The Dangerous Rise of Science Denial

The 12th of April, 1955 was a very significant day in history. Not only was it the day that Albert Einstein died, it was also that day that Jonah Salk succeeded in developing the polio vaccine. Looking back now, it is difficult to know which of these great scientific minds was the greater liberator: Salk, who set our bodies and minds free from crippling disease and fear, or Einstein who, with simple yet elegant equations, set science itself free to expand and grow to heights never before imagined.

Eight short years later a measles vaccine was developed and countless more lives would be saved around the world. From the CDC: “In the decade before 1963 when a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. Also each year, among reported cases, an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.”

We live in a very dangerous and confusing time. Simultaneously we see scientific and technological wonders, and a growing number of our population being shackled by bronze-age ignorance. It has reached a point that is truly staggering when evidence is not even necessary for belief anymore. We truly live in a ‘post-truth’ society in which verified scientific and medical evidence is discounted on something as subjective and transient as a “gut feeling”, and the ramifications of this are singularly terrifying… especially if this trend continues of Americans using news more as a confirmation of personal bias than to inform beliefs and understanding.

The world has always had its share of free-thinking conspiracy theorists, and up until recently they remained on the fringes of our society, lurking in the darkness of their own ignorance. But the last few years has seen a massive uptick in the validity given to fringe beliefs. Flat-earthers are actually getting attention. It is considered fun sport to deny climate change while Australia, California and the Amazon burn… And people are dying from preventable diseases.

The list of science denying factions seems to grow daily and exponentially, and we cannot begin to guess what will come under attack next. It is becoming increasingly clear that the biggest problem is not science denial itself; Our biggest problem is that it has become normal.