I don’t want to do a full fisk of this article, mostly because I don’t have time. Suffice it to say that its title, “The Attack on Truth: We have entered the age of willful ignorance” starts off with this paragraph:
To see how we treat the concept of truth these days, one might think we just don’t care anymore. Politicians pronounce that global warming is a hoax. An alarming number of middle-class parents have stopped giving their children routine vaccinations, on the basis of discredited research. Meanwhile many commentators in the media — and even some in our universities — have all but abandoned their responsibility to set the record straight. (It doesn’t help when scientists occasionally have to retract their own work.)
I actually agree with the headline, but the first paragraph threw me. We have politicians pronouncing that global warming is a hoax? What about the ones that declare it as settled science, beyond questioning? Isn’t that just as bad?
It gets worse, though. The author decries that :
It is sad that the modern attack on truth started in the academy — in the humanities, where the stakes may have initially seemed low in holding that there are multiple ways to read a text or that one cannot understand a book without taking account of the political beliefs of its author.
And then goes on to quote this man approvingly:
“But now the climate-change deniers and the young-Earth creationists are coming after the natural scientists,” the literary critic Michael Bérubé noted, “… and they’re using some of the very arguments developed by an academic left that thought it was speaking only to people of like mind.”
The author seems to be arguing that scientific truth is being questioned, and using the opinions of a literary critic to explain why that might be a bad thing.
And the cause of all this bad questioning, in unapproved ways and uncomfortable methods? The internet:
It facilitates not only the spread of truth but also the proliferation of crackpots, ideologues, and those with an ax to grind. With the removal of editorial gatekeepers who can vet information, outright lies can survive on the Internet. Worse, those who embrace willful ignorance are now much more likely to find an electronic home where their marginal views are embraced.
This is immediately followed–literally, the next line in the essay–with what the author seems to think is the obvious choice for correcting our willful ignorance:
An obvious solution might be to turn to journalists, who are supposed to embrace a standard of objectivity and source-checking that would be more likely to support true beliefs.
If I follow the logic here, when the scientists are under attack for not being scientific enough, journalism will save the day by revealing objective truth.
So much stupid here, and yet the premise held such promise.
Because we do live in a world where reason has taken a back seat to emotion. Bruce Jenner is not a woman, but we will treat him that way because it makes him feel good. Global warming is responsible for both hurricanes like Katrina, and the paucity of any major hurricanes since then, because we just know that any shift in weather patterns is human caused. It has to be, because we can feel Gaia suffering. Everyone knows that white people are racist, and if a black person wants to kill them all because of it, well that’s just their fault. After all, a black person can’t feel racist, because of the inherent non-racism of the black race. All black people are like that, you know.
I had such hope for this article after finding it on the sidebar of Ace of Spades. Their pull quote included the line “That disrespect, however, has metastasized into outrageous claims about the natural sciences.” I thought it would talk about how the scientific method cannot be conducted by public polling or appeal to authority, including scientific authority. Instead, it turned out to be an appeal to reason, embodied by… journalism.
So the search for truth–and reasoned thinking–continues.