One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan. Don’t have cable. Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)
So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way. But what about science itself? I’m sorry to say science is not sexy. The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious. And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.
But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us. A way of possibly even improving the world around us. This is not new, right? From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.
My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience. He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”
Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public. I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons. This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences. We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.
Let’s take global warming. On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions. So much for the 97% scientific consensus. We’re screwed.
I’m not really sure how we got here. Was it Oprah? Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?
Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight? Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.
But none of us live in a closed system. We’re all in it together. Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years. I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant. And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.