Time to Make Scientific Education Standards a Priority… Starting with Us

Posted on September 22, 2014


Our huge, inter-connected population and the globalization of economies means that today, intelligence without education is outright harmful.


The human mind looks for patterns, and in the absence of education or scientific thought processes, the mind will see patterns and meanings that just aren’t there. Conversely, without education, the mind grasps little of what it can’t directly observe.

So here we are in the 21st century, we have gone to the moon, we have eradicated smallpox, we have created robots to serve our needs… even on other planets. We are able to transplant hearts and create real-world bionic limbs for amputees. We can communicate in real-time video around the world, and our cell phones can put more computing power in the palms of our hands than the best and largest computers of just a decade ago. We are on the verge of such wonders as artificial vision for the blind, of self-driving autonomous cars, of sending humans to Mars.

And yet, this is the same world where we think that good medicine comes from human albino body parts, from rhino horns, from tiger penises. Where we think that it is possible to cast spells on each other, or to gain some kind of mystical insight into the universe by sleeping with a pyramid above the bed. And all of this is based on… well, nothing, really.

But then we have the largest, most dangerous ebola outbreak ever… this is a disease that kills a very large percentage of its victims… and what do we see? We see people who are so afraid of the disease that they are opposed to the presence of a quarantine facility in their neighborhood, and what do they do about it? They attack the facility and loot it. They frighten away the patients, who flee back into the general population. They carry off sheets, mattresses, and anything not nailed down, some of it “visibly stained with blood, vomit and excrement,” as CBS reports. Anyone with about a sixth-grade science education understands the problem here, but these fearful and ignorant people who wanted so badly to remove this contagion from their neighborhood instead went and physically grabbed all the ebola they could carry, and presumably carried it right on home. I’m guessing these looters don’t know a whole lot about the bodily-fluid-transmission thing.

Sure, you can say, “Oh, well, that’s the third world,” but there are a couple of problems with that line of thought. For one thing, first-world people are certainly not immune to the influence of bad “science” or outright intellectual weirdness. I have to shake my head at, say, the 1997 “Heaven’s Gate” cult which committed mass suicide in order to meet an alien UFO accompanying the Hale-Bopp comet, but at least the damage from that kind of ignorance is pretty limited. But witness also America’s very own anti-vaccination crowd (hey, thanks for the measles outbreak!). Now that is pretty much the same thing as Liberians looting an ebola-infected facility: the ignorant, fearful and selfish actions of a few Americans put a much larger number of people at risk, they’re just prettier about how they do it.

This is where education comes in. We are far past the point where it’s okay to be all politically correct and say that everyone’s beliefs are equally good, and we all need to accommodate everyone’s views and feelings. Nice sentiment, but it’s high time for science lead the way. No more anti-vaccination exemptions for non-scientific reasons; no more creationism in schools, no more taking your kids out of sex education, none of it.

Parents can argue that they should be the final decision authority on what their kids learn, or on what medical treatments they receive. In bygone decades of little travel, smaller populations and greater separation of those populations, that was fine. But now, parents’ decisions for their kids have an impact on the rest of us, whether that is because they spread diseases, or because they are raising an entire generation of Americans that is unfit to compete in a global economy. That’s why decisions on medicine and education cannot be left entirely up to parents. We all pay for those decisions later on.