Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Attack on Truth

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 8th, 2015

To see how we treat the concept of truth these days, one might think we just don’t care anymore. Politicians pronounce that global warming is a hoax. An alarming number of middle-class parents have stopped giving their children routine vaccinations, on the basis of discredited research. Meanwhile many commentators in the media — and even some in our universities — have all but abandoned their responsibility to set the record straight. (It doesn’t help when scientists occasionally have to retract their own work.)
Humans have always held some wrongheaded beliefs that were later subject to correction by reason and evidence. But we have reached a watershed moment, when the enterprise of basing our beliefs on fact rather than intuition is truly in peril.
It’s not just garden-variety ignorance that periodically appears in public-opinion polls that makes us cringe or laugh. A 2009 survey by the California Academy of Sciences found that only 53 percent of American adults knew how long it takes for Earth to revolve around the sun. Only 59 percent knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as the dinosaurs.

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