Reasoning vs. rationalizing

Science is important.  It is something that both Kelly and I take quite seriously. It’s one if the reasons Kelly has worked as a science educator for a decade, and one of the reasons why even some of our hobbies involve a lot of science.   We feel quite passionately about it.

And it’s also why we both get so frustrated about the problems with scientific literacy in America – demonstrated by things like this survey that shows the gaps between scientists and the public when it comes to views of science.  And if you want to see scientific ignorance displayed in all its factually-challenged glory, and I mean some truly godawful stuff,  just turn on a television.

Sure, there are a few places where science reigns on the idiot box, but they sure seem to be shrinking in number.  Even places like the Discovery channel that used to consistently have some really good documentaries are now all about “reality” shows.  With the notable exception of Mythbusters, I consider their current lineup to be pretty worthless when it comes to science education.  And the History Channel has gone to hell in a handbasket in the same way.

And then there’s the news.  Oh, boy.  Why have any real experts on to explain extremely complex subjects with nuance and context when you can just host pundits who can argue and make for interesting TV?  Its’ so much easier. Especially when you can totally go for that lowest common denominator like the classic “it’s snowing and/or really cold, and so global warming can’t be true” argument.  That argument is about as dumb as walking outside in the middle of the night and claiming that anyone who thinks that the sun is going to rise the next day must be a pinhead, because look how dark it is.

But explaining complex subjects takes SO much time!  And time is so limited on TV!  Especially on cable channels that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  And we insist on treating our audience like they are all idiots with a short attention span!  So God forbid anyone try to be informative.  Its’ all about entertainment now.   Entertainment and blabbing the same mindless 60 second stories dozens of times a day.  And in a serious chicken and egg dilemma, I don’t know whether TV news is this way because we as a society all have short attention spans, or we all have short attention spans because TV (and pretty much everything else) is this way.  Either way it sucks and I hate it.  It’s why I have abandoned television, with the notable exceptions of a handful of TV shows (like Game of Thrones), the weather, and Red Sox baseball.  I prefer to read.  A lot.

And then there’s all the stuff that IS said, with much enthusiasm and conviction, no matter how utterly ridiculous it is.  It kind of makes me glad that I am not a science teacher, because if I was, I might want to curl up into the fetal position and cry myself to sleep.  I don’t know how Kelly does it.

Disease, for example.  Despite mountains of evidence regarding vaccines, people still don’t want to believe that vaccines are safe.  And these aren’t hillbillies. They are college graduates.  Interestingly enough, the surest way of predicting whether someone will buy into that sort of thing is not where they are on the political spectrum, but rather whether or not they are conspiracy theorists, because those people exist on both the right and left, and they frequently believe in many of the same things.  In other words, they are subject not to reasoning, but to a particular kind of rationalizing influenced by, to paraphrase, copious amounts of cave guano.

So I don’t know what it will take to convince those who frankly don’t want to be convinced.  It probably can’t be done, and probably shouldn’t be tried, because it will go something like this.

-Geoff

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3 thoughts on “Reasoning vs. rationalizing”

  1. Rationalization is a dangerous thing, particularly because it’s not just for dumb people. Really smart people, unaware of their biases, can rationalize a lot of crazy ideas. And because they’re so smart, it’s hard to persuade them otherwise.

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