There have been several important studies recently which show that a complete reform of science education in America is much needed. Students should also be taught a methodology to apply to scientific claims before accepting them as truth. The efforts of organizations debunking scientific hoaxes and teaching skeptical processes are highly commendable. Some of these valuable contributions to science are made by organizations such as The Skeptical Inquirer and The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Many others can be found in our Skeptic Links.
However, the problem we see is that these valuable efforts to teach critical thinking and the scientific process often only reach those who intentionally seek them out. They must be incorporated into the standard science curriculum at the high school level or sooner. Our children, and the public in general, are continually bombarded by entertaining TV shows promoting all kinds of fantastic (and false) claims. These include: psychic hotlines, the paranormal, faith healing, talking with the dead, yogi flying, therapeutic touch, astrology, fire walking, voodoo, channeling, reincarnation, the Bermuda Triangle, near-death experiences, reincarnation, UFOs, “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land On The Moon?” (Fox), Crossing Over with John Edward; Unsolved Mysteries; and a massive barrage of specials on Big Foot, the Lockness Monster, etc.
Why is this happening? Because it sells! It’s easy for the networks to splash a 5 second promotion that draws in millions of viewers. This means huge advertising dollars. It’s a sad reflection on corporate America that ethics often take a back seat to profits, but that’s the system we’re stuck with. Some of the more guilty of these unethical networks include Fox Networks, The Sci Fi Channel, HBO, etc.
Please take the time to email the networks and let them know your thoughts on their contribution to contaminating America’s minds (see contact info at the bottom of this page).
We’ve spoofed some of these shows by creating a humor page at “The Fox Hoax Network”.
How sad is the state of science in America? Look at some of the results of the National Science Foundation’s survey of 1,574 adults and recent (2002) report “Science & Engineering Indicators” , then judge for yourself.
- 70% of American adults do not understand the scientific process;
- Double digit percentage gains in belief of haunted houses, ghosts, communication with the dead, and witches in the past decade; 8
- U.S. depends heavily on foreign born scientists at all degree levels, as high as 45% in engineering;
- Belief in pseudoscience is relatively widespread and growing;
- 60% believe some people posses psychic powers or extrasensory perception (ESP);
- 30% believe some reported objects in the sky are really space vehicles from other civilizations;
- 30% read astrology charts at least occasionally in the newspaper;
- 46% did not know how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun (1 year);
- 45% thought lasers work by focusing sound waves (they focus light);
- 49% believe antibiotics kill viruses (they kill bacteria);
- 66% don’t believe the Big Bang theory widely accepted by scientists;
- 48% believe humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs;
- 47% don’t believe in evolution which is widely accepted by scientists;
- 55% couldn’t define DNA;
- 78% couldn’t define a molecule;
- 32% believe in ‘Lucky Numbers’.
Other studies completed by Gallup & People for the American Way Foundation found similar results:
- 68% want creationism taught along with evolution in schools; 7
- 45% want ONLY creationism taught, not evolution; 7
- 70% believe evolution is compatible with God and the Bible; 6
- 42% believe houses can be haunted; 8
- 38% believe in ghosts or spirits of dead people; 8
- 28% believe people can communicate with the dead; 8
- 28% believe in astrology. 8
You may be wondering why the Ethical Atheist wrote this article. The reason is that it ties in directly with our mission of science education and ethical behavior, or lack thereof (i.e. broadcast networks). For more, see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (of the Ethical Atheist).
Please email these organizations and ask them to quit airing of pseudoscience shows! While you’re at it, please ask them to air REAL science shows.
Here’s an EXAMPLE LETTER if you don’t want to type your own:
Dear Editors,We realize that shows reflecting elaborate hoaxes and pseudoscience generate huge advertising dollars and are cheap to produce. However, it contributes greatly to the false views held by much of the American public. We believe that you know this but continue to air the shows which is unethical corporate behavior. Please see the damage being done to young minds and adults in the recent studies performed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Gallup, and People for the American Way Foundation. I do not watch your pseudoscience shows, but would be a loyal viewer of shows on real science; shows that debunk myths and hoaxes; shows on astronomy, evolution, etc. such as those broadcast by PBS and NOVA.
“A person who doesn’t believe in communication with the dead, ghosts, spirits, astrology, haunted houses; psychic powers or extrasensory perception (ESP); UFOs; ‘Lucky’ numbers; Big Foot; reincarnation, faith healing, etc….. “
1 Chapter 7 – “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding“, Report: Science & Engineering Indicators – 2002, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, April 2002.
2 “The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSC) encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public. It also promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues.”
3 The Skeptical Inquirer – “The Magazine for Science and Reason tells you what the scientific community knows about claims of the paranormal, as opposed to the sensationalism often presented by the press, television, and movies.”
4 “Skeptic Links” at the Ethical Atheist.
5 “How the Mass Media Package and Sell Psychic Medium John Edward“, CSICOP.org, 3/13/2001.
6 “Substantial Numbers of Americans Continue to Doubt Evolution as Explanation for Origin of Humans“, Gallup News Service Poll, Mar 5, 2001
7 People For the American Way Foundation, Study: “Evolution and Creationism In Public Education: An In-depth Reading Of Public Opinion”, National survey of 1,500 Americans, March 2000, Available at: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/education/creationism-poll.pdf
8 “Americans’ Belief in Psychic Paranormal Phenomena is up Over Last Decade”, Gallup Organization (Princeton, NJ, 2001).
– Ethical Atheist