Conservation of Ignorance

I have a theory. I believe that, in the United States at least, ignorance is conserved. In the distant past, scientific theories lived and died based on evidence from observation and experiment. While we once believed the earth was at the center of the universe, observations proved otherwise. Whereas we once believed the earth was flat, Magellan proved that it was round. Yet here in the U.S., alternative theories continue to crop up even as experiments show us that only one theory is really correct. Let me illustrate.

There is currently overwhelming evidence that evolution is the best theory to explain the variety of species on this planet. Even so, Intelligent Design proponents reject much of this support for evolution in favor of their own hypothesis without their own supporting evidence. Quantum theory is one of the most tested theories in all of science, yet it is misused as an explanation for many alternative healing remedies. Electromagnetism provides the pillar of support for magnetic therapy. The mere mention that billions of bacteria reside in your gut simply begs for daily colonics. And somehow, the ability of CO2 molecules to absorb and reemit infrared radiation has become the biggest hoax ever created.

Ignorance is Conserved. Whenever a scientific theory is supported by actual evidence, there arises another "theory" (or more likely a fad) equal and opposite that negates the rational conclusions. These alternative theories are not necessarily so apparent as, say, intelligent design is when compared to evolution. They can be as simple as a media report claiming someone has built a car that runs off water, or that Joe Schmo has nearly finished his perpetual motion machine in his garage, or that, while scientists dissent, Jenny McArthy thinks vaccines cause autism. If ten people believe one-tenth of the garbage that's out there, well that's Conservation of Ignorance.

And nowhere is ignorance conserved more than at our very own National Center for the Conservation of Ignorance (NCCI)...otherwise known as the White House. As with any conservation law, to ensure some quantity remains conserved, work must be done to restore the balance. If, for example, the surgeon general wants to release evidence-based reports on stem cells, sex education, or emergency contraception, Conservation of Ignorance demands that you rewrite or suppress the reports entirely. If a NASA scientist (oh, say someone like James Hansen) wants to provide evidence for Global Warming, thereby increasing the general surplus of knowledge in the world, he must be muzzled. And when the Environmental Protection Agency sends you an email concluding that greenhouse gases are pollutants, then the best thing to do is not open the email. One of the most effective ways of conserving ignorance when Mr. KNOWLEDGE comes knocking at the door is to just pretend you're not at home. Not only do you maintain the natural order of things, but you get to be a kid again. Playing pretend can be so much fun!
White House Refused to Open Pollutants E-Mail

Over the past five days, the officials said, the White House successfully put pressure on the E.P.A. to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation, including a finding that tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 32 years. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Both documents, as prepared by the E.P.A., “showed that the Clean Air Act can work for certain sectors of the economy, to reduce greenhouse gases,” one of the senior E.P.A. officials said. “That’s not what the administration wants to show. They want to show that the Clean Air Act can’t work.”

Some people will remember that George W. Bush promised, during his 2000 campaign for the White House, to restrict CO2 emissions from power plants. They might also remember that, only two months into his presidency, he reneged on this promise. Andy Revkin recalls that time in his Dot Earth blog:
Return to Sender: E.P.A. E-Mail on CO2 Refused by Administration. Old Pattern Back?
Advice from climate experts at the Environmental Protection Agency was sought but also ignored. A March 7 memorandum from agency experts to the White House team recommended that the carbon dioxide pledge be kept, saying the Energy Department study “was based on assumptions that do not apply” to Mr. Bush’s plan and “inflates the costs of achieving carbon dioxide reductions.” The memo was given to The New York Times by a former E.P.A. official who says science was not adequately considered.
Of course, I know I'm running a risk with my theory. Somebody reading this may develop their own insights or be motivated to learn more about these issues. That means someone else's IQ will plummet. I just hope its no-wun I no.

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