(This article was reprinted as “Black Holes Aren’t Real—Science Sensationalism vs. Science Knowledge” in Humanity+ Magazine, October 1, 2014)
The reaction among some American politicians to the recent news that black holes might not exist again reveals how either morally corrupt or scientifically illiterate they really are. (The story itself was sensationalized and refers to a long-running scientific dispute.) In The New Yorker American Congressional Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) says this recent news reveals “the danger inherent in listening to scientists, adding “Actually, Dr. Hawking, our biggest blunder as a society was ever listening to people like you … If black holes don’t exist, then other things you scientists have been trying to foist on us probably don’t either, like climate change and evolution.” She concludes: “Fortunately for me, I did not take any science classes in college.” (Big surprise there!) Her views were echoed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Science Committee, who said, “Going forward, members of the House Science Committee will do our best to avoid listening to scientists.” (Avoid your physician sir!)1
That such intellectual lightweights take aim at intellectual giants is an egregious violation of any standard of human decency. Those who have never taken a science class or done any serious thinking in their lives have the nerve to criticize those whose abilities and effort led them to the pinnacle of their professions. What kind of world do we live in? How is it the inferior criticize their intellectual superiors, people report what they say, and others listen to them? Its enough to make you embarrassed to be human.
Needless to say, anyone who understood anything about science would know that its conclusions are provisional—open to revision based on further evidence. Science does not accept something simple shepherds believed in the Eastern Mediterranean two thousand years ago, and then never change their minds. Moreover, the scientifically literate recognize that some parts of science, like theoretical cosmology, are more open to revision than basic biology, chemistry or physics. Of course, it’s possible that the above politicians aren’t really ignorant but understand some science and just lie for political gain. In that case, they are not illiterate, but immoral. In the two examples above I’d bet on their being scientifically illiterate.
But at least these science-denying politicians can save money when they get sick since they won’t go to the medical doctor who utilizes all that science. Ms. Bachmann is welcome to visit her local faith healer or medicine man. She is also welcome to reject aeronautical engineering the next time she is flying. She can calmly inform the pilot to turn off the engine, get her fellow passengers to hold hands and sing “up, up, and away.” We will see how that works. As for me, I’ll trust the science.
This would be all funny if it weren’t so sad. The middle ages and its superstition might return if these (mostly) Republican politicians have their way.
This short video from comedy central last night makes this tragedy painfully obvious. (The most important segment begins at about 3 minutes into the video.) Watch the scientifically illiterate Republican members of Congress juvenile attempts to critique climate science.
1. Andy Borowitz is a satirical comedian/political writer who does Onion-like fake articles for The New Yorker. The New Yorker article was a parody. Thus none of the quotes from Rep. Smith or Bachman are real. However, the disdain for and ignorance of science by many (mostly Republican) politicians is very real. Let us hope the dark ages do not again ascend. They were extraordinarily unpleasant.