaciers world-wide, the unprecedented [in the last hundred thousand years] loss of arctic sea ice, the arrival of spring weeks earlier than any time in human history, roughly fifty percent of Americans deny that global warming is caused by human activities, even though more than 97% of the 12,000 published scientific papers since 1991 on climate change recognize that the major component of rapid global warming is human caused. The Republican Party is the only major political party in the world, including all major conservative parties, that rejects the need to address global warming.

Now, this “anti-science” attitude isn’t just a conservative problem. A recent study cited by New Scientist found that a significant proportion of liberals reject published scientific findings on vaccines, genetically modified foods, and the causes of autism.

So it appears that what scientific findings people accept or reject are determined in large part by their political leanings. The problem is, however, that when roughly half the population rejects certain scientific findings, and the other half rejects others, science and rational thought end up taking a beating.

While the much-maligned John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind,” most people, when confronted with facts that contradict their beliefs, either ignore those facts or scurry to find or invent facts to support their beliefs. Donald Trump, unfortunately, follows this practice all too often.

It’s been said that science progresses one funeral at a time, but the problem today is that we’re facing problems that need to be addressed a bit more quickly than that. Part of the problem is that we’ve become a technological world, and technology multiplies everything. Benefits become vastly greater; problems do as well; and everything moves more quickly because technology multiplies the rate of change. Yet human beings are conservative by nature and by evolution, and that conservatism means we don’t respond well to rapid change, particularly change we don’t agree with, and this means our own behavior and beliefs all too often war against rational thought.

Add to that the difficulty that humans are supreme rationalizers. There’s a quote from the movie The Big Chill about the impossibility of getting through the day without rationalizing. Unfortunately, it’s getting too late to keep rationalizing about the issues of science, not without incurring extraordinarily high costs that will be passed on to our children and their children.

4 thoughts on “The War Against Rational Thought”

  1. Tim says:

    What concerns me is that longer life-expectancy and increasing birthrate will cause such a large planet population, and this will offset measures to reduce carbon emissions.

    I speak to Green campaigners in the UK about addressing the effect of population, and of measures to voluntarily have smaller families such as no benefit/tax relief for the third child, etc., and it is just brushed away.

    Personal rights and choice count higher than the planet it seems.

    In a few generations Asimov’s caves of steel may be more than science fiction.

  2. Matthew Hargraves says:

    Thank you! I’ve been making this assertion for quite some time. I agree with their assertions that the divide is political, but the line is pretty simple. The left rejects things that says ‘good’ things (making food better, making diseases go away) about us, while the right rejects things that says ‘bad’ things (polluting and ruining the planet, we come less intelligent life).

    I agree with you, build your beliefs on data. Then the only war is with people who make their beliefs on non data items, or people who use data to deceive (omg, this…) and manipulate.

  3. JM says:

    In my Father’s words: “My generation fucked the world up, now your generation gets to fix it.”

  4. JakeB says:

    a propos of absolutely nothing except that life imitates art, I can’t resist sharing this CNN headline: “Big Sky battle: The singer vs. the millionaire”, as I was just looking at Mr. Modesitt’s novel _Flash_ earlier today.

    I also want to observe that while the Republican party as a whole (both nationally and in most states) rejects some of the most strongly evidenced science there is, especially the theory of evolution, anti-vaxxerism is at most a fringe belief on the left (although I concede there is a lot more anti-GMO sentiment).

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