We deny science at our peril

Dear Editor,

A long pattern of science denial has hoodwinked people from high school students to tertiary graduates, resulting in monumental, financially ruinous and, sadly, fatal outcomes.

In late August last year, the prime minister went on national media and practically begged Bahamians in the north to evacuate out of harm’s way.

Scientists told us that global warming ferments ferocious hurricanes. Science deniers pushed a narrative that the PM’s pleas were a hoax designed to get undocumented people out in the open. Others had a deep distrust of anything emanating in Nassau. Many sheltered in place.

Hurricane Dorian unleashed its fury and we are still digging out from the rubble, with scant attention paid to mitigation plans for future storms.

That Dorian spared New Providence, the science deniers say, had more to do with divine intervention than it had to do with the steering currents which pushed the storm to a northeasterly track just as the weather scientists had forecast.

Some Bahamians put more stock in faith than in fact. And it is costing lives, needlessly.

We have known for years that cigarettes unleash a carcinogen that is a probable cause of death. Yet people still disregard the science and light up.

There is something in human nature that causes some to dispense with scientific evidence and to completely dismiss logic. Old beliefs are hard to shake even when the evidence is crystal clear.

In 1847, a young Hungarian obstetrician argued to colleagues that hand washing would lower the rate of the spread of infections in hospitals. They laughed at him and doctors continued examining patients without rigorous hand washing. Infections proliferated.

Hand washing is now second nature in hospitals, but still the World Health Organization had to urge us to revive the practice in our daily lives to fight a pandemic.

It is true that not all people have access to clean running water. Most do, yet some still refuse to wash their hands to guard against novel coronavirus infection. Some refuse to wear masks in defiance of evidence which says the virus is airborne and that masks act as a particle trap offering a measure of protection.

Science went on to prove that we must stand apart at a distance that is as far as airborne particles typically travel through the air before falling to the ground. The deniers rejected that finding and frolicked shoulder-to-shoulder even when science established that people who exhibited no symptoms of being unwell could still transmit the virus.

In 2017, for the first time, we elected a scientist as prime minister. When he gave us science-based policy advice on how to protect ourselves from the virus, some mocked him as a power-hungry “competent authority” hell-bent on lockdowns and taking away our liberties.

As we grapple with the ever-rising caseload of virus infections, we need to start looking over the precipice at another looming crisis soon to be embraced by science deniers.

When a safe vaccine is ready for distribution, there will be a drumbeat of malarkey from the denial brigade who will refuse to take it because it must be a conspiracy hatched by Bill Gates to depopulate the earth. Or it will cause autism or some such other baloney.

We believe a lot of things. That seasonal flu vaccines are useless, or smallpox will be eradicated via herd immunity. Some believe the CEOs of big pharmaceutical companies gather around a smoldering cauldron à la Macbeth to invent viruses to fleece us of our cash.

While science denial is not new, it now has a ringmaster in the current US president. Privately, he doesn’t deny the science, but in public he massages the truth for his own political benefit.

We are saturated with American news, often without filter. Just check the inbox on any social media account and it is likely to be filled with clips that are obviously fake. But we forward them on nonetheless, often attaching “like” emojis. And so, the internet turns on one big unscientific head fake.

Except now, people are dying through no fault of their own. Our economy, stuck in neutral since March, was slammed into reverse in August. And hurricane season isn’t over yet.

Earth’s first scientist, Galileo, said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

But that’s precisely what some of us do every day.

The Graduate

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