Sunday Quote: Carl Sagan

An oldie but a goodie:

We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
Carl Sagan

Categories: ethics & philosophy, Science

6 replies

  1. Hah! I’ve just been reading his book The Demon-Haunted World. I won it in a game of Simon Says from the sci-fi/fantasy club I’m part of. SCIENCE AND REASONING AS A PRIZE. It’s a marvellous attitude.

  2. Absolutely a marvellous attitude – and one of my favourite books.

  3. simple answer – go to university. learn science and technology – and understand.
    Not put scientists in chains especially not under the heel of politicians.

  4. The point is that the most financially-rewarded careers are not those in science and technology, therefore students in a consumerist society doing a risk-benefit analysis will pragmatically choose careers perceived to have better financial return for years of study.
    It’s no good preaching to the choir here about the value of science and technology. Lauredhel and I both hold applied science degrees and have been keen computer technology advocates for decades. How do we convince others that science and technology is important enough to learn and understand when society doesn’t value most science/technology degree-holders highly?
    In a society that fetishes wealth, having science and technology as only-just-middle-class-income-level careers doesn’t encourage most smart young people to choose science or technology, even though every other wealth-creation mechanism in Western society depends on the science and technology keeping on going. This is nuts.

  5. There’s also the class-based problem that a proper in-depth understanding of how science and technology works in our modern society pretty much requires an undergraduate degree these days. That limits numbers even further (as does non-compulsory maths & science education beyond Junior high school level).

  6. Just read a good quote over at from this longer article: Manufactroversy – The Art of Creating Controversy Where None Existed

    All three [newspaper articles calling for more debate on global warming] seemed to be following the playbook of the tobacco industry when scientists discovered that their products cause cancer; when a threat to their interests arises from the scientific community, they declare “there are always two sides to a case” and then call for more study of the matter before action is taken.
    As a scholar of rhetoric,[…] I have come up with some preliminary hypotheses about what makes their arguments so persuasive to a public audience.
    First, they skillfully invoke values that are shared by the scientific community and the American public alike, like free speech, skeptical inquiry, and the revolutionary force of new ideas against a repressive orthodoxy. It is difficult to argue against someone who invokes these values without seeming unscientific or un-American.
    Second, they exploit a tension between the technical and public spheres in postmodern American life; highly specialized scientific experts can’t spare the time to engage in careful public communication, and are then surprised when the public distrusts, fears, or opposes them.
    Third, today’s sophists exploit a public misconception about what science is, portraying it as a structure of complete consensus built from the steady accumulation of unassailable data; any dissent by any scientist is then seen as evidence that there’s no consensus, and thus truth must not have been discovered yet. A more accurate portrayal of science sees it as a process of debate among a community of experts in which one side outweighs the other in the balance of the argument, and that side is declared the winner; a few skeptics might remain, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the rest, and the democratic process of science moves forward with the collective weight of the majority of expert opinion. Scientists buy into this democratic process when they enter the profession, so that a call for the winning side to share power in the science classroom with the losers, or to continue debating an issue that has already been settled for the vast majority of scientists so that policy makers can delay taking action on their findings, seems particularly undemocratic to most of them.
    Aristotle believed that things that are true “have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites,” but that it takes a good rhetor to ensure that this happens when sophisticated sophistry is on the loose. I concur; only by exposing manufactured controversy for what it is, recognizing its rhetorical power and countering those who are skilled at getting the multitude to ignore the experts while imagining a scientific debate where none exists, can scientists and their allies use my field to achieve what Aristotle envisioned for it—a study that helps the argument that is in reality stronger also appear stronger before an audience of nonexperts.

    Thre article is looking at the tactics of manufactroversy in the Anthrop0genic Global Warming “debate”, where as one might expect there’s a plethora of denialists laying claim to the mantle of Galileo.

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