The Importance of Critical Thinking
When you hear the words—science, formulas, scientific methods, experiments, procedures—where do you go? Do you turn off? As an educator in the field of science, how can I turn you on?
For some people it may be second nature to notice whether or not descriptions (in newspapers, various publications, on television or in professional journals) make any sense logically or are avoiding some obviously related questions that should be asked and answered. Logical fallacies are perpetrated in every field, but the vast majority of people must be taught this type of skeptical reasoning—it is not second nature for most of us. This recognition of faulty reasoning is learned by those specializing in Science, while those not specifically trained in Science are often scientifically illiterate.
Many of the American public seem to have a desire to believe whatever is the current fad—such things as the 50th anniversary hype in 1997 of alleged government cover-ups of alien autopsies in Roswell, New Mexico or that current advances in cloning will be used by those in power (politically or economically) for subversive means. These beliefs may stem from a variety of factors and fear is certainly one of those factors. Fear comes in many forms—fear of the unknown, fear of that which is not understood or is misunderstood (often resulting in erroneous conclusions), fear that something important is being kept from all but a select few (conspiracy theories).
Fictional writers often portray science in a negative light, feeding on the fears of the masses, exemplifying the worst possible outcomes. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” suggests there is something monstrous about science, something to be feared. But is it science that should be feared, or the monstrous applications by a few of the unethical or unthinking (I hope it’s not just careless disregard) that are made possible through scientific advances? Due to a lack of understanding, the vast majority of people envision horrific applications. Would we really clone entire people? These visions cause resistance to the advancements of knowledge in science.
Fear tends to amplify the negative aspects, and we naturally resist what we fear. In our resistance, we gloss over or ignore the positive aspects of scientific achievements. When dwelling on the negative aspects, we tend to justify our fears and thus begin a vicious cycle. If the public better understood science, especially the methods of science, fear would lessen and viewpoints and opinions could be expressed with more rational arguments and less emotional reaction.
In “Enemies of Promise” J. Michael Bishop states his view of the problem. He claims “Resistance to science is born of fear. Fear, in turn, is bred by ignorance. And it is ignorance that is our deepest malady” (260). If we accept Bishop’s assertion, we can begin to understand the problem and half the battle is won in the struggle to find a solution. As a...