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Wallace J Nichols

Wallace J Nichols

Posted: December 21, 2009 11:50 AM

Your New Year Resolution: Adopt a Denier

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Believe it or not, there are people who deny the veracity of the mountain of science behind the origins of humans (evolutionary biology), the formation of the universe (physics and cosmology), health care (medicine) and the state of our environment (environmental biology, chemistry and physics, again).

The so-called "deniers" bring their stories, based on political, religious and/or emotional motivation and vehemently deny the avalanche of reason, fact and research, even as it is burying them.

This is really nothing new. Over time there have been people who've denied the theory of gravitation, that the earth is round (and not hollow), the laws of thermodynamics, the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the cosmological picture of the evolution of the universe and the occurrence of biological evolution. Outside the natural sciences there are those who deny historical events such as the holocaust, the moon walk and that Shakespeare authored the works attributed to him.

Nowadays there's even a vocal and politically motivated group who deny the science that connects humans (~6.5 billion strong) and our mass burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) to climate change. Really, they are out there walking the streets.

If the denial of science weren't so dangerous, we could leave the topic to Jon Stewart to dissect on the Daily Show. But it is dangerous.

Make it your New Year resolution to quietly and kindly adopt a denier. Over time, explain how science works, share peer reviewed articles, go see films, have long conversations over coffee or beer afterwards. The idea isn't to "win" an argument, it's to answer questions and remove the fear or misunderstanding that surrounds advances in scientific understanding of ourselves and our planet.

There are all kinds of very human reasons people hold on to outdated beliefs in the face of change and new information (from D.E. Simanek):

  • Emotional convictions of the "rightness" of world-view that conflicts with the scientific view
  • Emotional feelings that some part of the scientific view just isn't believable, or even conceivable, and therefore must be wrong
  • Realization that science doesn't claim absolute truth, so deniers feel that they can reject any part of it they don't like
  • Sense that if scientific ideas aren't absolutely true, they must necessarily be completely false
  • Feeling that their views are ignored, "put down" or unappreciated by scientists
  • Religious motivations may take the form: "Science refuses to acknowledge the supernatural"
  • Or that science should acknowledge the possibility of miraculous events or phenomena
  • Complaints that science is "materialistic"

When faced with the findings of modern neuroscience challenging some ancient traditions, the Dalai Lama simply replied that those practices would adapt and evolve, embracing science.

So, be kind and help your neighbors as we all adapt and evolve this year.

In 2010 adopt a denier.

 
 
 

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