Our Understanding of Science

For once, rather than focusing on the scientific knowledge that has yet to reach the brightest minds in the field, let’s take a moment to look at what we have done with the technology and scientific knowledge we have had for years.  When we look to the future with technology in mind to save us from our problems, can we not say the technology and knowledge we have now should have fixed a number of social concerns?

In a classic and introspective article published by the New York Times in 2005, Cornelia Dean outlined how scientific knowledge is beyond the majority of us in terms of even the most rudimentary of basic principles.  Polls cited in the article suggest that only ten percent of people living in the United States understand what radiation is.  But what should be done with this data?  And how does it affect us in the year 2010 almost five years later?  Studies suggest not a great deal has changed.

Though the scientific principles we have developed over the past ten years have moved greatly in the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe around us, most people in casual argument about the existence and visitation of extraterrestrials cite data collected in the 1960’s and even then often do not remember where the data came from.  Should we still be using the Drake equation which was first developed in 1960 as a proponent for extraterrestrial life only to be rebutted by the argument of distance against their visitation which still relies on combustible fuels and doesn’t take into consideration even the now controversial theory of relativity’s time distortion against it?  Combustible fuels don’t even enter into the possibility of nuclear engines or allow for other possibilities which we have even been able to develop in our own time.  While both principles are heavily cited often in just this example argument, the people making the arguments who have the most sway in public opinion are not always the most educated on the cutting edge of scientific technology and mathematical theories.

But there is another element that needs to be admitted before we can truly reach a solution.  Though it is difficult to admit, scientific scrutiny does require quite a bit of work.  And an astrophysicist has just as much of a vote in the United States as any one else, but no more.  The equation becomes more interesting when we take into consideration the amount of credibility someone can be given in an instant by putting them on television in a suit.  With opinion being more heavily sought in the news, we may see more accidental ‘disinformation’ (to use the word while removing its teeth temporarily) than outright fabrications.  But without the filter and scrutiny only the most qualified could give us, the information presented could be entirely baseless and wrong and the broadcast would appear to the average viewer to be the same.

Can the people truly wield their powers effectively as a nation both in the United States and abroad if they do not educate themselves on the controversial issues at hand through means other than media?  Is this the root of the powerlessness so many of us feel?  Perhaps the disinformation constantly ongoing is not always sourced to a nefarious cause, but can be supplanted by nothing more than too much information than the average individual is willing or able to process when fear and rhetoric are so much easier to both provide and find.