That Can’t Be True
By Patrick F. Cannon
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote about how people continue to believe what they want to believe regardless of the facts. I’ve written before about the mistaken belief that crime is on the increase, despite statistics that show a steady decline. He quoted a recent survey that showed that 61 percent of Americans still believe that crime is increasing.
Pitts himself said that he found it hard to believe a recent survey that found a majority of Native Americans weren’t bothered by the name of the Washington Redskins. He admitted he thought the survey must be flawed in some way, despite its being commissioned by the decidedly liberal Washington Post.
The scientific method also continues to be under attack by stubborn groups who simply don’t seem to understand it. As a result, for example, children are contracting infectious diseases that should have been prevented by vaccinations; vaccinations that misguided parents believe are the cause of autism and other maladies. Now, it’s true that some very small number of children will have an adverse reaction to vaccinations (or any other medication, for that matter), but rigorous scientific studies have shown convincingly that the benefits so far outweigh the risks that further discussion is pointless. But try telling that to the true believers.
Another hot topic among science deniers is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Despite the fact that numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown no adverse effects from growing or eating them, there is a steady drumbeat to either ban them outright, or force producers to label products that contain them. The European Union, that bastion of bureaucratic perfection, has actually banned them. In my view, this has more to do with a persistent anti-Americanism that any real fear that they would hasten the end of the world. Perhaps our European friends are sick and tired of the undoubted fact that almost every scientific and technical advance seems to sprout first in the United States. Both in Europe and here, the anti-GMO forces are reduced to simple fear mongering. Not “the sky is falling,” but “the sky might fall.”
GMOs are just one of a series of agricultural advances that are helping to feed a growing world population. And while we might pat ourselves on the back for eating organically-grown food, we need to keep in mind that the majority of the world’s population can’t afford that luxury. It may be that organic farming methods will develop in the future to the extent that they will be able to feed the world at a price it can afford. I look forward to that day. In the meantime, I console myself with the fact that numerous studies have demonstrated that organically-raised food has no significant nutritional benefit over the stuff most people eat.
Finally, the most persistent bogus science must be astrology. Shakespeare had it right 400 years ago, when he admonished one of his characters: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” I don’t hold out much hope for its disappearance. I read recently that another bogus science, alchemy, had a famous adherent — none other than Sir Isaac Newton. Alas, he never got hit in the head with a golden apple.
Copyright 2106, Patrick F. Cannon