An editorial by biology major Kelsey Morgan ’15
It is largely undisputed that advancements in science and technology are extremely important to life as we know it. However, with the way science and technology are represented in the media and popular culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between science and science fiction. Will the Ebola virus become an airborne super plague and kill us all? Are GMOs really safe? Should we be worried about climate change? And who can we trust to give us the answers?
The answer to this last question should be science, because it is designed to help us answer questions in a systematic, evidence-based way. Unfortunately, people often take a cynical attitude toward science, unfoundedly rejecting its discoveries. A Pew Study published in January reports that while people think science is a good thing, there is often a gap between scientists’ attitudes regarding hot-button issues and those of the general public. While a strong majority of scientists agree that genetically modified foods are generally safe to eat, global warming is a serious problem, and vaccines are safe, only a small part of the general public tends to agree. These gaps in understanding show that despite people reporting that they trust science, there is a large amount of disbelief and mistrust surrounding scientific consensus.
While there are many factors that determine whether or not a person accepts scientific evidence, general mistrust in science can be boiled down to three categories: religious and political affiliations, confirmation bias, and the need for an emotional appeal.
Religious beliefs or political associations can have a profound effect on whether or not a person accepts scientific principles. Some people refuse to accept theories such as the Big Bang and evolution because these theories go against religious doctrines. Politicians also likes to take sides regarding science, often debating issues when there aren’t even two different sides to the issue. For example, the original source of the idea that vaccines cause autism and other harm was an extremely flawed and unethical study that was later retracted. However, this idea gained momentum when it was supported by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana). Burton and other public figures allowed the “debate” on the MMR to spread, which was a factor that led to a serious mistrust in vaccinations in general.
The “Badge of Membership” principle—membership is more about wanting to belong than what you believe— can help us understand how these affiliations shape our view of science. It’s like we are still in high school; no matter how old a person gets, he or she still feels the need to agree with his or her peers, and many times the need to fit in trumps science.
A study performed by Dan Kahan of Yale University found that understanding science results in polarization rather than consensus. This finding can be explained by confirmation bias. When people have an opinion about a scientific issue, showing them a collection of facts won’t change it. Shouting a bunch of complicated astrophysics and Darwinian natural selection theory at them isn’t likely to get them to believe in the Big Bang or evolution. Instead, people tend to pick out evidence that supports their preconceived notions.Anecdotal evidence that appeals to our emotions often holds more weight than facts, regardless of the source. We don’t like to rely on cause and effect because true causes can be hard to find and understand, and therefore we rely on people’s personal stories to come up with our own explanations and create meaning where there is none. A case in point: the causes of autism are not well understood, and science provides little reassurance, in terms of treatment, to parents of autistic children. Therefore, in spite of the understanding that vaccines do not cause autism, the public often turns to parents and grandparents who blame vaccines rather than trusting medical professionals because it gives them something to blame, too.
Life today depends heavily on complex science and technology that only a small group of experts can thoroughly understand, and it is therefore important that people trust and support these experts. While there is certainly reason to be skeptical when looking at new scientific findings, Science editor Marcia McNutt said it best in an interview for the March 2015 edition of National Geographic: “Everybody should be questioning… But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall…”
Looking at science with skepticism is not the same as unwarranted distrust and rejection of consensus. In order for advancement in science to continue, the public must step away from scientific cynicism and put its trust in scientific consensus.
Editor’s Note: Kelsey Morgan ’15 of Lakeview, N.Y., holds a biology degree from Keuka College and has received a $28,000 fellowship stipend to attend Duke University Graduate School in the fall of 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. A research study she co-wrote with Dr. William Brown, assistant professor of environmental science and biology, was published in the Journal of American Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) in the spring of 2015. She is one of three science majors featured in the spring 2015 edition of Keuka College Magazine as an “academic all-star” for earning the unique distinction of publishing in an academic journal as an undergraduate student.
How does a Keuka degree fit into daily military life?
Just ask U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Maddox ’07, who graduated with a B.A. in math and a B.S. in business management, and now serves as operations officer for the U.S. Air Force 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, which includes four officers and 461 enlisted airmen at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. Maddox is second-in-command to the squadron commander.
“I handle operations and she handles the personnel—the pats on the back and the kicks in the butt, so to speak,” he said. “We provide munitions support and we do maintenance. Let’s say after flying, a part gets damaged and needs repair. We repair it through metal fabrication.”
In addition, the squadron handles what Maddox calls “deep tissue maintenance,” such that after every 400 flight hours logged by a particular plane, it will spend from 7-20 days in the base hangar getting stripped down for more intensive analysis or repairs.
“As far as business is concerned, maintenance and munitions is pretty much like any other business. We have a product, a process, customers, logistics, and a supply chain. I market my product to my customers – other squadrons – so they get what they want and I’m able to supply it. It’s almost a direct correlation [to business].” (more…)
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members.
With 20 years of experience working as a middle and high school math teacher, Jack Westbrook has more than prepared himself for life at Keuka.
Westbrook received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s degree in mathematics education from SUNY Geneseo. His first career move was as a seventh and 11th grade math teacher at Harpursville (N.Y.) Central School. After a year, he moved on to Hilton (N.Y.) Central School, where he taught all levels of math from non-Regents, ninth grade to Pre-Calculus.
Westbrook says that teaching high school math and college math are alike.
“I have actually found teaching here to be more similar to teaching high school than I thought it would be,” he said. I guess teaching is teaching.”
As for the differences, Westbrook says discipline issues are completely different, and the amount of time and effort the students and professors put in are complete polar opposites.
Westbrook chose Keuka for the “smallness” and for the chance to do something new. He also liked how “Keuka gives everyone a personal touch” and he would like to bring this into his classes.
With many years of teaching expereince, Westbrook hopes to bring a different perspective to his classes that include Secondary Math Methods, College Algebra, Math for Elementary Education, and Developmental Math. This new perspective comes from Westbrook’s experience with students who struggle with math, and he hopes to be able to help guide them through.
“I also think the wisdom from experience will help me give strong advice and strategies to the students in my Secondary Methods class,” he said.
Even though he is new to Keuka, Westbrook knows how vital Field Period is to the College and he is going to encourage his students to “use Field Periods to get more experience in schools, whether it be volunteering, or just helping out in the classroom.”
Westbrook already wants to do more than his fair share, and he’s eager to dig his hands into the main work of a Keuka College faculty member.
“I’m looking forward to advising students in the future.”