The Cult of Ignorance

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Isaac Asimov, Cult of Ignorance, 1980

Never, in the history of the United States, has this statement resonated more than at present.  In 2016, Newt Gingrich attempted to delegitimize the FBI’s statistics showing that crime rates are down by stating that “people feel more threatened“.

“Fake News” sites and viral memes have become prolific – total fabrications, by authors who know them to be false, circulating endlessly on social media with no regard for accuracy.

And the current President of the United States has not only tried to reverse the label of “fake news”, by assigning it to mainstream media who critique him, and declaring that “Any negative polls are fake news“, but he also promotes and propagates non-factual data on a regular basis himself, such as his contention that he only lost the popular vote because of millions of fraudulent votes (a contention for which there is absolutely no credible evidence), with even Trump’s own lawyers having asserted that there’s no evidence of irregularities in the 2016 election.

Well-established scientific propositions – such as evolution, climate change, and vaccine safety – are rejected by large portions of the American public, who defend their views as being an opinion to which they’re entitled:  As a result, politicians are elected and policies enacted based on the ‘opinions’ of these demographics, not rooted in any sound science.

When it comes to believing and sharing sensationalistic stories, memes, and headlines, we all need to be more vigilant.  Facts are real, objective things.  Evidence is a real, objective thing.  Statistical validity is a real, objective thing.  Expertise is a real, objective thing.

But we have certain cognitive biases – inclinations to believe things that we want to be true, or that accord with our preconceptions.  The Cult of Ignorance is a disease that exists within all of us, but there is a cure:  Knowledge.

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