Plan for Today
- Syllabus Change for Canvas Posts
- The definitions from Tuesday’s Class
- The Cold War starts….(for the record, I was closest)
- Asimov’s “Cult of Ignorance”
- More definitions
- Next Readings–Show online PDFs through Atkins
Isaac Asimov’s “A Cult of Ignorance”
The great Isaac Asimov is a major figure in science fiction. He wrote more than science fiction (he was quite prolific), including popular press articles of which “A Cult of Ignorance” is one. Unfortunately, when doing cultural studies analyses, we often uncover bad or unsettling aspects of our culture. Many people deride cultural studies for this, but it’s important to understand that not everything about our system has benefited everyone else equally (or at all in some cases). Fortunately, because American culture is based (in part) on freedom of speech, we’re free to critique the system without fear of repercussions…that’s a system I’m glad to live under!
Overall, Asimov doesn’t think Americans think critically enough. In fact, in 1980, he told us we didn’t read enough, so we couldn’t possibly have a right to know because we put no effort into knowing.
Consider the following themes of Asimov’s short article:
- What might be contemporary examples of this? Consider the anti-vaccination and COVID-19 quarantine protester crowds.
- For further information, beyond the scope of this class, check out evidence that the public trust in higher education has fallen.
- Who are the elites? What’s the difference between economic and intellectual elites?
- Right to know
- With great rights come even greater responsibility…
- What’s Asimov’s point about the public’s assumption they have the right to know?
- Credibility and trust
- What are credible sources? Who are credible people?
- How might you rank the following people in terms of credibility?
- Uber/Lyft Driver
- Hedge Fund Manager
- Asimov claims reading scores have dropped, but he doesn’t provide any evidence
- The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been tracking reading (and math) scores since 1971.
- This NAEP graph (pdf) shows some improvement for particular age groups, but is it significant improvement, or does it look pretty much the same since 1971?
- Drop in magazine readership
- Consider Asimov writing in 1980…the internet wasn’t in anyone’s home, so newspapers, magazines, and network (not cable) news was how people got their information.
- Although debatable, one could get news information from more media these days (although not necessarily in-depth reporting) because there are a good portion of Americans who don’t read books.
- Ignorance vs willful ignorance
- Consider “ignorance” in the non-pejorative sense to mean “not knowing.” We are all ignorant in that we don’t know everything. I’m extremely ignorant on nuclear physics, organic chemistry, fishing, childcare, among other things.
- The problem is willful ignorance or celebrating one’s ignorance as a badge of honor. Willfully ignoring the facts because they don’t fit one’s worldview is beyond ignorant; it’s allowing conviction to lead you to conclusions.
- “true concept of democracy”
- He probably means that citizens need to be informed to participate in democratic institutions.
- Honestly, the United States isn’t really a democracy; it’s a republic where people vote for (the best and brightest…) representatives to pass laws and govern. However, this is a better discussion for your political science and history classes.
- Asimov is claiming at the end of his article that, without striving to learn, without having an educated citizenry who don’t celebrate their ignorance, we don’t have a true democracy or rule be the people.
- Oh well, what does he know. He’s just a scifi writer.* It’s not like he can predict the future…
*For those of you who don’t know me, this bullet point needs to be read in a sarcastic tone. I absolutely love Asimov’s work.
Possible final thought that has no real resolution: Why not trust the experts? Are there contemporary examples you can think of where the masses (or a large portion of the masses) don’t believe scientists–including health care experts?
Highway Signs as Pictures
Also, what’s wrong with highway signs having pictures instead of words? Aren’t they easier to read instead of words? Everyone understands these signs:
- Lots of Yellow Road Signs
- Triangle–Red, Black, and White
- Circular–Red, Black, and White
- Makes Perfect Sense
- Word Choice is Important to Consider…
Some More Vocabulary for Our Areas of Study
Let’s discuss definitions for a moment. Although this course can’t possibly provide you with all the appropriate definitions for each of your disciplines, I hope to get you to recognize that different disciplines have different assumptions that inform the way the define a concept. For instance, “games” in economic (and psychology…to an extent) refer to analysis of the ways people make choices in a given situation. For popular culture “games” are video games, but, within the various fields that study games, researchers focus on different areas. I research games as products of a culture and how they convey meaning; whereas, other English Studies researchers look at how players make meaning in game play. Again, try to at least recognize that definitions and assumptions are disciplinary specific.
- society: a defined group of people sharing an area, organizational system, or set of associations; a community.
- Merriam-Webster’s Definition
- Oxford English Dictionary’s Definition (accessible on campus or when logged onto Atkins Library)
- “Society” for social scientists often refers to the quantifiable–countable–aspects of a group, such as a nation. Consider demographics (age, gender, income), employment, education level, etc.
- culture: the characteristics, customs, beliefs, and shared history of a group; a community.
- Scientific Method: an ongoing process of (usually) empirical methods to acquire knowledge through appropriate hypothesis, observation, testing, and expert consensus.
- Replicability: scientific observations and tests must be independently verified by repeating the original experiment.
- This is part of the peer-review process of scientific discourse.
- Rhetoric: understanding and/or employing the available means of persuasion; moving an audience (technical or not) to believe, support, or understand a topic.
- Ethos: presentation of one’s character and credibility (title, reputation, area of expertise, etc.)
- Pathos: appeals to emotion
- Logos: appeals to logic and statement of facts (statistics, observations, verifiable laws/phenomenon, etc.)
- Pseudoscience: a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method, replicability, and/or expert consensus.
Collins & Pinch Books
If you haven’t read the Prefaces to Collins & Pinch, that’s fine for today, but maybe we should have a preview.
Preface to 2nd Ed.
- p. xiii: Collins & Pinch had scientists review their work, and the scientists offered their criticism. The authors claim they “examine each serious criticism, either accepting it and making a change or putting the sociologist/historian’s point of view.” What they mean is that some criticism is a matter of a priori assumption based on one’s discipline’s approach to knowledge. Simply put, scientists think differently about these subjects than do historians and sociologists.
- p. xiv: Their audience—average citizens. Their “book [is] mainly of benefit to the citizen and the novice, not the experienced scientist at the research front.”
Preface to 1st Canto Ed.
- p. xv: “Most science is uncontroversial.”
- p. xv-xvi: “For citizens who want to take part in the democratic process of a technological society, all the science they need to know about is controversial.”
- Don’t gloss over “democratic process” in that last sentence. Collins & Pinch have taken Asimov’s argument to heart and decided to help the public achieve their right to know by communicating to a lay (general, non-scientific) audience.
Please do your Weekly Discussion Post #1: “Introduce Yourself” on Canvas. We’ll catch up on anything we didn’t cover today and move onto Collins & Pinch’s The Golem: What You Need to Know about Science.