Laughing to Save Science

I had just secured Michael’s KangaRockaRoo in the back seat of my Nissan when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me, young man.”

I turned and saw a woman who was clearly in her late 60’s or early 70’s. She wore a heavy coat, hat, mittens, and a scarf. All well-suited to the below freezing temperatures of a Woodland Park winter’s day.

“You need to get a snowsuit on that baby or she will catch pneumonia,” she said.

I looked at Michael who wore a t-shirt, diaper, and socks. I had covered him with a blanket but he had kicked it off so I still held it in my hand. Michael, like me, ran hot and couldn’t stand being in too many clothes.

“First of all, it’s a he, and secondly he gets too hot in a snowsuit,” I said patiently. “He’ll be fine.”

“No he won’t,” she insisted. “He’ll catch a cold, get an ear infection, or worse.”

“What century were you born in?” I asked. She looked puzzled as I continued. “We’ve known for almost four hundred years that diseases are caused by germs not by being cold. Now go peddle your nonsense elsewhere.”

Predictably, she was not happy with my response. I understood that she was trying to be helpful, but I have little patience for people who spread scientifically inaccurate information. Tens of thousands of Jews who were killed by German hypothermia experiments in the Holocaust and thousands of prison volunteers have shown conclusively that there is no correlation or causation between exposure to wet, cold conditions and catching colds, flu, or pneumonia. I feel a moral obligation to their sacrifices to not let this 16th century ignorance be perpetuated. That’s getting harder to do by the day.

There was an article in the Denver Post on 7/7/17 written by Graham Ambrose about a group of people who believe that the earth is flat and that NASA is a government conspiracy funded by globe makers or maybe Rand McNally. I’m not quite sure. Even after reading it several times, I still don’t understand what they believe the nefarious purpose for such lies are. What is interesting to me is their complaint that they are being discriminated against. They are afraid to share their beliefs that gravity doesn’t exist. It’s hard to exaggerate the level of stupidity that these people embrace as scientific evidence for their absurd ideas. It’s as simple as someone looking out of a car window and down at the road, who then claims that the car is standing still and the road is traveling at 60 mph.

On the one hand, they are right to demand proof that the Earth is round. Skepticism is fundamental to a scientific viewpoint. In fact, I recall reading about a high school science teacher who started each class year by making the students prove that the Earth is round. It always took the students several days and many attempts to succeed. Part of the problem for many people is that the best proofs for the shape of the earth is mathematical, geometry to be precise, and Americans are notoriously proud of being mathematical morons.

On the other hand, the flat Earth belief is dumb. There is no other word for it. But in fairness, the amount of scientific stupidity in America is growing exponentially. The science and math scores of American students fall somewhere between Uzrectalstan and Djibouti. Exhibit A is that a recent Pew poll shows that a majority of Republicans think that colleges are bad for America. I understand that flat Earthers are not the only stupid people who should be laughed at until shame drives them underground. But we have to start somewhere. There are so many groups to choose from. The Republicans are now officially the party of stupid, declaring that global warming is nothing to be concerned about because God will take care of it. Or Trump. Or Jared Kushner. The exact delineation of responsibility isn’t quite clear.

And don’t think the Democrats are any better. Between the anti-vaxxers, detox programs, vaginal steaming, and Hollywood pseudoscience, liberals can be just as dumb and gullible as conservatives. There’s plenty of blame to spread around for the state of our scientific illiteracy. Media excitement about the results of preliminary scientific studies, hyperbolic claims of hucksters, and false controversies promote advertising, newspaper sales and clicks. Media in this country have become slaves to entertainment, ideology, or both. The bottom line has become the bottom line. The emphasis on profit over fact leaves the public less educated and increasingly confused about science. We have an education system that has fewer and fewer mathematically and scientifically literate teachers. We have a university system that fosters “cultural scientific truth” alongside fact driven scientific truth. Television and cinema show all kinds of scientific drivel as part of their entertainment packages. People are bombarded with scientific inaccuracies.

And let’s not forget that every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of kids are taught in church to ignore scientific evidence in favor of “Biblical Truth.” There are multiple, well-financed religious organizations dedicated to the elimination or subjugation of science. One of these groups, which promotes the Seven Mountains of Culture, is openly dedicated to replacing our secular government and society with their radical Christian version of Sharia law. Science has no place in their world except for developing cell phones and the internet for them to spread their anti-democratic vision.

The best solution I can see is for everyone who is scientifically literate to openly and loudly laugh at stupid statements. Laughter is a powerful force to humiliate and shame people who think science is a matter of personal opinion. Audience ratings for television shows that skewer Trump illustrate this principle quite well. Science knowledge, with or without the United States, is pushing forward at an ever-increasing pace. We can get on board and reap the economic benefits, or get reduced to third world status. If you think that’s an exaggeration, go to Europe or Asia and see how fast you can download a movie. It will only take seconds.

Science has saved millions of lives in just the last century. Religion and the media… not so many. Learning and laughter are effective weapons against ignorance. And with a target rich environment, we could spend most of our day laughing hysterically. And according to studies, that might even help us live longer.