Anti-science thinking, bad public education, and trashy films

July 27, 2021 10:58
Photo: Reuters

Widespread social media availability has enabled the rise of anti-science thinking that threatens to undermine public safety. You see these in anti-vaxxers, flat Earth believers, and all sorts of weird beliefs in their social media videos and posts. Everyone these days can broadcast or publish whatever they want, without any form of editorial control.

If you dig deeper, you'll find that these anti-science thinkers correlate to poverty socioeconomic distribution in their respective countries. In the US, Donald Trump supporters congregate in the economically depressed Deep South, and not too much in the affluent educated coastal cities where the educated elite live. Same goes with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, as well as in many other places.

Oftentimes anti-science thinkers abound in areas where public education has failed, and trash television and films have been allowed to fester. In the Philippines for example, the World Bank, the Philippine Business for Education, and the ADB Institute recently gave poor scores to public education. This is especially true in certain areas that have been underserved by education. Hence radicalism and all sorts of ideas pop up.

Lack of public education, coupled with trashy films/TV shows as a steady diet, become the ingredients for a populace that is easily swayed by junk science. As Roman poet Juvenal put it, "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses). Even during the time of the Romans, if you simply fed your people and provided seedy entertainment such as the gladiator duels in the Colosseum, the ability to think critically was compromised. What about the scientific experts? Well, simply insult them with a large army of trolls and their simplistic arguments will save the day. The same held true then but still holds true today.

These days, failed public education and the availability of entertainment about mistresses, mass murder, mayhem, and other forms of cheap entertainment in these countries keep the masses happy and ensure a lack of scientific logic in processing events that happen like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Why believe in vaccines? They falsely believe that this will just implant a chip in their body. 5G? This can cause cancer. These are some of the things that people sometimes allow to enter into their heads.
Everything is safe and secure in that world, whether it be a false sense of assurance for the deluded citizen, or the national leader who rides on the ignorance. Even if someone in this situation wanted to "think critically" about science related issues, how can he do it if he is kept at a limited level of education and is constantly bombarded by trash films and television shows? He can't. He then becomes susceptible to fake news about vaccines, flat Earth beliefs, 5G, and anything anti-science in general.

Laying the predicate with good education and entertainment that actually forces people to think may work better. Unfortunately improving public education and creating world class entertainment is too much work for many countries. But in reality, this is the best way to ensure that the population understands enough basic science and math to make good sense of the world around them.

If you want to change the way people think about science related issues like vaccinations, beef up the public education system and provide good educational entertainment. Structurally work on public education and better entertainment content. Make them smart enough to understand key science concepts that are critical to the proper functioning of our respective societies.

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The writer is a Filipino crypto and blockchain advocate.