A little over 1,000 Americans were killed last month. No politicians mourned them. No political or social organizations flew their name. No union released a statement condemning their murderers. The lack of attention paid toward their preventable deaths can only be attributed to the continuous apathy of the American public toward genuine threats and unfortunate banality of the nature of their deaths: gun violence.
Those 1,000 Americans were killed in the month of January alone, according to Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that archives information on gun-related violence in the U.S. Along with those killed, nearly 1,700 people were injured, 170 were accidental shootings, some 160 involved teenagers and almost 40 involved children.
Gun violence in the US is appalling and widespread. In 2013, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that the strongest predictor of death by suicide was gun ownership, not suicidal behavior. Despite multiple mass shootings, public outcry and research regarding gun violence, there have been no federal restrictions on guns passed since 2011.
To further set progress back, in 1996, the NRA lobbied Congress into effectively banning the Center for Disease Control from researching gun violence by removing federal funding into gun violence research if the results of the research “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The ban was later rescinded by President Obama, in 2014.
But this isn’t exclusively a condemnation of gun owners or the National Rifle Association or our political climate.
It’s a condemnation of the way scientific research has been and continues to be denied and ignored by both the public and politicians. When scientists speak, we ignore them or even dispute them with our own stubbornness (i.e. the layperson backlash against the demotion of Pluto’s planetary status in 2006).
Instead of doing what’s right, we do what we politically find easy, or what we, as individuals, simply feel is right.
To illustrate that point: Despite vaccines being a miracle of modern medicine, helping to rid national and global populations of deadly diseases, increasing the quality of life, life expectancy and incalculable economic benefits, 43 percent of 18-29 year olds in America think that vaccines should be left to a parent’s discretion and 21 percent of the same group believe that early childhood vaccinations can cause autism, according to polling done by the international market research firm YouGov. Additionally, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that about 10 percent of American parents delay or refuse vaccine shots for their children.
Admittedly, those are small fractions of a wider population that, for the most part, does actually believe in vaccination, but for a subject like public health and vaccinations, “mostly” isn’t satisfactory.
The pseudo-war on science in America has taken place in the form of science illiteracy and exist in part because science is antithetical to the democratic governing system we are accustomed to. It’s not a democracy. It’s not a thing to be voted on. The general consensus of the population can, and very often is, wrong. Scientific truths, however, are true whether the majority of the population accepts them or not.
While countless major and minor examples of science illiteracy could be listed and expounded upon, just a sampling will suffice in illustrating the danger of our reality. Whether it’s about gun violence, climate change, vaccines, raising the minimum wage or reproductive rights, few productive accomplishments are made because legislators and their electoral base are stuck on tradition and feelings rather than inclusive, considerate evidence that might contradict with the layperson’s perception.
We even see that truth active on our campus, albeit to a minor, petty degree: Students still clamor for a football team, despite the enormous price tags that would come along with just starting a program, to say nothing of maintaining it. Despite a student-run newspaper delivering information regarding their lives, students remain surprisingly uninformed about construction projects or the highly anticipated opening of a restaurant, students clamor for information. Students even cast doubts about flu shots.
While progressive politics, increased access to education, literacy and social reforms have brought us out of a largely discriminatory, myopic, ignorant societies, those roots are deeply ingrained in our nation, often firmly alongside the powers-that-be, from the legislation and laws they’ve established to the hierarchy they’ve created.
To that end, the institutional powers of America too often lean in favor of an oligarchical rule parading as a representative democracy (a statement, coincidentally, supported by a 2014 report by the academic journal Perspective on Politics).
Understanding all of that means understanding that the work of this university, including your own studies, is paramount to the long-term health and success of the immediate, as well as national, community.
Understanding the danger of inaction toward progress in the face of overwhelming research means engaging in radical departures from the norm, including a wider swath of humanities (not including law) and social science scholars into the realm of politics and a shift of natural science and engineering scholars into the realm predominantly occupied by graduates of humanities fields, including K-12 education, journalism and public policy.
The culture of disbelief and ignorant “Okay-but-I-think” that’s been a staple of American life has resulted in us underestimating the capacity of humanity. We’ve limited our own imagination and potential as a whole to what we ourselves can conceptualize. We shrink an immeasurable expanse, the breath of human ingenuity and capability, to fit into an artificially-imagined and artificially-limited world of our own creation.
Just as we’ve been held down by artificial constraints, our nature compels us to look and play beyond our limits. Ask questions, seek answers and embrace science.