We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. -Anais Nin.
Last week, the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey of several thousand Americans on the perception of science in this country – half were professional scientists, half were not (i.e. the public).
First the good news. People like science and think that it’s had a positive effect on society (84%) – woo hoo! Scientists (the folks that have produced all that good stuff) rank pretty high too – only losing out to the military and teachers. Not so bad.
Which is funny – because Americans have a bit of inferiority complex about the science produced here. If you judge by literature citations, research budget, and Nobel Prizes, science in the US is still the champ — and 90% of American scientists put it at or near the top. The general public? 17% of Americans said that US scientific achievements were tops. Whoa. I’m starting to feel a bit like chopped liver over here. I’d love to know who folks thought was doing and producing more. Hrmph.
The division between professional scientists and the public was very clear in a couple of high-profile questions – and the one that staggered and depressed me the most was, of course, evolution. Nine out of 10 scientists agreed that animals (including you and me) arose from natural processes. The public? 32%. Seriously? How do we get to that point?
If you go to a doctor that says that he’s concluded from your test results that you have appendicitis, and the second opinion says agrees, and the third, and the fourth and so on — I doubt 2 out of 3 people would disregard them.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in evolution either. I don’t have to – based on the mountain of geological, archaeological, genetic and biological evidence, I conclude it is the explanation that best fits the data. Show me one that does so better, and I’ll support that. This is why I think St Thomas the Apostle should be the patron saint of scientists.
Clearly though, a sizable majority of Americans are participating in willful ignorance and/or have been drawn into the misinformation and hyperbole around “Intelligent Design”. I know it’s difficult when facts are contrary to certain worldviews – but the Earth is no longer the center of the Universe, and it’s no longer flat. And we are biological organisms that play by the same rules as all the others that have come before us.
And we have the added bonus of having brains smart enough to perceive that.