Ann Coulter saysJapan’s nuclear troubles are good news. This could be phrased as “Ann Coulter says something pseudo-provacative. It’s her job.”
Reading the article, I cringe , of course, for the researchers whose work she is overzealously extending at best. No one wants to be known as that guy who said nuclear meltdowns are the bomb.
But there’s another side to this that’s more disturbing than the traditional ‘mainstream media screws up science.’ Most Americans, regardless of their education level, will not be able to go to the source in this case. Even a nuclear physicist will likely have to take someone’s word for it. That person might not be Ann Coulter, but it will be someone used as a proxy for “reliable” information.
The obvious problem: how to decide what information comes from a reliable source? This sounds easy in some sense – I might be unable to tell you my criteria for reliability, but if you ask me which of two sources is more reliable, I can give you an opinion very quickly. But every person has a different (implicit) reliability filter. Thus different opinions arising out of the same set of facts. It’s not just that we apply the facts of a situation to our own internal reasoning model, but that we suppress or exaggerate each set of facts to reaffirm our worldview (e.g. “yeah, but… that came from Ann Coulter, and she’s full of shit”).
This all is known and pretty clear. But if you asked me why I thought her article was so horrendous, if I’m honest with myself it’s because it was written by Ann Coulter. Hence the issue.
There are two kinds of revisions to scientific knowledge: the first is when something is found to be obviously wrong. It’s changed. The second is where something is extended or generalized. An example is Special Relativity. Newtonian Mechanics still works great, except for near-light-speed velocities. Newton wasn’t wrong per se, he was just not as correct as Einstein. Great. But the problem is that learning special relativity is very time consuming. Add to that 50 other subjects. I’ll just believe, thanks.
At some point, I just take someone’s word for it. How do I know to trust them? They are professors at an elite institution. Why are they professors at elite institutions? Because people trust….oh. You get the point. I will not say that the pursuit of knowledge is futile. Far from it. But BIG THINGS that affect my life, like radiation, are more and more by necessity left to others to interpret.
Way back when, if WarLeader wanted to attack Village Number 2, I could reasonably assess whether this was smart. I might not be able to do anything about it, but I could at least form a reasonable opinion. Now, luckily, we can make decisions about 1000 times more things, from which electrical power source (!) to which medicine to use, only we can form less and less certain opinions regarding their effects.
I really want to blame Ann Coulter. But Ann Coulter is not the problem. Good science is.