30 March 2008

Get educated, man

An excerpt from Nicholas Kristof's newest op-ed column, "With a Few More Brains...":


"Then there’s this embarrassing fact about the United States in the 21st century: Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each.

A 34-nation study found Americans less likely to believe in evolution than citizens of any of the countries polled except Turkey.

President Bush is also the only Western leader I know of who doesn’t believe in evolution, saying “the jury is still out.” No word on whether he believes in little green men.

Only one American in 10 understands radiation, and only one in three has an idea of what DNA does. One in five does know that the Sun orbits the Earth ...oh, oops."


I believe in aliens. That is, I believe in the statistical probability that there is life out there, but that we will probably never find them and they will never find us. Not so much flying saucers, although the X-Files geek in me would like to believe there is a conspiracy. I'll try my best to be accepting and understand how you might not believe in evolution because it contradicts your religious beliefs. But how can you believe in flying saucers, based entirely upon speculation, and not believe in something supported by empirical evidence? Maybe Bush thinks we ourselves are aliens--not that that contradicts creationism at all.

I can understand ignorance in general, because I'm guilty of spending the last two weeks festering on YouTube in a newfound obsession with the actor James McAvoy (he's incredible!) rather than doing anything productive. I understand the tendency toward ignorance because it's so easy to surround yourself in impractical knowledge. But the fact that I am surprised and depressed by these statistics makes me feel very naive. If only I could expect more; I don't want to be a cynic just yet.

I can also understand the lack of knowledge about DNA and radiation, because science education positively sucks in the U.S. All the "street-talk" TV shows that portray the average American as someone who confuses Iraq and Australia on a map point to an egregious problem with our education system. This is what makes me want to get out there and teach my future students what DNA and radiation are so that they don't join the ranks of the average American. I can expect more.

28 March 2008

Did you know...?

...that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religious organization? Okay, maybe not officially, but take a look at their famous 12 steps:



1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


If that isn't religious, I don't know what is. Perhaps I'm speaking out of ignorance, since I know so little about addiction and the desperation that comes with it. And let me also emphasize that AA is no doubt a model organization that fills a void and reinvents the lives of addicts. My classmates in pharmacology class (a lot of my posts come from ideas I have in pharmacology class, probably because it's the only vaguely interesting class I have this semester) pointed this out to us in a presentation on alcohol addiction. My first reaction was a fear of ever becoming addicted to anything--not because of the harm it will do to my life, my body, and everyone I love--but because I don't know what options there will be for me when I try to seek help. How could I go to the AA, or so many other organizations that use a similar form of these 12 steps, when just reading their guidelines alienates me?

I admit that I'm part of a small minority in the world that has trouble believing in a specific religion, so of course my reaction is different--radical, even. But my friend, who is Hindu, told me that she felt alienated by the 12 steps as well. Surely it's possible to come up with 12 steps that don't evoke religion? It makes me afraid for those addicts out there who, like me, might avoid seeking help because of this very reason.