The ever evolving world of scientific discovery is often only limited by those who oppose it.
Who are we, the “educated, bureaucratic and often maniacal” to super impose the existing thoughts of one who has, often since their youth, been taught to believe one way and deny those who do not? Why exactly would they trust us (the science minded individuals)? Is it simply that those who are behind the times fear that new concepts will alter their world too greatly for comfort, i.e Galileo, Alan Turing; or are there greater forces at work? What was once regarded to as dark magic, then madness, social ineptness and now corruption the scientists of earth have almost always had implicit thoughts working against them and now, in 2017, we (The United States of America which was once known as the front runner of the industrialized world) have pulled out of an agreement set in place to protect future generations due to a flawed rhetoric, economic frugality and simply put distrust of the men and women in lab coats.
When critically evaluating the conception of distrust towards science and why. The obvious answer is found right in front of our faces, as they generally are, Popular culture and media.
As most of the more passionate climate change deniers are those of the working class generally baby boomers and generation X. The media of that time is an excellent potential source of bias. 1985
Back to the Future
Enter: Doc Brown – Everybody’s favorite bumbling mad scientist!
Back to the Future, the 1985 hit film directed and written by Robert Zemeckis features a 17 year old high-school student, Marty McFly, being pulled into the unpredictable and incredibly mind bending world of his “crazy” inventor grandfather Doctor Emmett Brown. The two go back in time and in order for them to return Back to the Future Marty (the straight man) must repair Doc’s Delorean time machine and make sure that the events of the past are executed exactly as they did preceding the them going back in the first place.
I have chosen to utilize this source for two reasons, firstly, it is incredibly well known and likely has been seen by many of the afore mentioned generation, secondly the character Doc Brown is a terrific representation of the untrustworthy and ‘mad’ persona that is often attributed to scientists and often the very word science, think about how many times you have heard or seen the mad scientist archetype in your life. Doc is the personification of societies perception of science and is only present in the film to create the issue in the first place and provide wacky and unpredictable humor. Why would we not expect those who view the film to not intrinsically incorporate this personality into their bias to a certain extent when thinking of science? This is a rather soft example, in order for me to remain a reliable voice in this debate I must also recognize the fact that this film is intended to be an action comedy and that it’s intentions were likely not to disrupt or influence the general public’s opinion, but if we are conscientious about issues such as violence, race and bigotry in films and how they affect the public’s opinion why should we not discuss this especially now that the issue of scientific distrust is influencing global politics?
There are people who believe that climate change is a global hoax propagated by CORPORATIONs to siphon money from the working class person. Even when chemists, biologists and physicists have seen, recorded, peer reviewed and dedicated their LIFE work to the effects of global warming.
Figures 1: Graph illustrating the correlation between expertise in the field of climate science and its logarithmic relationship to it’s acceptance as a real issue.Taken from the Skeptical Science website, graph derived from peer reviewed study: “http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/17489326/8/2/024024;jsessionid=EC9D16C4C596E53688EB82843765B935.c1.iopscience.cld.iop.org”
The most prominent example of how ‘undesirable’ the scientific based individual is in pop culture is present in American televisions highly viewed show…
The Big Bang Theory
Enter: Sheldon Cooper – The highly brilliant yet socially awkward and undesirable young man consistently at the end of the joke.
If we are to look now, 2006 – 2017, at what American societies perception of science has become, we must extend no further than Golden Globe winning Jim Parsons rendition of a nerd/scientist as Sheldon Cooper. The Big Bang Theory has been airing now for twelve seasons all with episodes (give or take a handful perhaps) linked to how the protagonist (Cooper) is unable to understand social situations and is caught up in his own mind thus preventing him from functioning normally. This is what science looks like in 2017, simply put, a joke. Currently, as of this date, rated as the 24th most popular television show airing in terms of consumer ratings, The Big Bang Theory never fails to remind us that:
- Not understanding Science is normal and funny.
- Laughing at scientists who do not fit into society is socially acceptable.
- Science is unapproachable and is not suppose to fit into our lives.
The show makes light of “nerd culture” by making references and jokes referring to how ‘geeky and silly’ it is to enjoy science fiction while at the same time undermining the actual representation of Sheldon himself. He is consistently being laughed at and not taken seriously, which brings us full circle back to Doc Brown.
‘Scientists should not be taken seriously.’
This is the message that we are sending to Americans and have been since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We cannot truly expect the uneducated and scientifically illiterate American to trust science when the message that is constantly being sent to them is that it’s okay to laugh at it and not understand it. Of course those who do not believe in climate change will attribute it to large corporations trying to take their money out of taxes because where is ‘Science’ (aside from technology) in their lives? It is a common pitfall for us as humans to disregard what we do not see and pass it off as false information. Society has continually been misinformed about the sciences and still is:
Figure 2.0: Statistics showing disconnect between educated scientists apart of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and average U.S adult.
and now Climate Change.
All of these are examples of science that was once refuted by the general majority and has been proven true time and time again.
Why does this matter to me?
As a student of science and one who identifies as what society has deemed ‘ a nerd’ I feel particularly inspired to discuss and impose these ideas for I feel that the majority of the American youth simply does not care about science yet is willing to criticize those who deny it. The majority of millennials were pro-staying in the Paris agreement and yet none of our voices seemed to have much of an impact in a world that seems dictated by those who vote with their ‘gut instinct’ or because they ‘liked what they heard’.
The misrepresentation of scientists in pop-culture and media has negatively impacted societies perception of science and scientists themselves leading to a rise in the refutation of important topics such as climate change. If we want to once again become a nation that is a front runner of science we must urge ourselves and our peers to research and listen to those who are educated even if we are not, he-said / she-said is not an accurate way of attaining information in an era that is so clouded with potentially false information.