The power of indifference an open letter to the scientific community
Suddenly your absent-minded thoughts are shattered by a loud noise. Quickly you look around, to the left of you, you see it, and a child has been shot, you see them bleeding heavily. People are standing around with their phones, some calling emergency services, some filming, but most looking confused and scared. No one is actively trying to help; you hear that they are afraid that the person, or persons, who shot the child is still around. What do you do next, do you choose indifference, or do you help?
In a vacuum, in the safety of your situation it is easy to think you would step in, do the right thing, the obvious thing. The right thing is unfortunately almost never the easy thing, because when it comes time to need to “do the right thing” it is because so many people are already doing the wrong thing. That is why it is so funny that today people wonder how people like Hitler came into power.
Hitler was not a completely evil person, okay maybe he was, but he did not do entirely evil things. What I mean by that is that he did plenty of good things for the country. He created jobs, fed the hungry, and returned a sense of pride to the people. That is the real danger of history, hindsight is 20/20 so we know the outcome and that influences our opinions of the history prior.
The truth is, by the time the people realized what was happening it was easier, safer even, to go with it than to do the right thing. Think about all the people in the military that were just normal people who were forced to kill innocents. Sure, some enjoyed the power and relished the control it afforded them, but I would venture that most were just afraid to stand up and say no. No, this is not right, this is not okay, because while overused platitudes like “I would rather die standing than live kneeling.” sound great — in practice, most people really prefer not to die.
No, I am not comparing Trump to Hitler, there are enough blogs and people that will do that for me. What I am saying however is that it is easier for us in the science community, good people who know right from wrong, to roll over and do the easy thing. Some of us are okay with it because it does not affect our fields or us as individuals. As an engineer, my field is particularly pseudoscience resistant after all, that does not mean we should let an army of homeopaths or chiropractors trounce the medical fields. We should not let global warming deniers or people blinded by money from coal and oil ruin our home for our children or our children’s children — because let’s face it I am good, it’s not me it will affect.
That is exactly how things got bad and if we do not remember this history we will — and have been — doomed repeat it over and over.
Scientists are quick to complain about policies, but there is no law that limits elected government officials to just people with law degrees, large sums of money, or a family in politics. Run for office, be the change, do more than just retweet, blog, and focus on your field, your research, and the sources of your funding.
One thing is true now more than ever, we are in the midst of change, the precipice of a new time for America; yet time is a great teacher, who eventually kills all her students. However, no matter the climate from the time of Newton or Galileo to present science has persisted and will persist because science is simply a method of searching for a deeper truth of the world, the universe, of our home. It cannot and will not bend to the will of people or religion because demonstrable and repeatable truths will always remain that way.
We the scientific people are shot; we are bleeding out. So if you, my readers ,answered unequivocally that you would help, that you would do the right thing — the hard thing — then my challenge to you is simply, do it. Be the person you know you are, that person that does the hard thing. It is time to fight, time to push back against the pseudoscience whether it affects you or not.
It is time to stop the bleeding, but it can’t be done without your help.