Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The War on Science - Fighting Back!

Seth MacFarlane, the multitasking comedian and creator of “Family Guy,” and other raunchy fare, happens also to be the driving force behind the new version of Carl Sagan's classic science show "COSMOS," which will appear Sunday on Fox and simultaneously on other networks, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know a number of the writers and producers who have striven to create something stunning, vivid and updated for the 21st Century.
Cosmos_Carousel-carousel-360x282MacFarlane admits -- in this fascinating article -- that he was partly motivated by a strong will to fight back against a growing darkness that seems to be spreading across much of America, in particular, an outright war on science of intellect, pushed hard by cynical manipulators for their own short sighted political agendas and greed.
MacFarlane riffed about the irony, that COSMOS will appear on Fox Entertainment. “They are hurting and helping at the same time,” Mr. MacFarlane said of Fox, his tongue somewhat in cheek. “In that sense, I suppose it’s incumbent upon Fox to do something like this, to make up for all the damage it’s done with its 'news' network.”
== Ironic twists in this struggle ==
Similarly contradictory...  The late Harold Ramis was brilliant at leveraging upon the American reflex -- tweaking pompous authority figures.  In ANIMAL HOUSECADDYSHACK and GHOSTBUSTERS, Ramis partnered in bringing us laughs amid celebrations of pure fun. Yes, Ghostbusters had a different view of science -- rambunctious and positive -- than the anti-intellectualism of the other two. I consider Gohostbusters to be the most original piece of cinema I ever saw, expressing proud assertiveness… even aggression… against all the mystical things that 6000 years of mythology proclaim we're supposed to hold in awe.
Still… this iconoclastic essay -- published churlishly within a week of Ramis's passing -- does offer an interesting demurral… that the supposed Suspicion of Authority (SoA) message in Ramis's films was not aimed as much against Big Money as against OLD money. Against government and labor and traditional morals that might stand in the way of a new class of entrepreneurial wealth-building -- the invincible Masters of the Universe typified by Wall Street, who resent any restraints, even moral or ethical ones, on the untrameled right to trample your way to the top.
I'm not sure I swallow this argument. But it does merit a read and a pondering.
== The struggle against a new dark age ==
I clearly and often make clear that I believe American anti-science romanticism is not restricted to just one end of the hoary left-right "spectrum." There are nostalgic-cynical grouches at both wings, doing fantastic harm to a civilization that accomplished wonders through our earlier tradition of contingency, argument, experimentation and pragmatic problem solving.  And curiosity. Yes, there are nostalgist monsters at both fanatical poles.
BWar-scienceut let's be clear, the far-left is not our current worst problem.  The fever on the entire-right is what has plunged us into dire danger for our entire Great Experiment.  And here is one more piece of evidence:
"Less than five years ago, 54 percent of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats said the human species evolved over time. Today, however, the share of Republicans adhering to modern theories of human evolution has dropped significantly – to 43 percent."  That's almost 60% of GOP members who deny evolution on a planet that is four billion years old, in a cosmos of trillions of suns.
No wonder American scientists (and every other knowledge clade; name one exception) have been fleeing the GOP. Thirty years ago, 40% of U.S. scientists were republican.  It is now down around 6% and plummeting.   This is not about capitalism, or enterprise, or freedom or statism or socialism… it is about crazy.
== Lest we forget the recent mania that said it all ==
Do NOT let anyone forget, this election cycle, about the government shutdown. Old Abe may have said it best, in a fascinating and chilling parallel.  In February 1860, while initially running for President, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at New York's Cooper Union. Read excerpts. Though bear in mind: today's Republican Party is largely based (regionally and thematically) in regions that were in those days Democratic, and vice versa.
"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. [...] Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?"
"But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!" [...]
"A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. " 
GettysburgAddressLincolnGovernmentNow combine this with Lincoln's later Gettysburg Address, calling on Americans to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth."
Roll it over the tongue, and ponder how bitter it must taste to the New Confederates, who recite the Fox Nostrum that "government" is evil in principle, and under all conditions. (Despite having supported it blindly when the blithering incompetents in charge were from their side.)  Men (mostly) who ignore the declining deficit, or the fact that U.S. federal tax rates are at their lowest levels in 70 years. Or the lesson of 60 centuries that most oppression came not from civil servants but owner-oligarchs.  Just as a million poor whites marched foolishly (albeit bravely!) to fight and die for their feudal overlords in 1861, so do millions obey Rupert Murdoch's mantras, despising any class or cadre (e.g. scientists, teachers, civil servants and so on) who might possibly stand in the way of a new feudal order.
Since the fall of the outrageously evil Soviet Empire, I have seen no greater threat to the republic that I love, and the renaissance it helped engender.
== And about psychology… look in a mirror after reading this! (I will.) ==
Television-politicsHow Television Re-Inforces Our Politics: In October 2012, The New York Times published the results of a TiVo-based study, which found that while registered Republicans tend to watch golf, registered Democrats have a penchant for cartoons, as in Family Guy and American Dad. Republicans also like NASCAR and reality TV competition shows such as The Biggest Loser, Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race. Democrats prefer to watch the sitcoms 30 Rock and Community, AMC dramas The Killing and Mad Men, and late-night funny guys Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
In general, the article suggested, TV-viewing trends between Republicans and Democrats were “every bit as polarized as the political culture.” Not one network show favorite appeared on both sides of the divide.

22 comments:

Tacitus2 said...

Well a lot of these "look how dumb Americans are" surveys use dubious methodology. The recent one in which we collectively did not seem to know that the Earth revolves around the Sun in one year for instance.

If you think political orientation matters consider this:

"More disturbingly, in 2012 a majority of Democrats (51 percent) could not correctly answer both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that this takes a year. Republicans fare a bit better, with only 38 percent failing to get both correct.
As with astrology questions, conservative Republicans fare the best (67 percent correct on both questions), followed on this issue by Republicans overall (62 percent correct) and liberal Democrats (62 percent correct)."

Color me unimpressed with most Pop Science pronouncement of witlessness....of any subgroup or Americans in general. One wonders if they cut corners by just visiting the Memory Care facility across the street...then finished up at Happy Hour somewhere!

Tacitus

btw not sure if the "astrology" reference above is a typo for astronomy or a gratuitous dig...

Traditionalist said...

Why not just let red and blue America go their separate ways and pursue their societal models as they see fit, instead of the endless state of civil war that we have now?

I think you guys really need to get over the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all model for human civilization that should be imposed not only upon Americans, but the entire world. This kind of "liberal imperialism" is running up against a brick wall, not only domestically, but as it collides with older, more traditional civilizations like Russia, Iran and China. Maybe it's time to realize that Star Trek is just your culturally-conditioned fantasy, not some inevitable destiny for mankind!

sociotard said...

Because there'd be no way to cut up the country to do that? It really isn't between red state and blue state, so much as urban and rural. Texas and Utah are very red, except for their capitals. New York and California are very blue, except for their rural counties.

Exceptions abound, but it is clear that we can't just make a pair of red and blue countries.

Howard Brazee said...

I wonder how much a couple of decades of TV depicting non-threatening gays has contributed to American society being willing to accept gay marriages.

Keith D. Halperin said...

My concern is that while we Blues have demographics on our side, our Red "friends" may be able to keep things "tied up" until we pass some ACC tipping point in 15-20 years.

Sic transit Gloria Mundi.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the previous comments:

forget the spy cams. We are about to get effective lie detectors.


I'm awfully curious about how well such technology will work on me. Not because I think I'm so great at beating the lie-detector, but actually the opposite. The lie detector tests I have taken already have me fail on my true answers. Something in my psychology buys into the "You must be guilty. Come on, you know you are" meme that the interrogator gives off and gives a response that makes it look like I'm lying even when I'm not.

Unless the new technology is designed to mitigate false positives as well as to register better actual positives, my signal-to-noise ratio will be too low for the lie detector to do any good. It's going to look like I'm lying even when I give my name (and my quest and favorite color).

LarryHart said...

Howard Brazee:

wonder how much a couple of decades of TV depicting non-threatening gays has contributed to American society being willing to accept gay marriages.


I first noticed that...oh, it must be over 20 years ago now, in the first season of "Melrose Place". They had a gay male character who I realized was always going to act above reproach. I mean every other character had a certain degree of soap-operish sleaze to them, but Gay Matt never even considered acting badly (full disclosure--I have no idea if that held true after the first season when I stopped watching the show).

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

In ANIMAL HOUSE, CADDYSHACK and GHOSTBUSTERS, Ramis partnered in bringing us laughs amid celebrations of pure fun. Yes, Ghostbusters had a different view of science -- rambunctious and positive -- than the anti-intellectualism of the other two.


You really see "Animal House" and "Caddyshack" as down on science? I think of them more as "anti-politeness" or "anti-social graces" than anything having to do with science. And Bill Murray's character in "Ghostbusters" is as anti-intellectual as anyone in the other two. He's just dopey-likeable enough so one doesn't care, plus he's offset by Harold Ramis's character.


I consider Gohostbusters to be the most original piece of cinema I ever saw, expressing proud assertiveness… even aggression… against all the mystical things that 6000 years of mythology proclaim we're supposed to hold in awe


"Ghostbusters" is one of the most-quotable movies of all time (another is "Airplane"). There are too many good lines to pick one out, but since we're celebrating Harold Ramis, you have to love his understated "I'm sorry, I'm terrified beyone all capacity for rational thought."

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Well a lot of these "look how dumb Americans are" surveys use dubious methodology. The recent one in which we collectively did not seem to know that the Earth revolves around the Sun in one year for instance.


I think I'm in agreement with you here. I certainly believe that when deeply religious people are asked a polling question like "Do you believe in evolution?", their ear is hearing "Are you willing to be a traitor to your neighbors and your church?", and answer accordingly.

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of quotes, I was told of a comeback by a feisty teen after being pulled up for saying something inappropriate:

"My temporal lobes are still growing, so I'm allowed to exercise poor judgment!"

(I thought it amusing, on several levels)

sociotard said...

Cracked's "5 ways the internet steals your soul" is worth reading

Paul451 said...

Tacitus2,
Re: "How dumb are we?" surveys.

Speak its name out loud and a new one appears. A survey on tech terms...

11% of Americans surveyed thought that HTML was a type of sexually transmitter disease.

27% thought gigabyte was a Sth American insect.


Etc etc... Ho ho ho.

I won't link to the survey site itself, or any article mindlessly regurgitating it. The "survey" was done by a coupons website (which gathers and sells consumer info). Like a lot of these surveys, it is purely click-bait for marketing companies; which means that the more amusingly dumb people apparently are - compared to we, the readers, of course - the more the survey (and its creator) gets repeatedly endlessly in newspapers and morning TV, liked, blogged, retweeted, etc.

[One of the tech terms in the survey was SEO. And that's really the only one you need to know to understand the purpose of the survey.]

David,
Were "Caddy Shack" and "Animal House" anti-intellectual? Or just anti-establishment? Caddyshack literally played the old money against the new, with the protagonist caught in the middle. The "expert" was a good guy (if captured by the system), the "referee" turned out to be genuinely neutral. Sure it was classically romantic - righteousness determined a trial of strength, the bad guys lost because they were bad, the good guys won because they were good - but it was just a cheesy movie.

(I can't remember Animal House well enough to separate it from the myriad of clones and parodies all jumbled together in my head. A few key scenes and gags, but not enough to recall themes.)

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Re: "How dumb are we?" surveys.

Speak its name out loud and a new one appears. A survey on tech terms...

11% of Americans surveyed thought that HTML was a type of sexually transmitter disease.

27% thought gigabyte was a Sth American insect.

Etc etc... Ho ho ho.


Nothing new under the sun. I remember one of those from the 1980s which said howermany percent of teenagers at the time thought Chernobyl was Cher's full name.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

(I can't remember Animal House well enough to separate it from the myriad of clones and parodies all jumbled together in my head. A few key scenes and gags, but not enough to recall themes.)


Without reciting the whole script, it's hard to come up with a particular vignette to jog your memory. But for some reason, the line that's coming to mind is "Can I have ten thousand marbles, please?"

I saw "Animal House" at exactly the right age, my freshman year in college, so it really resonated with me more than it might have with others. Same for Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles" which I saw at just the right age for that film, which was 13.

locumranch said...

It is one thing to dismiss 'anti-science romanticism' as destructively thoughtless, but it is another to thoughtlessly embrace the equally destructive discipline of 'scientific romanticism', also known as the relentless white-washing of all things (said to be) 'scientific', a process used to validate all manner of environmental, moral & social degradation.

Every action (no matter how 'scientific' or desirable it is said to be) entails an equal and opposite reaction, leading inexorably to Newtonian consequence: 'Scientific management' gave us both the assembly line and Auschwitz; a demand for cheeseburgers led inevitably to the industrial agricultural establishment; the application of industrial efficiencies to hunting and gathering led directly to the imminent depletion of the global fishery; an over-reliance on fossil-fueled industrialization led inexorably to global warming; and the attendant cultural obsession with ‘efficiency’ (which) led directly to the destruction of individual liberties.

Science, being the empiric accumulation of knowledge, is neither good nor evil, so much so that the arbitrary use of the Good & Evil paradigm is anti-scientific to the extreme, and it is time for us as a society to discard such archaically romantic value-judgments about industry & efficiency if we wish to survive into the coming century.

And, btw, the dominant theme of Harold Ramis' collected works (Animal House, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, etc) was ‘Anti-Elitism’. He mocked those who suffered from 'white coat syndrome’ - 'the conceit affected by individuals who confuse authority or expertism with superiority’ — especially those who suffer from moral, racial, social, financial, athletic or intellectual pretension. You know the type:

Those who insist that they are better than others because they possess an advanced degree, an arbitrary social advantage or an extra IQ point.


Best.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

And, btw, the dominant theme of Harold Ramis' collected works (Animal House, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, etc) was ‘Anti-Elitism’. He mocked those who suffered from 'white coat syndrome’ - 'the conceit affected by individuals who confuse authority or expertism with superiority’ — especially those who suffer from moral, racial, social, financial, athletic or intellectual pretension. You know the type:


"We had everything under control until this power grid was shut down by Dickless here."

"Is this true?"

"Yes, it's true. This man has no dick."

LarryHart said...

Tacitus,

I forget what part of Wisconsin you are in. Did you even get the 4 inches of snow we got in Chicago today (Wednesday)? I swear, looking on a weather map, it looked like a thin pencil line, no more than maybe 50 miles wide, heading straight east from somewhere in Nebraska to Chicago. What, they're aiming the weather at us now?

Tacitus2 said...

Nah, this batch missed us.

Tacitus

Jumper said...

locumranch, just be glad you are too young to have experienced the full monty of the bygone era of Professional Freudian Advisors and Experts.

Tom Crowl said...

A couple of days ago in the New Republic:

A Tennessee College is Forcing its Faculty to Swear They Believe Adam and Eve Existed

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116858/bryan-college-forces-its-faculty-swear-historical-existence

Pretty much sums up the mentality...

Anonymous said...

Great article and comment from a tax expert reporting on a new study on "dark wealth" (analogous to dark matter):

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/03/tax-havens-make-us-europe-look-poorer-exaggerate-size-global-imbalances.html

Here's the original paper:
http://www.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/docs/zucman-gabriel/mwn23march.pdf

Marc Mueller said...

“Science is more than a body of knowledge, it’s a way of thinking. A way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those that tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious who comes ambling along.”

—Carl Sagan