The perilous lack of respect for science in the modern mindset should be reversed.  Why?  Because it is an essential ingredient in our struggle to understand our world and the central tool in the toolbox for developing solutions for the manifest issues we all face.  But what is science?  Broadly speaking, it is a process of gathering information about a particular subject, otherwise known as research, in an attempt to understand and increase our knowledge about that subject.  The process is rigorous and disciplined, while balancing creativity with objectivity. 

There was a time not too long ago when science held a popular place in our cultural consciousness.  I remember during the late seventies and early eighties there was Saturday morning television dedicated to astronomy (the excellent show I have in mind escapes my memory) as well as the resilient PBS series Nova and above all, the essential and fascinating series Cosmos with the late Carl Sagan.  This was during my amateur astronomy phase when I’d spend hours under cold winter skies trying to discern the Andromeda Galaxy (our nearest galactic neighbor), as well as the various moons of both Jupiter and Saturn.  I learned if you want to achieve the ultimate perspective, look up.  The history of science and its impact on society is vast and complicated, but briefly put its overall impact since the late eighties has, I believe, declined.  There was a surprising backlash against Sagan and those like him (and there were few) as if the broadening of people’s interest in science was suddenly a bad thing.  As if sciences’ credibility suffered by attempting to make it accessible.  I never understood that. But it did result in fewer people wishing to look up.  Instead, idiosyncratic cultural issues started to consume our energies as evangelical religious thinking reasserted itself, culturally and politically. Even progressive elements of our popular culture chose to perceive scientific efforts as not really connected or relevant to ‘reality’.  If you liked astronomy, you were a nerd in need of a life.   But does the decline of interest in science matter?  I believe so because of the obvious need for serious solutions to issues like global warming and its offspring issue of the declining potential for future world food production, among many other things.  When people deny these issues even exist, however, you have to ask why.  I’ve said it before but people are alarmingly disinterested in facts.  Instead, people  are replacing facts with beliefs.  The former perceived as optional, while the latter compulsory.  At this moment, people are refusing the H1N1 vaccine.  Why?  Because it’s really a government conspiracy to sell pharmaceuticals and actually spread the swine flu don’t ya know.  People will insist this is true, despite our knowing it isn’t true. 

When societal trends against critical thinking and scientific research begin to calcify, as they are now, what’s needed is exactly someone like Carl Sagan who could take these complex subjects and explain them in a way that would pacify the intimidated but curious person.  He reinforced the comforting notion that there were no ‘stupid’ questions.  It’s surely true that many people interested in these subjects are afraid to pose the obvious questions: ‘Why?’, or ‘How?’ to avoid being perceived as unaware.  But Sagan showed us that science isn’t just for scientists lost in their sea of impenetrable jargon, but it’s for anyone with a curious mind who wants to understand their world.  Science should be understandable and accessible.  And very soon it will be essential for everyone to embrace regardless of religious persuasion or political association if we wish to proceed any further down the road.

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