Hofstadter on popular attitudes toward science

In an essay on current popular attitudes toward science and scientists, Douglas R. Hofstadter (Indiana University Bloomington, US) makes the following points:

1) Science is currently presented to children and teens combined with irrelevancies such as action-packed stories, rock music, amusing quipsters, sassy jokes, sexual innuendoes, or up-to-date teen slang -- as if science is a "bitter pill" that needs sugar- coating.

2) Society today seems to be pervaded by a deep, unconscious, anti-science bias. Scientists are represented in movies, television, and books as heartless, humorless nerds who would sooner kill than smile, sooner write abstruse formulas than make love.

3) There is a dismissive attitude toward science as an explanatory framework for the world, and the welcoming of so- called "mysteries" such as after-death experiences, alien abductions, crystal channeling, crop circles, telekinesis, clairvoyance, extrasensory perception, or remote viewing.

4) Movie and television viewers and readers of serious literature are given the tacit message that the line between the natural and supernatural is blurry, and perhaps even nonexistent.

5) The general public no longer views science with a sense of awe and mystery, but instead considers it conservative and mundane, "trapped" in logical thinking.

6) The implicit message of popular culture is that science is boring, conservative, closed-minded, devoid of mystery, and a negative force in society.

The author concludes: "I have no quick fixes. I do not know how to quickly and easily repair decades of damage. I do not fully understand why the sands have shifted so radically. All I can do is look on in sadness and worry about the future of rational inquiry, bemoaning the loss of awe toward genuine mysteries that our society was once lucky enough to possess." From Science Week, August 14. Thanks to Jack Kolb.

Ross Sauer patch@bytehead.com

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