Having done his own research, Russ Swan appeals against the current vogue for innumeracy, unchecked illiteracy and pseudoscience…
Not only is ignorance a badge of honour, but pseudoscience is celebrated by some as providing truths that are somehow more true...
I've got a bee in my bonnet this month. Actually I've got a few and, in the circumstances, this seems entirely reasonable. Not only are we living on a planet run by corrupt and incompetent governments, but the very fabric of everything we know to be true is under attack.
Let's start with literacy. Even previous stalwarts of correct usage – like the BBC – have thrown away the rule book and now permit grievous crimes to be perpetrated. My current killer is use of the word appeal to mean appeal against. "Lawyers representing X have confirmed they will appeal the verdict". Gah!
Almost as infuriating is the idiotic trend of expressing indifference by stating "I could care less". This tells us that you do care a bit, the exact opposite of what you meant to say.
It gets worse with mathematics. An announcement came my way this week describing the discovery of a Neptune-sized planet orbiting a (relatively) nearby star. It turns out that this star is quite young – indeed it is '150 times younger' than our own sun.
Now, let's pretend I'm 36 years old (this is approximately correct, before VAT and delivery). If someone else was one times younger than me, they'd be 36 years younger than me and have an age of zero. Two times younger must therefore be 72 years younger, which would suggest they were (or would be) born in 2056. Our sun is 4.6 billion years old, about a third of the age of the universe. A star 150 times younger could not exist until the universe is 50 times older than it is now.
And so we come to science. What bothers me more than lying politicians? The graduates of the university of life who proudly proclaim how much they despise the very thing that you and I hold most dear.
A friend took part in COVID vaccine trials and posted some interesting and thoughtful information about the experience on social media. This, I'm afraid, provoked the flat-Earthers and tinfoil hatters. “I wouldn’t trust any vaccine that hadn’t been thoroughly tested,” remarked one – oblivious to the contradiction involved. Another demanded thorough animal tests be performed before any human trials. I checked their profile and discovered that this was a rare instance of a vegan demanding more animal testing.
When the trial was paused because of a medical issue with one volunteer, the I-told-you-so's came thick and fast. Well, thick anyway. Many had "done my research" which, apparently, involves little more than overindulging on spicy memes and farting out ignorance.
The thing is, people get things wrong. They use terms they hear on TV and radio without understanding what they actually mean, or adopt Americanisms because, well, I don’t know why. The demonstrated illiteracy is cringeworthy, but those affected don’t seem to take pride in it.
Yet somehow it has become admirable to proclaim an inability to perform basic arithmetic. “I can’t do numbers,” they say, to smiles and nods all around. Innumeracy makes you one of the crowd.
The situation with science is so much worse. Not only is ignorance a badge of honour, but pseudoscience is celebrated by some as providing truths that are somehow more true. It's like the Pope going out on Halloween to embrace Satanism.
In all of this, what we lack is an easy term to identify these ignoramuses (I can think of a few but they probably wouldn’t make it past the editor). The US dictionary Merriam-Webster suggests ‘nescience’ (from the Latin prefix ne,-not, and scire, to know), but I can’t see it catching on. "You are illiterate, innumerate, and nescientific" just doesn’t cut it. Might have to resort to the Anglo-Saxon after all.