I am writing a series on promoting science.
The points I have already covered are:
(1) Essay 1A: The task is not to make science relevant, it is to teach idiots to recognize and respect a relevance that already exists.
(2) Essay 1B: There is no distinction between scientific and non-scientific policy questions. All good policy decisions require evidence-based evaluation of the available options.
(3) Essay 2: Supply-side reform – promoting the supply of useful science – is a waste of time as a method of reform. It’s only use is to fulfill a demand that already exists.
(4) Essay 3: Demand-side reform is what we should be looking at. However, demand-side reform is an in-your-face type of reform that uses condemnation, ridicule, and other forms of treatment to make intelligent methodologies popular and buffoonery unpopular.
Today, I want to look at the positive side of demand-side reform.
Recall, "demand-side reform" means making a change in society by changing what it is that people demand – which means changing what they like and dislike. It means giving people a desire for scientific literacy as a way of promoting a demand for scientific literacy; and promoting an aversion to foolishness as a way of reducing the demand for fools such as Bush and Palin.
In my last post, I looked at the use of criticism, condemnation, and (in extreme cases) punishment as tools of demand-side reform. These tools aim to promote an aversion to that which we have reason to want others to avoid. In this case, the discussion is on promoting an aversion to evidence-free thinking on matters of social and public policy.
However, we also have the tools of praise and reward – positive reinforcers that are useful in promoting a desire for particular states that we have reason to want other agents to pursue.
At the highest levels of science, we already use rewards such as the Nobel Prize and membership into the National Academy of Science or the Royal Society to mark success. Successful scientists also gain the respect and admiration of their peers, and given any of a rich variety of other honors.
There is also a reward to be given for evidence-based thinking based entirely on the usefulness of evidence-based thinking. The person who does the better job predicting the outcome of alternative actions will tend to succeed more often and fail less often than the person who shuns evidence. Consider the success rate of a group of people who attempt to drive across the country while blindfolded, versus the success rate of a group that makes driving decisions based on evidence acquired by looking at the world around him.
Yet, culturally, the common person who has a scientific interest and curiosity is ridiculed and denigrated, compared to the non-thinker who is honored and respected. In politics, for example, we reward evidence-free thinking by electing them into public office, while we denigrate evidence-based thinkers by declaring them inherently unfit to hold public office.
We have a pledge of allegiance and a national motto that hold evidence-free thinking in high regard (and teaches young children that evidence-free thinking deserves the highest respect), while denigrating evidence-based thinking that suggests that no God exists for the nation to be under, or for a citizen to trust.
Our entertainment media is filled to the brim with "heroes" who shun evidence-based decision-making and who rely, instead, on feelings and instinct. Somehow, feelings in the movies and on television is always successful, while evidence-based thinking often fails.
Why is that? Could it be because the author of the piece actually engineers the entertainment to be one in which intelligence fails and "feelings" succeed? Authors have a way of manipulating events to suit their liking that we, in the real world, do not have. Which is why feeling-based thinking tends to be so successful in works of fiction, when it has such a poor record in fact.
Demand-side reform does not mean simply condemning and ridiculing those elements in the culture that promote evidence-free decision making. It means promoting, by whatever means at one's disposal, public attempts to promote and to respect evidence-based decision-making.
It means, for example, taking advantage in conversations and other forms of public expression to say not only that, "Those people with their faith-based mumbo jumbo are idiots," but "Here are people that I admire for their love and respect for evidence-based decision-making."
You don't have to be negative all the time.