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April,1997

Such Educated People! Wot? by Cliff Walker

Alt Tag GagFor two weeks, people have been shaking their heads and asking, "How could such intelligent and educated people actually believe they would be whisked away by a UFO?"

Excuse me! The Heaven's Gate members were not very bright, and they certainly could not have been well educated. In one sense, this is an indictment on America's system of education. But in another sense, this is a sign of our times.

One hundred years ago, the gap between the leading edge of science and the knowledge of the average citizen was not very great. Today, it is much different. Most Americans know enough about science to get into trouble, but still often cannot distinguish between legitimate science and lofty-sounding chicanery.

Much of what we think we know about science is really science fiction mixed with wishful thinking. While many watch TV, few study science.

Even bona fide scientists who have a specialized education for a specific field lack the broad-based experience needed to avoid being taken in by superstition posing as science. This is to be expected, because the vast majority of us do not have the luxury of a broad experience, covering many different disciplines. So it pays to be skeptical when it comes to the claims we hear every day.

For example, most of us wouldn't pour a newfangled alcohol solution into our gas tanks, unless it had been widely tested, widely publicized, and widely accepted. But what kinds of herbs and chemicals do many of us put into our bodies -- not knowing what they do or don't do -- simply because a book made lofty claims and gave glowing testimonials about the alleged health benefits?

This is especially shocking when we note that such remedies often admit, right on the label, that the health claims are folkloric: "Such and so tribe used this." But we would never treat our TV sets that way. Go figure.

Sure, scientists sometimes lie, but usually for political reasons. A classic example is Dr. Robert Gallo's claim to have isolated HIV. But real science is, by nature, agnostic. Good science is a continuing discussion between many people. Genuine science opens itself to test and, if needed, refutation.

Graphic Rule

    • Notes:

    • See also: How Could Intelligent, Educated People Believe This? (Forum)

Graphic Rule
Copyright ©1997 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon