There is an issue with education, and contrary to a somewhat popular belief, it’s not just an issue in the United States. This impacts other countries as well. In truth, it isn’t just corporations or governments or researchers causing harm – it’s us. We all have our biases, and we all sometimes make claims before researching.

No matter where you live, there is a problem with education.

And if we want to have a society that is comprised of individuals who are able to think critically, who are able to be informed and productive members of society,  then we need to actively fight for education, and that means fighting for science.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, of the 3,278 randomly selected adults that were quizzed, a staggering 22% mixed up astrology and astronomy. If you don’t know, astrology is interpreting the influence that stars and planets they have on human actions (“If you are a Capricorn, today you will find true love,” kind of thing). It’s pseudoscience – not real. Astronomy, on the other hand, is a science that deals with celestial objects (planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae, black holes, kind of thing). It’s science – it’s real.

The fact that people didn’t know the distinction is a little troublesome, but it gets worse. Only 72% of those quizzed knew that a light-year is a system of measurement. For example, when we say that a star is 3 million light-years away, it means that it takes photons 3 million years to travel from that star to us. If you don’t understand this, then it is nearly impossible to comprehend even the most basic space-themed science article. Also, a number of people were not able to correctly identify a comet.

Again, maybe not the end of the world, but these points are meant to illustrate a larger claim: Many people in society have a very poor understanding of even the most basic scientific concepts and principles. And sometimes, this ignorance can have a dramatic impact on how we see the world. Sometimes, this ignorance can be the difference between life and death.

Case in point, smallpox is one of the deadliest known diseases. Plaguing humanity for thousands of years, researchers believe that it first emerged in human populations around 10,000 BCE. Although the overall death toll is unknown, in the 20th century alone it killed over 300 million people. In 1967, the World Health Organization estimates that smallpox killed some 2 million people worldwide. And keep in mind, this is just one virus over the course of one year. Ultimately, the total number of people killed by viruses is simply staggering.

Today, no one dies of smallpox. Not one person. It was eradicated by vaccinations.

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The last naturally occurring case was in 1977. Vaccinations did that. Yet, there are those who fight against vaccines. Who lobby against sound science. The same can be said for a host of other issues: Evolution, the Big Bang, the environment…

The list of scientific topics that corporations and lobbyists attempt to influence public opinion on is seemingly endless.

But that’s still not the end. People across the globe are defunding the sciences. The bank bailout in the United States cost more money than NASA’s entire 50-year running budget. Still think we spend too much on science? One month of the US’s military spending is equivalent to NASA’s entire annual budget. And still, we have individuals who argue that we spend too much on space and other “pointless” science.

If people aren’t working to out-and-out defund science, it seems that they are working to ensure that we are only funding projects that are of immediate monetary benefit. This is a serious problem, as we can’t possibly anticipate what breakthroughs will come from what research. Indeed, most often, science is not a bold Eureka! It is small (ever so small) incremental increases in knowledge.

And that is precisely why we need science.

It is a way of gaining a solid understanding of the world around us; to that end, it is one of the only reliable ways to ensure that you are making informed, sound judgements about various issues. From the start of our universe, to the start of life, to how we educate future generations – Science gives us a way to make sense of all these things. Its small, incremental contributions to knowledge are how we move forward (both as a people and as a society).

Now no one is saying that science is a pillar of truth. No one is saying science is always right or perfect. Indeed, anyone who knows anything about science cannot say that, as science is a catalog of observations and facts and theories that are (yes) always subject to change. But here’s the thing: Scientific knowledge changes because new information comes along. It doesn’t change because of money or personal beliefs. It requires – it demands evidence.

And it is the cornerstone of progress.

So. We’re not saying to jump on a bandwagon. We’re not saying vote for this party or that one. We’re saying research. Research. Look into the candidates. See how they feel about various scientific issues. And please, consider voting accordingly. Our very future depends on it.


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