Skip to comments.Exercising society’s right to ignore the ignorant
Posted on 08/21/2013 11:16:18 AM PDT by 1rudeboy
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA People have a right to be ignorant. Just as we can choose to damage our health by overeating, smoking cigarettes and neglecting to take prescribed medications, we can also choose to remain uninformed on policy issues.
Perhaps ignorance makes sense sometimes. According to economists, “rational ignorance” comes into play when the cost of gaining enough understanding of an issue to make an informed decision relating to it outweighs the benefit that one could reasonably expect from doing so. For example, many who are preoccupied with family, school, work and mortgages may not consider it cost-effective to sift through a mass of often-inconsistent data to understand, say, the risks and benefits of nuclear power, plasticizers in children’s toys or the Mediterranean diet.
The deluge of conflicting data relating to various foods’ costs and benefits exemplifies the challenge inherent in making informed decisions. In a recent study, Jonathan Schoenfeld and John Ioannidis found that, despite the media hype, “scientific” claims that various foods cause or protect against cancer are frequently not supported by meta-analysis (analysis of pooled results from multiple studies). As Ioannidis put it, “People get scared or they think that they should change their lives and make big decisions, and then things get refuted very quickly.”
People are particularly likely to exercise their right to ignorance — rational or not — when it comes to issues of science and technology.
A 2001 study sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation found that roughly half of people surveyed understood that Earth circles the sun once a year, 45 percent could give an “acceptable definition” for DNA, and only 22 percent understood what a molecule was.
In 1995, the cosmologist Carl Sagan expressed concern about the trend toward a society in which “clutching our crystals and religiously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in steep decline … we slide, almost without noticing, into superstition and darkness.”
More recently, British polymath Dick Taverne warned that “in the practice of medicine, popular approaches to farming and food, policies to reduce hunger and disease, and many other practical issues, there is an undercurrent of irrationality that threatens science-dependent progress, and even the civilized basis of our democracy.”
Indeed, while people are entitled to believe in horoscopes, trust in crystals to bring good luck, or buy into quack medicine, such “junk science” becomes a serious threat to society when it is allowed to influence public policy.
Consider, for example, the response last year by some activists in Key West, Florida, to efforts aimed at stemming the spread of dengue fever, a serious, potentially life-threatening disease, which reappeared in the area in 2009 after being absent for more than 70 years.
Using genetic-engineering techniques, the British company Oxitec has created new varieties of the mosquito species that transmit dengue fever. The new mosquitoes contain a gene that produces high levels of a protein that stops their cells from functioning normally, ultimately killing them. As long as the modified male mosquitoes are fed a special diet, the protein does not affect them. When released, they survive just long enough to mate with wild females, passing along the protein-producing gene, which kills their offspring before they reach maturity — resulting in the species’ elimination after a few generations.
After receiving the needed approvals, Oxitec worked with local scientists to release the modified mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands and in the Juazeiro region of Brazil. According to the published accounts of these experimental releases, the approach was highly effective, reducing the infected mosquito population by 80 percent in the Cayman Islands and by 90 percent in Brazil. The company is awaiting approval from Brazil’s health ministry to implement this approach as a dengue-control policy.
While similar releases in Florida are years away, some locals have already reacted forcefully. One activist gathered 100,000 signatures on a petition to oppose using the mosquitoes in eradication efforts.
But her concerns — “What if these mosquitoes bite my boys or my dogs? What will they do to the ecosystem?” — have no scientific basis, and thus reflect voluntary ignorance. With a little research, she would have discovered that male mosquitoes do not bite, and that the released mosquitoes (all male) die in the absence of their specially supplemented diet. [emphasis added]
In fact, the experimental releases revealed no detectable adverse effects of any kind. But presenting the facts in a reasonable manner, as Florida mosquito-control authorities have attempted to do, has not been enough to change opponents’ minds. Unfortunately, those who choose ignorance are immune to — or simply prefer to ignore — reason.
Why are so many people afraid of so many things? Cancer epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat identifies several factors, including “the success of the environmental movement; a deep-seated distrust of industry; the public’s insatiable appetite for stories related to health, which the media duly cater to; and — not least — the striking expansion of the fields of epidemiology and environmental health sciences and their burgeoning literature.”
Regardless of their reasoning, people have a right to choose ignorance. But allowing that choice to drive public policy constitutes a serious threat to scientific, social, and economic development.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Exercising societys right to ignore the ignorant”
What if “society” itself is ignorant? Apart from that, who gets to judge and deem others ignorant? Implicitly, the author puts himself in the “other than ignorant” category. How ignorant. Perhaps I should just ignore him.
If you want to remain ignorant, knock yourself out.
Political tags such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-—Robert A. Heinlein
The elites like to elect themselves as gods on earth and dictate how you should live your lives according to their own desires. A set of rules and regulations ensures you come into compliance with their code. If not you get penalized and fined and have to pay money to them. Got it?.../s
Don’t see the sarcasm, sorry.
They know so much that just isn’t so.
It’s hard to ignore the ignorant when they hold the highest offices in the land.
Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.
One problem is that Leftists define “not buying the Leftist dogma” as “ignorance”
“Who is wise? One who learns from every person ”
If the author (or you?), chooses to ignore people whom he magisterially deems ignorant, that’s his loss.
And you feel the need to parachute in here and claim he is some sort of an elitist? Very ignorant of you . . . and probably an example of the very issue he discusses in this piece.
One doesn’t have to know the science to know the odds are that introducing new bugs or new plants into an area to solve some current problem causes new and unpredicted problems.
One could say the same thing about the internal combustion engine.
I love the smell of ad hominem in the morning. What I object to is the implicit categorizing of people into “ignorant” and enlightened. The latter, it seems, have the exclusive right to “drive policy”. The former apparently can go crawl in a hole. Who gets to decide who’s who?
If the little buggers would have been any where near an oil rig, they’d want to save ‘em.
Is that why you attacked the author, right off the bat? Or even me (although obliquely) in your comment #12?
As I stated, this author gives about as clear-cut of an example of why some should conduct public policy over others as can be . . . and you come to discuss semantics. Not understanding that the implication of your argument is that the woman is as qualified to eradicate dengue fever as anyone else. So yeah, that's ignorant.
My point was rhetorical; I thought the context made it abundantly clear. My point was that the author (or anyone) can be judged “ignorant” by some standard. He should remember that he’s living in a glass house.
Really, unless he’s building castles in the sky, I’m sure what his point is. That people should make a point of learning about a subject before they express an opinion about it? That seems hardly novel, and even that idea calls for qualification. That we should try to pick knowledgeable people as our “experts”? That borders on tautology. That only the “informed” should be making public policy? He suggests that at the end, rather explicitly. That seems insidious.
That only the informed should be making public policy? He suggests that at the end, rather explicitly. That seems insidious.
Not insidious at all, unless you truly feel better being governed by the uninformed.