TED: The Dangers of Science Denialism

Michael Specter speaks the truth on Science Denialism: “We’re now in an epidemic of fear like one I’ve never seen and hope to never see again.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Awesome. I always find then”inspirational speaker” style a bit hard to watch, but I loved what he had to say.

    My favorite part was when he asked what time period you’d go to if you had a time machine. I’ve been answering that question with “the future” for years.

  2. I think the past would be equally awesome… so long as I had a protective bubble to be in when I watched the meteor that killed the dinosaurs hit, or the early stages of the formation of our planet, perhaps when the moon broke off from Earth.

    But anyway, great talk. I’m a senior undergraduate biology student, and I’m currently taking a freshman-level cultural anthropology class. I figured it might be fun or interesting… ohhhh booyyy was I wrong! We had a discussion on alternative medicine, and the basic class consensus was that all forms of healing were equal, whether it be tribal dancing, alternative “herbal” remedies, or vaccines. We then proceeded straight into the bashing of modern medicine, and people told stories of all the times some ancient, wise Mexican woman gave them an herb to heal their ailing baby, which instantly cured it, and other such anecdotes about how awesome alternative, ancient Chinese, herbal, and/or natural cures were. There are like 400 people in the class, and basically no one other than me contested all of the bullshit flying around.

    So, I just posted this TED talk on our class discussion board for everyone to watch.

    Arizona State University Anthropology 102 fails.

  3. He seemed a little rushed and disorganized at times, but the message was good. I don’t know how compelling a case he made to those who don’t already agree, but I posted it to my facebook to hopefully see.

  4. This is brilliant, and should be seen by everyone, everywhere. Often.

    Also, if you can, go read the Youtube comments for this video. Some are pretty amusing: “I agree with him entirely, except when he went after x”, where x is the commentor’s favorite woo.

    I have said it before, but it is always good to repeat: All woo is equal from an objective viewpoint, but few can get to that objective place.

    (@MasalaSkeptic, see what I did there? :))

  5. I’ll add something on the wanting to go back: I’d want to go back, not because I’m afraid of the awesome of the future, but because of the idea of bringing awesome into the past.

    There’s the fantasy that you, with your modern ways, would be able to change the past to make this future even more awesome. What if you can go back and introduce germ theory to ancient doctors so they cleaned their hands after working? Or kick some Romans in the butt about steam technology? Or convince the Vinlanders to make a decent colony of Vinland, with domesticated animals and reasonable trade with the skraelings? The desire to go back and “fix” the past, and the delusion that you would be able to do so, is a compelling one.

  6. @sporefrog: Ahahaha. Oooh, ASU.

    PS one day we need to have an Arizona Skepchick meetup or something. I think there are a couple of us.

    PSS I am sad that I can’t make it to Skepchicon. What sucks is that I am supposed to go to Grand Forks, ND, right around the time the con is taking place to visit family, but I don’t know if I can easily work around it, because I’m not paying for the tickets and I am poor. Boo. :(

  7. @Pete Schult: I am right there with you. “Big Placebo” is so made of win I’m just sorry it’s taken so long for my ears to hear it.

    Think of all those wasted years I was in the industry too! Bah!

  8. @Mark Hall: @sporefrog:

    I guess I’m thinking of it more from the perspective of someone who hangs around with a lot of fans of historical romance movies and books. I hear so many women say “Oh, I wasn’t born to live in this era. I should have lived in the fifties/twenties/Victorian/Regency period.” I always want to shake some sense into them. Really? As a woman, you want to live with next to no rights or freedoms, just because you think the clothes are pretty?

    But the meteor/dinosaur thing is pretty cool, and so is the idea of bringing futuristic knowledge back (except then you run into the whole time-travel paradox possibility).

  9. I love the time machine question, too. Like MarianLibrarian, I’ve always wanted to see what the future would be like. If I’m answering for me, no question. I go forward.

    But I feel like I should be responsible and ethical with this opportunity. If I have this amazing technology, I should answer a BIG unanswerable question. The example I always think of is going back and figuring out how life started. We’d finally KNOW, and it would open a lot of doors for science.

    But then again, it would create one HELL of a paradox if I interfered with that event. ;)

  10. @MarianLibrarian: Oh, I know those folks. They’re not even in the SCA, because most SCAers are happy to have their AC and showers at the end of a weekend.

    As for paradox? Eh. It’s probably a one-way trip, anyway, so why not? I mean, I’m being frog-marched onto this trip, anyway, so why not have some fun with it? Give Caesar the stirrup. Rustle up some baby aurochs and teach the cavemen about animal husbandry. Turn history into your whiny little girl, and go all “Island in the Sea of Time” on the world.

  11. @Mark Hall: “Oh, I know those folks. They’re not even in the SCA, because most SCAers are happy to have their AC and showers at the end of a weekend.”

    So do the people I’m talking about. They just haven’t really considered how much it would suck to live without those things.

    Have you ever seen those BBC/PBS shows where they had people actually try to live like they were in those time periods? Colonial House, 1900 House, etc? Even the 1940s one looked awful. Of course, it was WWII-era Britain, so the family had to be on rations and go hide in the bomb shelter every few nights, but even without the war part, I don’t think most people my age could even handle living with only 1940s conveniences (not to mention medicine).

  12. Travel to the future runs the risk of being eaten by morlocks. Travel to the past or future and you might die from some strain of microbe that doesn’t exist in current times.

  13. @JOHNEA13:

    Travel to the past or future and you might die from some strain of microbe that doesn’t exist in current times.

    Well, at least future medicine will be more likely to cure you of that microbe than past medicine… assuming it remains science-based.

    Oh drat.


  14. I’m really happy when GMO food denialism gets some attention. Unlike most denialism this one is politically-left based and is just as insane. The problem is that this problem has more immediate and direct consequences. Scientists I know have wonderful GMO solutions that are not developed because of the cost of deploying them. Anti-science wins again. Someday we’ll look back and laugh.

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