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“Wherever the people are well-informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government.” That was two hundred years ago, and like the other founders, Jefferson was a champion of science-informed policymaking rather than the authoritarian rule of kings.
But what happens now, when science has grown so advanced that it influences every aspect of life, yet has become so complex that relatively few people understand it—including those we elect to powerful offices? Are we, as citizens, still well-enough informed?
Recently, we’ve seen politicians at the state and national level ignoring and denying science that doesn’t fit their political ideologies on topics as crucial as climate change, GMO foods, economics, environmental regulations, vaccinations, sex education, and a number of critical issues related to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
At the very time we need it most, science has come to commonly be denied by many policymakers in favor of "alternative facts" that better fit their ideology, and adherence to those alternative facts is strictly enforced. What’s more, it’s a worldwide problem, happening at all levels of government, on the right and on the left, as well as in society among celebrities who push pseudoscience and journalists who argue that there is no such thing as objectivity.
According to award-winning science writer Shawn Otto, “When combined, these trends are pushing democracies away from Jefferson’s founding vision of a public policy grounded in evidence toward one grounded in ideology, and this is paving the way for a new rise of authoritarianism worldwide.”
In this seminar, Otto will explore today’s four-part war on science. We’ll discuss where it is coming from, what people and social and economic factors are driving it, and what we can do to turn things around before it’s too late.
LearningLife seminars embrace Socrates's belief in inquiry and exchange; they include both lecture and critical discussion.
Shawn Lawrence Otto is a science writer, screenwriter, novelist, and the co-founder of ScienceDebate.org who speaks worldwide on the critical role of science and truth in free societies. Otto was awarded the IEEE-USA National Distinguished Public Service Award for his work elevating science in American public dialogue. He also is author of the award-winning books The War on Science (Milkweed Editions, 2016), Sins of Our Fathers (Milkweed Editions, 2015), and Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America (Rodale Books, 2011) as well as screenwriter and co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated movie House of Sand and Fog (2003).