Ignorance No Longer Bliss

I’ve always heard that ignorance is bliss. Not knowing about stuff–however you choose to define stuff–won’t hurt you. Apparently, a significant portion of our population believes this to be true.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that a hefty percent of Americans desire ignorance. That’s why they drop out of high school, denigrate college-educated people as “the liberal elite,” and totally disregard scientific evidence for climate change, evolution, and anything else they don’t agree with. Pervasive ignorance would be funny if it wasn’t so scary.

Ignorant people fail to understand the difference between facts, opinions, and theories. A fact is an indisputable and verifiable truth: The grass in my yard is green. An opinion is a point of view: Bermuda is the best grass for lawns. A theory is an explanation determined through the scientific method: grass is green because of chlorophyll.

Some people argue that facts can be found to prove anything. Not really. It’s certainly possible to select facts that support a particular point of view while ignoring those that don’t. Politicians do it every day.

Theories are not facts. Rather, they reflect what we know at the present time. Once upon a time, people believed (theorized) that the earth was flat. For a while people thought the sun, stars, and planets revolved around the earth. Now we know through scientific discovery that neither of those theories are correct. Or at least, most of us do.

People get confused about causation (A causes B) and a correlation (A and B are closely associated with each other). Proving that A causes B is extremely difficult because it’s generally impossible to eliminate (rule out) other influences. For example, we could say that drinking water causes cancer because everyone who has ever had cancer drank water. But it wouldn’t be true, because everyone who drinks water doesn’t get cancer.

Today I read that the more Walmarts there are in a community, the more hate groups you’ll find in that community. This was presented as A (the number of Walmarts) causes B (more hate groups), with a note that it’s probably also true of other big box stores. Balderdash. Communities that have more Walmarts and big box stores also have more churches, schools, people, etc. There may well be a correlation, but saying one causes the other is just wrong.

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s destructive. Allowing opinions, made up facts, and bad science to trump real knowledge is destroying our country. Staying ignorant is easy. It takes time to research the issues, to separate fact from fiction, and to understand the science.

Read. Get your news from a variety of sources, and think about whether the source has a vested interest in a particular point of view. Try to understand opposing points of view before you reject them.  And whatever you do, don’t let other people tell you what to think. It’s important. Really. Our future depends on it.