Before I begin my diatribe I feel I should apologise for my tardiness in drafting this post. Despite my best intentions sometimes life just gets in the way :) Now to resume normal service, at least until our baby arrives. And I urge my handful of readers to comment if you so desire.
I remember a time, and it wasn't that long ago, when we as a nation looked up to scientists and respected them for their knowledge and expertise. The news media would seek their opinion on matters about which they could make relevant comments and we would nod sagely as we listened to and, for the most part, believed what we were hearing. Today it has become fashionable to scoff at those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of knowledge, a state of affairs which for obvious reasons perplexes me.
There are some very apparent symptoms of this shift. A couple of high profile examples are proponents of "intelligent design" and deniers of climate change. But there are others. The internet abounds with wacky conspiracy theories which survive not in the presence of any real proof, but in fact proliferate by actively opposing those who provide evidence to the contrary, and by suggesting that those who follow scientific method are somehow the patsies, unwitting or not, of big evil corporates or war-mongering governments. I'm thinking here of theories like that the US govt is causing earthquakes and freak storms around the globe by misdirecting the relatively puny power of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme (see HAARP conspiracies), that the contrails left by airliners are not water droplets condensing rapidly from jet exhausts, but that the aircraft are seeding the atmosphere with barium and aluminium salts for nefarious purposes (see chemtrails), that the HIV virus is not responsible for Aids but that the cause may be, among other things, recreational drug use (see aids denialism), and the list goes on. These are the same people who believe that what is possibly humankinds greatest achievement, landing astronauts on the moon, never happened and that the whole event was faked at a sound stage in Area 51. There is considerable cross-over with the folk who think the world is going to end this year because of the shortcomings of an ancient calendar commonly attributed to the Mayans, but which was likely devised by the Olmec people.
Why is it that such a vocal sub-group prefer not to accept knowledge earned and/or theories devised by science? These are the same folk who in earlier times felt deeply threatened by Darwin and Galileo, and who for reasons known only to themselves are deeply fearful of the world being a rational place, guided by natural and predictable laws. They commonly spread their dogma via the internet, blissfully unaware of the irony that the means by which their message is being propagated would not exist but for the exploits of the very scientific community which they continuously mock. In the past all of these folk would have been drawn to the church, where they relied on the power of prayer to protect them from demons and boogie-men. But organised and structured belief doesn't seem to be du jour, so many have fled the church and instead today seek solace in the companionship of fellow conspiracy cultists.
Scientific denialism may not be the new black, but it is certainly akin to a new religion. Don't get me wrong, it is ok to question science. Scientists do this all the time, it is part of the peer review process, and the way in which the body of scientific knowledge evolves and grows. But do it with sound evidence gathered by experimental findings and proper research. To do anything less demeans not only the great works of scientists past and present, but also ourselves.