It's probably my own naïveté, but I'm constantly disappointed how so many science questions that I research turn out to be political questions.
I consistently find that the conservative attitude on many science questions tends to be “everything's fine” and the liberal attitude tends to be “the sky is falling”. And, of course, that's exactly what conservative and liberal mean: Conserve things the way they are, and change things liberally. I don't find that either viewpoint is especially more likely to represent the current science more than the other. Conservatives tend to be more accurate in their assessments of food production and medical science; liberals tend to better represent actual science in their perspectives on evolution and climate change. Some issues, such as the environment, are torn right down the middle, with extremists on both ends being about equally wrong, and the moderates being about equally right. Too many fans of science tend to express their fandom only when the science matches the ideology.
Why does this frustrate me so much? I guess it's because my true love is learning. I jump up and down like a giddy child when I learn something new in my research. Even obscure factoids that seem drearily mundane to many get my blood rushing. I love sharing that excitement with my listeners. And so often, when I try to share something that struck me simply as “cool”, the reaction is one of disgust because it conflicts with someone's political agenda.
Now I'm not trying to sound all superior and that I'm above petty squabbles — anyone who knows me personally knows a lot better than that! — but somehow I have managed to keep a separation between my opinions and my research. The topic I'm working on this week is one for which my personal feelings are pretty strong, but part of the reason I love doing Skeptoid is that for a few hours each day, all of that melts away. Find a surprising fact, and then verify it — falsify it if possible — and note all the other questions it raises. To me, that's Disneyland. (OK, so maybe I'm weird, but nevertheless.)
Neither am I foolish enough to think that science questions don't have very legitimate and real implications to policymakers. My perspective is that I prefer to leave that part of the debate to those who enjoy it. Of course I care about the implications and how they affect policy, but my particular role — at least, my particular preference — is to stay out of that mud hole and stick to the fun part of learning.
I think it's likely that most people whose opinions on certain science questions happen to match their political ideologies are likely wearing blinders to some degree (though they may be right in most cases, they're probably not in all). Certainly anyone who listens to my show and receives it with a curmudgeonly attitude is missing the spirit of wonder and learning that I felt when I was researching and writing it. Even if I'm completely wrong about everything, I'll guarantee that every show brings up something you didn't know or hadn't considered.
A worthy homework assignment for everyone might be to take a policy or a pseudoscience with which you disagree, and dive into it until you find something that's scientifically sound, that you didn't know, and that's interesting. They're everywhere, and they're thrilling.
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