Spooks and Goblins
In addition to the popularization of the scientific method, I wonder if photography lessened the promulgation of tall tales. Before photography, if someone told you a story about ghosts in the haunted house or the beast on the hill, you could chose to believe them or check for yourself. There was no way to say, “show me a picture of that Yeti or Loch Ness Monster, and then I’ll believe you.”
And, if so, will we regress as we have developed the ability to modify and fabricate photos and video?
For our class on genetic free speech, Lessig used a pre-print of Posner’s new book, Catastophe: Risk and Response. Posner relates the following statistics on American adults:
• 39% believe astrology is scientific (astrology, not astronomy).
• 33% believe in ghosts and communication with the dead.
Ponder that for a moment. One out of every three U.S. adults believes in ghosts. Who knows what their kids think.
People’s willingness to believe untruths relates to the ability of the average person to reason critically about reality. Here are some less amusing statistics on American adults:
• 46% deny that human beings evolved from earlier animal species.
• 49% don’t know that it takes a year for the earth to revolve around the sun.
• 67% don't know what a molecule is.
• 80% can't understand the NY Times Tuesday science section.
Posner concludes: “It is possible that science is valued by most Americans as another form of magic.” This is a wonderful substrate for false memes and a new generation of bogeymen.
Gotta go… It’s time to trick-or-treat… =)