Michael Mann calls it the “scientization of politics,” and professor Adam Frank calls it “the age of denial.” No matter how you decide to brand it, the truth is we’re living in a very strange time: when truth is subjective, science and religion are political, and everyone cries for their opinion to be respected.
As a University, we have a unique place in society. This is supposedly the place where ideas can be taught, paradigms changed and things be brought as one, the meaning of the word university. That being said, bear with me.
Scientific truth is not debatable. The purpose of science is not to argue with your preconceived notions, nor is science locked in a debate with religion; the purpose of science is to discover truth about the universe, life, and us. If you believe the earth is 6000 years old, you’re wrong. If you’re part of the four percent of Americans who believe lizard people are disguised as heads of state and taking over the world, you are also wrong. These are extreme examples but the point is people are willing to deny objective fact in favor of some notion without merit.
I think the reason for this self-imposed ignorance stems from our belief that everyone is created equal and has the right to be heard. We have extended this beautiful truth to the extreme: that every idea has merit, truth is personal and we can’t judge someone based on their beliefs or thoughts. This pernicious idea is tearing us apart. Yes, you have the right to your opinion, but you do not have the right to have that opinion be regarded as truth, or even respected.
If an idea is wrong or harmful, it shouldn’t be allowed to hold sway. We need to take these falsehoods as opportunities to teach. Your racist uncle who complains loudly about a specific group at every family dinner should be taught that’s wrong and ill-informed.
Vaccinations do not cause autism, gun-free zones do not eliminate shootings and homosexuals do not cause natural disasters. Obama is not the anti-Christ, Macintosh is not perfect, racism is wrong and Twilight still sucks. These are as negotiable as arithmetic or spelling; that is to say, not at all.
Perhaps the saddest truth is while we all demand our views be respected, we might be living in one of the most scientifically-ignorant society in decades. Oregon educators are revisiting school policies because so many parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Here in Utah, parents are up in arms when creationism isn’t taught as an “alternative” to cosmic development and evolution. Statistics, fact and truth are being rejected.
Thankfully, I see a little more mental flexibility here at UVU. Maybe it’s because we’re younger, or are more accepting that we might be wrong. Maybe we’re used to accepting something new as fact because we’re in school. Whatever the reason, I see a lot more open and honest debate and discussion among students than I do outside of our school of 30,000. Opinions haven’t hardened into personal identity, we have a wider view of the world and information, and we can look for truth and decide on our own.
I urge you to be malleable. Don’t decide now that what you know is the ultimate end-all. We have a responsibility to remain open-minded and determined to find the best option and the greatest truth.