THE MISTRUST OF SCIENCE
By Atul Gawande , JUNE 10, 2016
The following was delivered as the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology, on Friday, June 10th.
Atul Gawande, a surgeon and public-health researcher, became a New Yorker staff writer in 1998.
His work has been far from satisfactory... he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way... I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can't learn simple Biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time on his part, and of those who have to teach him.
--a college professor, on the report card of Sir John B. Gurdon, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his revolutionary research on stem cells
He has written several books, including Disproving Christianity, which he wrote right out of undergrad school I believe. The Belief Book and the Book of God are intended for the education of children by parents who want to satisfy their natural curiousity with actual information instead of indoctrination. And he announced last night for the first time in public that he has signed a contract for his next book, No Sacred Cows, which will be a manual for teaching critical thinking to children and adults.
I am very excited that this young man has taken to writing, and based on his public speaking, I suspect he is a clear and concise writer. I look forward to reading some of his books, and I may start giving them as gifts too. =-]
His main point in this talk is that the reason that there is so much dogmatic religion in the US is the lack of religious studies education. People who do not know what religion is and what it has done in history are more likely to be religious, and more likely to be fundamentalist. He says that to protect your children from falling prey to fundamentalism, teach them about all relgions, and satisfy their curiousity with real information. Without this education there is in his words a "snowball effect" that leads to a widespread lack of critical thinking---which is exactly what we are seeing in today's political sphere. If there were a strong component of religious studies integrated into primary school history and philosophy classes, there would be more critical thinking nationwide.
He mentioned an organization called the OASIS network, which is jokingly called "atheist church" but really it "an alternative to faith based community" that provides among other things programs for kids. For freethinkers surrounded by religiousity, the name is really appropriate
Here's his blogpost on how to respond to door to door religion sellers:
**Created tag: freethinker
a mysterious gift bestowed at birth.
It is the product of particular ways of thinking,
of gathering information,
of updating beliefs.
These habits of thought can be learned and cultivated
by any intelligent, thoughtful,
--Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner on page 18 in
Superforecasting; the Art and Science of Prediction
If you know what's good for you, if you know that they're leftists, you won't believe anything they say any time, anywhere, about anything … So we have now the Four Corners of Deceit, and the two universes in which we live. The Universe of Lies, the Universe of Reality, and The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit.
—Rush Limbaugh when discussing climate science
Don't forget: We live during the least violent time in all of recorded human history. We have done this by abandoning tribalism and embracing the, cosmically speaking, very new ideas of compassion and empathy. What we are seeing are the death throws of an old morality, where honor and vengeance and the death you could inflict were how you judged yourself as a person.
So the proper response to a terrorist attack shouldn't be hate or bloodlust, but pity; pity for a group actively choosing to be forgotten and disregarded by the long eye of history.
Dr Paul brings ribs from a restaurant. He's in his 90's and doesn't mind spending his money on food for others. He's a retired physician, orthopedic surgeon to be specific. His sons are all in medicine too, some clinical and some research. He gave me the Mayo clinic book on Alternative Medicine. They basically have a stoplight rating system for all things alternative, and the majority of treatments get the yellow light based on the science that they found. I appreciate it pretty much. They don't damn naturopathic medicine, it gets yellow also. There are good and bad parts. I wish they'd do the same approach for conventional medicines. People might be shocked how weak the evidence is for some of them. The degree to which pharmaceutical businesses drive the FDA and the delivery of medicine is apalling. I love it every time I read of another review that shows reasonable conventional doctors understand that some of the uses of pharmaceuticals are unsubstantiated and may do more harm than good.
The scientists who work at the labs don't live in Oak Ridge anymore. I used to think of Oak Ridge as a pocket of international PhD's who were above the southern morass. Educated and openminded. That is no longer true. The road between the plants and West Knoxville has many more lanes, and at rush hour you can see where the lab personnel are going. My friends tell me that Oak Ridge is become more like the rest of east Tennessee, that is, less educated and more religious and patriotic.
Patriotic externally at least. On my mother's block most houses have a flag or some sort of "God Bless America" display going on. My mother has an American flag hanging on her front gate, and there's one in the window of her neighbor's house, and one on the porch of the neighbor across the street. My father, in another neighborhood, also has one up. I don't know what exactly all these flags mean. I think that if you do not display your patriotism, you are suspect of being a terrorist. I also suspect that the flags declare gun ownership, because the second amendment is enshrined here. Certainly one would be foolish to threaten anyone, because stickers on vehicles declare that their guns will only be removed from cold dead hands, or that the guns will be smoking hot and out of ammo. Hanging a flag is in a sense cammo for my relatives who are not so well armed.
Religiousness is endemic here. Christianity, to be specific. My mother says Baptists are the dominant sect but the Catholics and Methodists have churches near here and active communities. I walked by the Methodist church this morning, taking the dog out, and noticed that they have a "First Steps" program for "child development". Every church has some program for the little ones. It occurs to me to wonder, does anyone attempt to teach the little ones skepticism and critical thinking? Are the children getting properly socialized, or dogmatized? Probably some of each, I suspect.
Oak Ridge is overwhelmingly white. I did run across a Hispanic mother and her two children waiting for the bus. She kept them far away from my mother's dog. And I have seen a few blacks here and there. The talker who used to work at the gym who now hangs out by the door at Panera to keep social. He doesn't know when to say goodbye. Another nonwhite is my mother's old friend Dimitri who is Middle Eastern, and walks everywhere, picking up trash and coins from the sidewalks. He was an engineer at the plant, has plenty of money in the bank, but lives in a tiny apartment and does not own a car. I would like to talk to him. I haven't seen a single native since I've been here, that is, aside from white eyes who were born here like myself.
- This epidemiologic analysis revealed that mortality rates are increasing in the middle-aged white male population, largely due to preventable conditions like poisonings and overdoses.
- Reductions in mortality were seen in other racial groups.
( Great article here from the NY Times )
Sometimes the thing I learn is a negative. Part of growing up and separating from your parents is deciding "I don't want to ever do that." What I have been learning recently is that many teachers are so busy teaching that they don't take the time to breathe. That is to say, the best teachers are the ones who are truly present with us in the practice, and not simply filling airspace with instructions.
My yoga practice involves tuning in to my own inner voice, and being present with my breath and body. This was a great learning for me, because I grew up very American, unaware of my body, or worse, in denial of it.
( Exhale, inhale... )
9 Things Many Americans Just Don’t Grasp (Compared to the Rest of the World)
Americans' lack of worldliness clouds our views on everything from economics to sex to religion.
By Alex Henderson / AlterNet March 25, 2015
---the Devil's Neuroscientist (alter ego of Sam Schwartzkopf)
in a 12/10/14 blogpost entitled: Why all research findings are false