And what we’ve seen so far in the global response to the virus should frighten you. Our inattention to science is sometimes laid to Americans’ supposed “scientific illiteracy,” but the truth is more complicated. If it’s true that a lot of Americans don’t know a lot about science, it’s because across American society, science is actively undermined, underfunded, ignored and suppressed.
On social networks and in too many corners of the mainstream media, scientific expertise cloaked by a fog of propaganda, misinformation and scam ads for essential oils and that one mystery food every gut doctor in America is begging you to throw out. From the food industry to the drug industry to the oil and gas industry, corporate America routinely hides science under a haze of well-funded oppo. The gun industry did one better: Under legislation pushed for by the National Rifle Association, the federal government until recently was hamstrung in even funding scientific research into gun violence.
Our collective inability to communicate about science has thoroughly perverted our politics. Because science has become so deeply intertwined with partisan dogma, people’s very conception of scientific expertise has been hijacked by tribal reflex. Today, a lot of people seem to determine how much they trust scientists based on their political ideas, which is backward and bizarre.
What we’re left with is a society embarrassingly ignorant about the world around us. The vice president thinks smoking doesn’t kill, condoms are “very poor” protection against disease, and the best way to curb an H.I.V. outbreak is through prayer. The president says global warming is a hoax and attempts at conservation are making American life too inconvenient.
It’s not just politicians. The number of Americans who say vaccines are important is declining — and anti-vax conspiracies cross partisan divides, finding fans among Northern California hippies and some corners of the G.O.P.
Hence my call for divine intervention. Science and scientists face crushing opposition. In addition to silent-spreading disease and a burning planet, they must take on the moneyed, the godly, the dictatorial and Mike Pence.
If we won’t support them and won’t listen to them, the least we can do is pray.
Office Hours With Farhad Manjoo
Farhad wants to chat with readers on the phone. If you’re interested in talking to a New York Times columnist about anything that’s on your mind, please fill out this form. Farhad will select a few readers to call.
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News