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We ignore science at our peril
Posted by Katherine Brakora on 9/14, 11:39am
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We ignore science at our peril
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Matthew Lowry, Physics instructor, Lake Forest High School College of Lake County

September 13, 2005

Vernon Hills -- Who could have predicted the devastation wrought upon the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina? How could anyone have known that the levees ringing New Orleans would be breached, potentially drowning an entire city? Why didn't we know that the evacuation of the region would be chaotic, with inadequate escape routes, at best? How could we, the most technologically advanced and wealthiest nation on the planet, have not known?

We are blameless, are we not?

After all, no psychic with a crystal ball told us of this impending  doom. The astrologers failed to see this one coming when consulting their zodiac charts. No one received a message through prayer and meditation from a higher power that hundreds of thousands were in jeopardy. So how could we have possibly known?

But we did know. The scientists and engineers told us so. Science can, and often does, make these kinds of predictions. And we ignore them to our peril. Scientists made their predictions in popular magazines such as National Geographic and Scientific American years before the disaster on the Gulf Coast. These warnings, backed up by decades of solid scientific research and engineering know-how, were there; we just chose not to listen to them.

We ignore science at our peril. Science gave us vaccines and antibiotics, placed men on the moon, extended our life spans and quality of life by decades, gave us weather satellites, allows us to glimpse back almost to the beginning of time itself, started the computer revolution, has let us see the surfaces of other worlds through artificial eyes, gave us the Internet.

And science also predicted the disaster on the Gulf Coast.

But in our modern society, science is under siege, from both the religious right and the New Age left, and we run the risk of making similar mistakes in the future. Now we find ourselves in a time when medical science is often ignored by a populace deluded by the peddlers of the snake-oil that is "alternative" medicine; when millions are persuaded to not immunize
their children in favor of untested, "natural" cures; when we cannot teach our children the most fundamental principles of biology because of vocal and well-funded religious zealots; when cutting-edge medical research is postponed by the muddling of abortion politics; when "nuclear energy" has become a dirty word and our power plants become aged and decrepit; and
when warnings of environmental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are ignored by an all-too-easily distracted political class.

We are in a time when we have, ironically, become almost afraid of science. And rather than embrace the very endeavor that has allowed humanity to make so much progress in so little time, we allow ourselves to be distracted by old, outdated and mystical thinking of centuries past.

We place our faith not in ourselves and in our ability to reason but in mythical beings and practices that are so much fantasy. We must change the path we have begun to travel.

We ignore science at our peril. Let us hope, for all of our sakes, that we will learn this painful lesson well.


Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune

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