There’s never been a time in human history when the general population was more educated than today. There’s never been a time, thanks to smart phones and the internet, when we’ve had access to more expert knowledge. So why is it that for a significant minority, expertise is actually mistrusted?
Led by doubter-in-chief Donald Trump, the U.S. has become a hotbed of skepticism. Here’s a president of the world’s most powerful country who doesn’t trust the information given to him by his intelligence officials but prefers his own gut instinct. They say the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections. He knows better. They say Iran has lived up to its commitments not to develop nuclear weapons. He’s sure Iran has cheated. He’s sure, based on a couple of hours of meetings with North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un that he’s a man who can be trusted, even if his officials say Kim’s gone right on developing nuclear weapons.
Millions share the belief that their personal instinct is more to be trusted than scientific research. The lives of countless of children are at risk because their parents refuse to have them vaccinated against various diseases. They distrust the medical and scientific communities which say vaccines are safe, choosing to listen to a British doctor, since discredited and banned from practicing, who claimed he had evidence linking vaccines to autism. These parents are sure the doctor is a victim of an elaborate conspiracy by drug companies and the medical profession to silence him.
The ultimate in conspiracy theories is the belief that the world is not a sphere, but is actually flat, just as people believed before Christopher Columbus didn’t fall off the edge when he traveled west and discovered the Americas. I had thought the idea that there were still people who believed the earth was flat was a joke, until I read an article in the current issue of Canadian Geographic magazine.
Writer Omar Mouallem writes about attending Canada’s first Flat Earth International Conference in Edmonton last summer. Some 250 people came to listen to stars of the movement like Mark Sargent, who posted his video “Flat Earth Clues Introduction” to YouTube and has 65,000 subscribers to his channel. He told listeners there’s no proof the planets are spheres and the moon is probably a two-dimensional object with three-dimensional properties.
Inspired by Sargent’s original video, amateur flat-earth scientists developed a theory that earth is actually a stationary disk under a physical dome from which are hung the sun, moon and stars.
Why doesn’t the mainstream scientific community admit its theory of earth and space is wrong? Because so much of the modern society is built on this fake science that overnight markets would collapse, universities would close and people would begin to question other fake theories like evolution.
Now after all this talk about skepticism, I suppose I can be accused of hypocrisy when I say I sometimes doubt the conclusions of scientists myself. It’s not that I doubt their scientific findings, it’s just that sometimes I wonder if they’ve looked at all sides of the issue.
One such case is the theory that raising cattle is bad for the environment because cattle belch methane gas as they digest grass, hay or silage. I have no doubt that the research showing cattle burp methane is right, but has full consideration been given to the role of cattle in harvesting the sun’s energy on land that’s not suitable for growing plant-based protein? Has anyone factored in the value of manure for fertilizing crops at a time when many con-sumers reject chemical fertilizers?
The key, it seems to me, is to keep an open mind and look at all angles – although I’m not sure I’ll devote much time to examining the “evidence” the world is flat.◊