A study published by Pew Research Center asked a series of questions to two groups of people. One group was the general public, consisting of citizens who answered telephone surveys in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The second group was comprised of registered members of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), that is to say, scientists.
Here are five big issues where the scientists and the general public didn’t quite see eye-to-eye:
1. “Humans Have Evolved Over Time”
General Public: 65%
Difference of 33%
While it is certainly reassuring that the majority of people understand that their anthropology textbooks are indeed composed of science, and not Marxist propaganda for the advancement of a communist America, there are still an alarming number of people who stick up their noses at the science of evolution. This issue, which has largely been settled in scientific circles for decades, somehow has managed to stay a matter of national debate in the United States. Just as recently as last year Bill Nye debated a creationist activist, much akin to arguing the theory of gravity a hundred years after the death of Newton. Just as Bill Nye reminded us, however, believing in evolution and being spiritual are not mutually exclusive. 24% of those surveyed who believed in evolution also held that a supreme being had a role in that process.
2. “Climate Change is Mostly Due to Human Activity”
General Public: 50%
Difference of 37%
It is fucking midnight in America. Holy shit.
The jury is back and the verdict is in folks — the effects of climate change are coming soon to a theatre near you. As a matter of fact, if you live in a village on the coast of Alaska you are already experiencing the nightmare of flooding because of rapidly rising sea levels due to, you guessed it, global warming.
Those effects are not just part of the world’s natural variation in temperature. Even the freaking Economist magazine has published articles that accept humanity’s culpability in creating one the of greatest public health risks in the history of the world.
The tragedy of climate change is that somewhere down the line it was transformed from a public safety issue to a political issue. Now, instead of being a scientifically supported danger to mankind — like hurricanes or Ebola — it has become a hotly contested issue where people who defy science and logic can be argued to have “acceptable points of view”. Scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement on this issue; the only place where there is serious debate about the perilous effects of man-made climate change is at our dinner tables.
3. “Childhood Vaccines Should Be Required”
General Public: 68%
Difference of 18%
You know what frustrates me from time to time? When diseases that were teetering on the edge of eradication ten years ago are now resurfacing because people are too paranoid and stubborn to get their kids vaccinated.
In 2004 the Americas were slowly progressing toward total elimination of Measles. Now, a decade later, we have seen a relatively huge measles outbreak that has spread to 155 individuals in 16 different states. It is because people are refusing to vaccinate their children.
At the price of millions of dollars and millions dead, we have the ability to protect ourselves from diseases that ravaged our nation only decades ago. Casting away that incredible gift in deference to some crazy ideology or paranoia is akin to cutting off an arm to be “more resilient”.
4. “Favor More Offshore Oil Drilling”
General Public: 52%
Difference of 20%
Like using hard drugs, offshore drilling is something that gets more dangerous the longer and longer it goes on. As oil reserves closer to the shore and nearer to the surface of the sea floor are depleted, oil exploration has to venture further away and deeper down. This creates more risk for environmental calamity.
But Americans have an addiction to oil, and we (rightfully) prefer to buy as little as possible from countries that hate us, so offshore drilling is seen as the lesser of evils.
Though we have a hand of shitty cards when it comes to energy, in no way is offshore drilling sustainable, and putting off this problem for the next generation is a negligence that will be remembered by the future population.
5. “Safe to Eat Genetically Modified Foods”
General Public: 37%
Difference of 51%
Mankind has been tinkering with genes even before a reclusive friar named Gregor Mendel selectively bred pea plants and became the “father of genetics”. As of today, over 2000 studies have confirmed that GMOs are safe for human consumption. GMOS are one of the most studied topics in the scientific literature, but still Americans have their doubts.
This is yet another issue that plays with the natural paranoia in people’s mind, but overwhelming scientific evidence shows that there is as close to zero-risk in consuming GMOs as imaginably possible.
With the sheer quantity of human knowledge increasing by leaps and bounds, it is impossible for every American to be an expert on everything. We have to trust scientists, doctors, and academics to share what they best know to be the truth in their designated field. We cannot succumb to the kind of anti-intellectualism dogmas that lead us to rejecting vaccines for our children or refusing to believe science that is taught in a 7th grade classroom.
Americans have an unhealthy skepticism for their experts. While questioning authority is an admirable and powerful part of the American tradition, dismissing those with the most knowledge and information in favor of hacks who give us the answers we want is a part of a different tradition: that of idiocy.