Fresh Ideas: A nation of magical thinkers |

Fresh Ideas: A nation of magical thinkers

Ursula Carlson

A March 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center found on issues dealing with climate change and energy, respondents are influenced more by their "partisanship" (what political party they adhere to) than by science. Given the current political climate, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

I believe in the scientific model despite the fact that the empirical process often finds things we don't like. For example, science has long proved that the earth is round, but a former Arizona governor once stated (this is true) that if parents believed the "earth is flat," it was the job of school teachers to teach that belief. What can I say? I guess we're basically a nation of magical thinkers.

At any rate, in the above survey on science and climate change, Democrats, in general, believe in the science on climate change whereas Republicans do not. That's probably not news to anyone. But what I found interesting was that among Democrats having low, medium or high "levels of science knowledge" made a difference in the strength (or lack) of their convictions. In other words, predictably, Democrats who said they had a "low" level of science knowledge had a correspondingly lower conviction that climate change would lead to higher sea levels (for instance) than one who had a "high" level of science knowledge.

Yet among Republicans, whether or not they had low, medium, of high "science knowledge" made no difference. They did not see any harm to Earth's ecosystems because of climate change.

The only instance in which having a "high" level of science knowledge made a difference in Republican responses was when asked if they favored using nuclear power. To this question, those who stated they had "high science knowledge" were 75 percent in favor of it, whereas those who had "low science knowledge" were only 37 percent for using it.

One might ask, what is there about using nuclear power that is so attractive to more informed as opposed to less informed Republicans?

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A January 2018 Pew Research study on the environment sheds a glimmer of light on attitudes toward science with 81 percent of respondents declaring that their "curiosity" was a major or minor reason for following science news. But in this survey, energy and the environment were embedded among others: health & medicine; technology; food and nutrition; mind & brain; space & astronomy. It's easy enough to see why most people would be "curious" about medicine, food, the brain and space. So, the illuminating bit of data here is the conclusion that of those Americans curious about the environment, 73 percent if them feel a "civic obligation" to follow science news.

What does this suggest? Possibly that "environmentalists" have a conscience? That they have a "civic duty" to not only their country, but to the Earth? That they are more globally oriented? That they care about the future welfare of humanity?

The most recent Pew Research survey I've looked at dated Aug. 20 reveals that 57 percent of Americans think it's OK to use technology to genetically engineer animals to grow organs or tissues that could be used for humans needing transplants.

And what does this suggest? It's ironic that we love "science" when it's technology and there's a "product" to market. We believe technology can do "miracles." But in the end, it's a myopic view of the world.

Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., is professor emerita at Western Nevada College