Donald Prothero on science illiteracy, the Dunning-Kruger effect

Another interesting blogger I’ve run across is Donald Prothero, author of a recent book called Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future, and a contributor to Skepticblog.

This post reads like an introduction to the theme of that book. The US thinks of itself as the #1 superpower in the world, with a monopoly on scientific achievement. But others were #1 in science in past centuries and millennia — the Greeks before Rome, the Arabs from roughly 800-1100 A.D., the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century. They were undone by Roman conquerors, Muslim religious extremism, and Soviet allegiance to ideology (Lysenkoism). And there are similar ominous trends in the US.

…the Bush Administration actively interfered with legitimate scientists, rewriting reports by federal scientists that disagree with their right-wing ideology, encouraging fringe scientists to testify as legitimate equals with well-regarded scientists in order to cancel out their politically inconvenient message, and generally ignoring the conclusions of scientists who don’t agree with them. As we saw in previous posts, the House “Science” Committees are run by creationists and climate deniers. The current Republican House majority asks global warming deniers and other fringe scientists to testify in front of Congress, and passes bills denying obvious scientific facts. Stem-cell research in the United States has been set back compared to that in other countries, as our best scientists go to countries with less political oppression.

On another topic, here he is on The Dunning-Kruger Effect, which says that

ignorant or unskilled people tend to overestimate their level of competence and expertise, while those who are truly expert sometimes underestimate their true level of expertise

Or as he quotes Bertrand Russell,

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

It seems to be a common effect lately, what with

non-experts trying to shout down people with expertise, or demagogues using the label of “elitism” to push their policies as they ridicule the experts who challenge them

He gives examples: Deepak Chopra, creationists like Duane Gish, the Bush administration, purveyors of quack medicine, climate change deniers, and the author of Conservapedia — about whom Prothero has this post in which said author tries to discredit Einstein and relativity by… quoting Bible verses.

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