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Jun. 27 2010 - 11:26 am | 481 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

Dear Sarah: It’s not too Late to Start Your Science Education

Gov. Sarah Palin has breakfast and visits with...

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I have a sense that Sarah Palin is feeling a twinge of cognitive dissonance these days. I think she knows that she doesn’t possess even rudimentary knowledge about the science issues she comments on (evolution and environmental science, to name two), yet as a figure standing precariously on the edge of right-wing populism, she feels obliged to make one self-assured sounding statement after another. Recall her now famous, “global warming studies based on snake oil science stuff” quote, and her disparaging of fruit fly research in Europe without having any idea what the research was about or why it was important, among others.

Granted, the prerequisite knowledge requirement for the position she occupies is not high; parroting skills are valued more, and those she has in spades. But I want to step back for a moment, ignore ideology and manipulative politics, and openly wonder if Sarah could–if she chose–get the basic science education she is obviously lacking.  I don’t mean go back to school, but rather challenge herself to really investigate the science behind the issues.  I say yes, she could, but with a crucial caveat: she’d have to step away from the podium and really get serious about learning.

Imagine how hard this would be for any public figure whose stock in trade is making endless public appearances, rallying mobs of followers, and putting on the air of impenetrable confidence at all times.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a public figure, of course, but I think it requires so much time, and so strongly colors the mindset of the person in question that genuine learning (the sort that demands self questioning and uncomfortable critique) seldom fits.  The figure would have to be willing to take a vacation from the maelstrom to engage subjects with a perspective even vaguely approaching objectivity.

Maybe I’m giving her more benefit of the doubt than warranted, but a big dose of “doubt” is exactly what I think Sarah needs.  If she stepped away from her firebrand mouthpiece persona and started asking hard questions about these things she dismissively comments on, she might be surprised at what she finds.  And I’ll go even further and say that I think she has enough going on upstairs to make it happen, if a sincere willingness was there–though, regrettably, I doubt it is.

I think instead that she’s found a niche in the vanguard of a political movement that simply doesn’t value science beyond its political utility.  That’s why so many scientists just shake their heads and try the best they can to ignore the political arena. They aren’t elitists, they’re just tired of credible scientific investigation being ignored while politically motivated “science” gets the main stage. Who can blame them for becoming jaded?

In any case, Sarah, if you’re reading, at least consider what I’m telling you. It’s not too late, and you might even enjoy the experience.


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  1. collapse expand

    “Maybe I’m giving her more benefit of the doubt than warranted, but “doubt” is exactly what I think Sarah needs a massive dose of.”

    “I think instead that she’s found a niche in the vanguard of a political movement that simply doesn’t value science beyond its political utility.”

    I don’t want to nitpick, but this simply belays the fact that you know almost nothing about Palin. She hasn’t found a “niche” in a political movement that doesn’t value science beyond its utility, that can be cured with a good stiff dose of doubt. She was raised from childhood as a member of a wacko religious cult that openly rejects science and disdains the mental processes that constitute rational thought.
    This is not a trivial matter. She grew up in the Wasilla Assembly of God, an extremely right wing fundamentalist sect that openly practices faith healing, demonic exorcism, and a whole slew of other cult nonsense. I know this because I WENT TO THIS CHURCH WITH HER. She changed churches when she ran for governor of Alaska. Why change to a more mainstream denomination? Obviously the question supplies its own answer. Because even for most so-called “confessing christians” loonies rolling around on the floor claiming their demon-possessed in a bad cartoon voice or claiming that hayzoos cleared up their infected toenail is just a bit too much for appearances. Christians are, above all, the pillars of our society (or so they claim); they can’t have the unwashed masses deciding (horror of horrors!) that they’re in fact just another stupid cult.
    Unfortunately I know this woman all too well, and it’s with a heavy heart that I have to tell you she truly believes every word of dipshit dingbat nonsense that rolls out of her pertty mouth. I wish she were in reality a cynical political pragmatist who sneered at the “little people” behind the scenes. She’d be a whole lot less dangerous. But she’s not. What she is, is just the kind of genuine cultist wingnut who actually believes she’s receiving telepathic messages from the invisible man in the sky. And won’t hesitate to act on them.
    I left the church a quarter of century ago. I don’t even believe in a flesh and blood jesus anymore, let alone a magical one. But when people ask me what I think of Sara Palin for president all I can think to say is “God help us all.”

  2. collapse expand

    You have a point, but making it is, I fear, a waste of time.

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    I’m a freelance writer, blogger and research wonk who writes about science, technology and the cultural ripples of both. Along my winding career route I've been a public outreach specialist, editor, research analyst, proposal writer and part-time journo. When I’m not writing for True/Slant, I’m blogging about neuroscience and a medley of ‘ologies’ at Neuronarrative.com, and writing freelance for Scientific American Mind.

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