I’m going to have a rant here, you have been warned. I need to get this stuff off my chest and “out there” because it is, to use a quaint Ye Olde English saying, doing my head in. So if you come here for astronomy news, sky-watching hints and tips and book/tv reviews, thank you, I always appreciate you stopping by… but this post might not be for you. Just saying. Or you might feel the same way yourself, you never know.
I am getting really – and I mean really – seriously hacked off with the amount of sheer stupidity in the world when it comes to science, or rather ignorance of/distrust of/denial of science. There’s so much of it out there, and it’s getting worse. What happened? Did the Joker actually put something in the world’s water supply to turn people into idiots? Is it social media’s fault? Are people just more gullible and stupid nowadays? What the hell is going on?
We live in a very high-tech world now. Computers and technology run everything, and science made computers and technology, so therefore science runs everything. Science builds airplanes and keeps them in the sky. Science designs and steers the huge container ships that criss-cross the oceans, keeping world trade flowing. Science creates the software that runs the global banking systems which keep our economy going. Science develops the medicines which helps premature babies cling on to life, the surgery that gives heart transplant patients a second chance of life, and cancer sufferers lengthen their lives by precious months or even years. Science lets us talk to friends and relatives around the world, for free. Science gave us the smartphones, the tablets and the laptops we use every day. Science gave us Facebook, Twitter and Netflix. Okay, maybe they’re not good arguments for science, but you get what I’m saying: science is what makes the modern world go around. Without science, we’d be screwed. End of story.
And yet, a growing number of people insist that science is a bad thing, or an evil thing, or just… wrong. Yes, they say science is wrong. Faked. Made Up. They insist, from the security of their bedrooms and basements, surrounded by their fading X Files posters, with Fox News or Ancient Aliens playing on the TV in the background, that they know better than the men and women who devoted years, even decades of their lives to study and research so they could work for the good of mankind, trying to tackle problems like energy production, climate change, disease and global warming. They write about it on blogs, Tweet about it, post on Facebook about it, and create sphincter-tighteningly crap YouTube videos about it, spreading their ignorance, fear and bull***t around the world. Try to educate them, try to explain the science behind their conspiracy theories and they either stick their fingers in their ears and go “La la la! I can’t hear you!” or become abusive, accusing you of being a “shrill” or “sheeple” who just believe what The Government or “Big Pharma” or THEY want you to believe. And it’s getting worse.
Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the rover OPPORTUNITY landing on Mars. If you had told me back in January 2004, as I sat there at my desk in the early hours of that morning, staring at that tiny RealPlayer window on my computer screen, watching the livestream broadcast from NASA of Opportunity landing, that when I was 51 (as I was on Sunday) that there would be people, grown adults, insisting that NASA faked the Moon landings, that global warming is a scam, that airplanes paint the sky with poisonous chemtrails to cull the world’s population, that there are ancient cities and statues on Mars, and that the International Space Station is fake too, I would have slapped you across the face for thinking I was stupid enough to even sit through being told such crap.
And if you had tried to tell me that in January 2016, thirty years almost to the day after the space shuttle CHALLENGER blew up in an obscene, flowering fireball in the crisp blue Florida sky, killing all seven brave astronauts onboard, there would be crazy, dribbling idiots tapping away on their computers, writing bull**** on Facebook and Twitter and blogs, and creating crappy YouTube videos insisting that the Earth is flat, I would have thought you were the insane one.
But we actually live in that world. It’s not bad enough that after centuries of scientific discovery, of knowledge gained through hardship, pain and often death, we live in a world in which black flag-waving psychopaths burn people alive in cages, demolish priceless ancient temples and turn innocent men and women into splashes of lasagne with their bombs, all in the name of their god. Oh no; we actually live in a world – the same world which was walked on in centuries past by Aristotle, Copernicus and Sagan – where parents are stopping their kids from being vaccinated because they believe wild-eyed, air-headed actresses and “celebrities” who tell them that vaccines are evil, and cause all manner of horrors. And in America – the same nation, remember, which put robots on Mars, flew a probe past Pluto and landed astronauts on the Moon – politicians, going against all the experts and scientists who dedicate their careers and their lives to its study, have just voted to say that climate change is NOT being caused by us, and are stopping scientists from trying to reduce it.
It’s tempting to just go curl up in a dark corner, wrap your arms around your knees, and hide, convinced that the world is either going insane or is there already.
And now we have a black rapper telling his followers that the Earth is flat, that NASA is lying, and that all pictures taken from space are faked. And they believe him!
Now, some people laugh this off. They say these idiots – and the are idiots, let’s be honest here – are in a minority, that they don’t matter, even that they are entertaining. Well, I’m sorry but they do matter, because they are spreading their BS and their stoopid is spreading globally.
And they tell their kids this stuff, turning them off – or even against – science. I am now often told, TOLD by kids I meet in schools, when I go in to do my Outreach work, that aliens are real, that UFOs kidnap people, and that the Moon landings were faked. How do they know this? Because they either “saw it on TV” or, far worse, one of their parents TOLD them so.
When I went to watch INTERSTELLAR – which was nowhere near as good as it thought it was, after all they hype which I admit I fell for, hook line and sinker – one scene really made an impact on me. No, not the scene where the astronauts walk across the icy landscape, or the scene where the ship whoops around the black hole, as impressive as they were. And certainly not that ridiculous scene at the end where Matthew M was floating through that bizarre Escher-esque library/whatever-the-hell-it-was, like a Cirque de Soleil acrobat, spouting off about “Love being a force”. It was right at the beginning, when he was in the school office, talking to the teacher about his daughter, royally p’d off that she had been told BY a teacher the Apollo landings had never happened. That made my blood boil. Not because it was ridiculous, but because I can see that’s the way things are heading now.
Am I over-reacting? Maybe, a little. But I honestly am dismayed by this tsunami of ignorance and stupidity which is advancing across the world. It worries me. It scares me. Every new astronomy or science story, every incredible breakthrough, every scientific discovery now seems to attract craziness and BS like dog crap attracts flies. The LHC fires up to do history-making experiments – it will open up a wormhole to another dimension and kill us all! Astronomers calculate there MIGHT be a ninth planet way out there in the dark depths of the solar system – it’s Nibiru! We were right all along! The Nephilim are coming!! A comet is discovered and predicted to become a naked eye object in the sky – IT’S CARRYING SPACE PLAGUE AND IS BEING FOLLOWED BY UFOs AND WILL HIT EARTH AND DESTROY MANKIND!!!!!
Oh shut the **** up. I’ve had enough.
How have we got here, anyway? I think it’s a consequence of mankind “going digital”. People have always been free to write spread and believe rubbish – long before the first modem chirped and beeped people were buying books about “Alien astronauts”, “Our Spaceship Moon” and “Chariots of the Gods”, and there were no websites or forums to browse when the picture of the famous “Face on Mars” made UFO fans around the world wet themselves with excitement – but since the advent of social media nonsense has spread like a virus. Now the internet is groaning under the weight of conspiracy theory blogs, forums and YouTube channels, and more appear every year. Of course, no-one is forced to go to these sites, but it does mean that anyone who believes the rubbish – or is just curious about it – is able to access a huge database of nonsense, and re-distribute it, much more efficiently than lending a book or a video as they would have done back in the 70s and 80s.
Hmmm. Maybe this is why the sky is silent. Maybe this is why we haven’t heard any messages from extraterrestrials. Once a civilisation invents social media, and the nutters have a platform for their conspiracy theories, science becomes an enemy.
People often tell me not to take this so seriously. They tell me these people need educating, they need debating, or reasoning with, not condemning or ridiculing. “These are teaching opportunities” they tell me, and ok, yes, I can see that is true in some cases. Not everyone, to be fair, who spouts this stuff believes it 100%. Some have been convinced of it personally by people they know, and trust, and respect, or by things they have read online or seen on the TV, and without the proper education or scientific knowledge to know what’s fact and what’s woo-woo fruit loop conspiracy theory bull**** they believe it. Others may have mental conditions which make them more open to suggestion, or may be paranoid, or disturbed in some other way, and obviously, OBVIOUSLY they need sympathy and help and understanding. At the same time, these people are the ones most frightened and disturbed by the wicked liars who insist on their YouTube vids and in their “We know the truth!” forums that every newly-discovered comet or asteroid is going to hit Earth,so they should be protected from those, and the only way to do that is by calling out the people telling the lies – but we’ll come back to that.
It really doesn’t help that the media takes such delight nowadays in spreading this nonsense. Click on the TV and you can find an endless supply of conspiracy theory rubbish, “documentaries” about ancient aliens, UFOs, and worse. One British newspaper has a reporter – and I use the term very, very loosely – who just writes utter nonsense and shameful and shameless click-bait day after day after day. No X Files rejected script idea is beneath him – alien skulls, UFOs shot down over Roswell, portals being photographed opening up above CERN, he’s written about them all, and all under the banner of “Science”.
This is what we’re up against. This is why the stoopid is spreading.
So what do we do? What can we do? Should we do anything at all?
Well, yes, I think we should – I think we have to if we’re not to create a world, and pass such a world on to our kids, where science is distrusted and/or feared, and stupidity and ignorance are seen as acceptable or even cool. I think that we need to stop tolerating these fools, stop humouring them, and call them out, challenge their BS when we can. We simply can’t have kids growing up to believe, and then tell their kids, that vaccines are evil, that people never walked on the Moon, and that airplanes stitch cobwebs of poison across the sky.
And FFS, in 2016 we just can’t let people get away with saying that the Earth is flat. If they can find the time to spout that rubbish on Twitter they can find the time to do some proper research on Google- and by that I don’t mean watching YouTube videos or reading conspiracy theory websites and forums – and learn some very, very basic science. If they do that they will learn the facts. If they choose not to do that, well, then they are deliberately choosing to be ignorant and stupid, and we should not tolerate or humour them. We should call them out, and call them what they are – idiots and fools.
And if that sounds harsh, or intolerant, I don’t care, I just don’t. I’ve had enough. I don’t want any more kids to put their hands up after one of my school talks and TELL me that no-one went to the Moon, or that aliens are real, or that people rode dinosaurs. I want those kids to know about science, to grow up excited and inspired by it, not scared of it or distrustful of it, and to think it’s something they could do as a job in the future, not something to condemn, ridicule and dismiss.
Is that wrong? Is that “over-reacting”? I don’t think so.
I’m just not sure what we can do.
But I think we have to do something. Or at least try.