by Evan Cooper
As students who spend most of our time on a college campus, we are mostly untouched by the anti-intellectual sentiment that has become increasingly prevalent in the United States. But as a consumer of popular culture and a follower of current events, I have become exceedingly concerned with the ongoing pejoration of intellectualism.
This is a deeply concerning trend as the implications of anti-intellectualism becoming accepted as a legitimate viewpoint stretch far beyond a simple expression of free speech.
The writer and professor Issac Asimov accurately encapsulated what I view as the root of the problem when he wrote, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
While anti-intellectualism may have always existed, it appears to be a growing trend, and I attribute that to the media.
Look no further than the “debate” over global warming.
A recent United Nations report outlined the grim future humanity faces if drastic changes in environmental policy are not made soon. These dangers include large swaths of land becoming uninhabitable and rampant food shortages, all within the next century.
Scientists have empirically shown that climate change is real and that the consequences will be immense. Yet, there remains a large portion of the media and the vast majority of one of the political parties that treat climate change denial as a legitimate objection to scientific evidence.
It is one thing for these supposedly educated individuals to believe such nonsense. It is a whole separate issue for them to publicly espouse their denial of fact and be respected for it. Our media treats global warming deniers as providing a necessary counterargument, thus promulgating the idea that both sides of an argument are equal.
They are not equal. Our media has begun to ignore the concept of right and wrong in favor of conforming to our established biases. When the data and the conclusions of scientists can be actively ignored in favor of popular denial, we have a serious problem.
One of the pillars of American greatness is the intellectuals that our country has produced. Some of our greatest national figureheads are public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Neil deGrasse Tyson.
And there is a reason we have pride in them: they are experts in their field, having dedicated years to learning everything they can about the world around them.
Yet, when Neil deGrasse Tyson debuted his show Cosmos, an educational program aimed at informing people about science, creationists demanded that they be given equal airtime to state their views on the creation of the universe.
This asinine request was ignored, but the fact that there was backlash from a television show that delved into the scientific study of the universe was disturbing. The media coverage of the creationist’s demand gave tacit credit to an outdated viewpoint.
With all that we know today, Bill Nye should not be debating Ken Ham, the curator of the creationist museum, about science. If Ken Ham wants to believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that evolution is a lie, so be it. But treating his uninformed claims as equal in any way to verified scientific discoveries does a disservice to the country and the educational gains we have made.
As college students, each of us have studied the empirical method. We have been given the tools to discern between fact and opinion. It is time we speak out against treating the two as one in the same. If we want to become an intellectual society, we must cease giving credence to beliefs that lack semblance of fact.
Our right to free speech is a sacred and invaluable mainstay of American democracy. But there was a time in this country where stupid proclamations were treated as such and ignored. If we continue to legitimize opinion as identical to fact, we are actively contributing the degradation of the educational system.
So please, the next time someone questions the evidence of climate change, do not even bother telling them they are wrong. Let us save our debates for questions that really matter, like how to stop climate change before it is too late.