Thursday, December 27, 2007

When ideology trumps information - Oregonian Opinion

Originally published in The Oregonian November 17, 2007 09:00AM

When ideology trumps information - Oregonian Opinion

This is not a joke: Recent Pew Trust and Annenberg surveys have found "The Daily Show" viewers to be more informed on issues and events than those of any other news source.

I find this to be a healthy development. The show fosters a healthy dose of skepticism in an age of credulity and fear.

Between the Bush administration's open hostility to science and popular media's need to fuel a "crisis of the week," being informed and somehow maintaining one's sense of humor are critical.

I concede that it is difficult to stay current on politics, economics, science, and world events. However, we've ceded this responsibility by becoming overly reliant on sound bites, making us more susceptible to manipulation. Not only are we easily duped into buying ineffectual products
and copies of "The Secret, we routinely overreact to insignificant threats (shark attacks), while underreacting to significant ones (impending water shortages), and our leaders react with counterproductive policies.

Fueled by the Internet, we find junk science and urban legends being given the same deference and general credibility as findings in peer-reviewed journals. Proof is unnecessary -- simply sow doubt with a fog of selective data and your conspiracy or crackpot theory can take root in popular culture.

This is perhaps the most damaging legacy of this Administration's war on "the reality-based community" (as one Bush adviser derisively put it): the notion that all facts and data are subservient to ideology and are therefore relative.

Political appointees have repeatedly excised inconvenient data and the conclusions of experts. When even government scientists can't be trusted to provide basic objective facts, no one is an authority. This breeds widespread distrust, powerlessness and further resignation -- if all
information is subjective and biased, why bother to stay informed or take the time to sift through competing claims?

Pakistani lawyers vehemently protested Gen. Musharraf's claim that the law is whatever he says it is. We should be equally incensed at this administration's ongoing claims that scientific reality is whatever they say it is. The issues our nation and planet face are too important to tackle with incomplete information.

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