Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is America Anti-Intellectual? Not so Fast!

A bit back, I blogged about Susan Jacoby's take on anti-intellectualism. She has written a book on the subject entitled The Age of Unreason. Carlin Romano of (a compilation of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News) is not amused. He takes issue with her here. He characterizes her approach thus:

Her style of argument often amounts to hitting the clip file or Google, piling up thrice-told tales of putatively vulgarized culture, then sarcastically inviting the reader's repelled reaction without examining whether the examples she lays out prove her point. Anti-rationalism, she argues, is not understanding the difference between factual evidence and opinion, but Jacoby's own judgment about which evidence counts for which assertions is often unconvincing.

He then goes on to defend the American populace in general.

In a nation that boasts more educated people, college graduates, books sold and general literacy than ever before, intellectually oriented people patronize institutions that pay attention to sophisticated print culture - universities, colleges, Web sites, publications, radio shows - and dump those that aim at bottom-level taste. It's telling that Jacoby piles on The Da Vinci Code and The O'Reilly Factor while ignoring NPR and BOOK-TV. The latter play the same role in the "edifice of middlebrow culture" as many of the media for which she's nostalgic (e.g., Saturday Review), but because she insists that edifice has "collapsed," they don't exist in her inventory.

My reflection on reading this is that, yes, there is much to laud in human educational aptitude and performance. This is especially evident here at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, I am also reminded of something that Richard Young wrote about creationism in the United States and in the schools, in his article Why Creationism Must Be Kept out of the Classroom:

However, just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the stinkweed of Creationism remains rank.

Just as Mr. Romano is referring to the intellectual weight of the American universities, it is clear that the general public remains woefully uneducated in basic scientific matters. If you doubt this, have a look at a poll conducted by CBS/NYT in 2004 on creation/evolution. It is only 885 people, and that certainly is not a large number of people, but the results were pretty tell-tale. No, we clearly have a long way to go.

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