by Nick Baez
Those of you who have been reading my articles will realize that not only do I hold science and reason to their proper esteem, but I also believe in making science accessible to the Latino community as a whole.
Particularly with respect to my teaching philosophy, I believe that we must, as human beings, be willing to critically examine our beliefs for meaning and justification if we wish to add wealth and richness to the world as a whole. However, over the past few years, I have witnessed a rise in anti-intellectual sentiment, both in the classroom (from students) and in public discourse (from elected officials and part of the voting public).
We all remember the last Presidential race, when it was suggested by many that “intellectuals” were somehow “less American” or less able to understand the plight of “real Americans.” We have witnessed an attempt to rewrite the history of this country, out of a fear that students will come to “hate America” if we do not take such action. So how do we recognize anti-intellectualism when it occurs? In my estimation, anti-intellectualism arises out of a belief that a particular field of science/research is invalid or otherwise irrelevant for any one of the following five reasons:
- Lack of comprehension/understanding of the subject matter: Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be able to give a lecture on the tenets of string theory. However, this should not deter a person from seeking out knowledge on a variety of subject matters, in order to understand the complexities of the world in which we live.
- An erroneous belief that it will never be personally relevant for you: This characteristic arises out of pure narcissism. It leads to a worldview based on isolationism, and can make individuals blind to injustices occurring throughout the world.
- It conflicts with what the cable news network told you: A good example of this is found in the rhetoric surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance, which many media outlets would claim is proof that America is a “Christian nation,” and that the Founding Fathers wrote it themselves. Neither of these assertions holds up to fact.
- The belief that personal opinions have equal or greater weight compared to research and data: This is a disturbing trend in both the academic sector and in public discourse. Whereas scientific data is carefully scrutinized, peer reviewed, and retested, opinions can arise out of a vacuum without any justification for them.
- The belief that “pop science” draws valid conclusions: Nowhere is this more apparent than with the anti-vaccine movement (which is thankfully dwindling). Most of you who are reading this article (as well as your parents) are alive today because of the advent of vaccines and antibiotics, perhaps the two most important medical discoveries in human history. Most citizens of highly impoverished nations would do anything they can to have universal access to vaccines and antibiotics. Yet, in spite of study after study that clearly shows negligible risk, there is still trepidation among some individuals with getting vaccinations. There is even a false belief perpetuated by some that vaccines are loaded with lethal doses of mercury. Again, these assertions do not hold up to examination.
If we as a community are to play a major role in defining the agendas of the 21st century, we must be willing to understand that intellect and reason are virtues of global citizens, for they allow us to tackle complex global issues with intricate and creative solutions.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.