Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Age of Demons

I'm currently re-reading The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan and these two passages struck me as pertinent in today's digital age.

"Science arouses a soaring sense of wonder. But so does pseudoscience. Sparse and poor popularisations of science abandon ecological niches that pseudoscience promptly fills. If it were known that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience. But a kind of Gresham's Law prevails in popular culture by which bad science drives out good.....

"But there's another reason: science is more than a body of knowledge; it's a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time  - when the USA is a service and information economy; when nearly all key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no-one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agenda or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals or nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound-bites (now down to 10 seconds, or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."

I see this as evident on social media, where any old story, credible or not, is passed on as if 100% factual and true without any effort to verify the claims made. It then spreads like wildfire. The gullibility of the general population appears to knows no bounds and healthy skepticism seems to have died a death.


  1. You could be describing the paper press of this year or the last century. Indeed, I suspect that digital information is provides a richer source of sustenance to healthy skepticism.

  2. An excellent book, forget Wuthering Heights, this kind of thing should be required O-Level reading IMO, nurture critical thinking on a par with fantasy and escapism.