There are times when I just throw up my hands and wonder if civilization is making any progress. One such time took place last night. I was innocently watching the Bears-Vikings game, having given up on the total lunar eclipse about to take place. You see, in Milwaukee, we are getting pummeled with a steady flurry of snow. Enjoying the online coverage in lieu of the real thing, I called up CNN’s lunar eclipse story on my laptop.
Following a rational quotation from U.S. Naval Observatory astronomer Geoff Chester, I kept reading and just about fell out of my chair. CNN.com’s story extensively quoted two astrologers on the meaning and relevance of the eclipse. The story also mentioned the "coincidence" of an eclipse occurring with the solstice, an event that hasn’t happened since 1638. They apparently failed to realize that their science reporting skills also dated from that year.
CNN enthusiastically reported Florida astrologer Brian Hill declaring that eclipses “disrupt vibrations from the Moon, letting people’s intuition work more freely and allowing them to receive information that the logical left brain doesn’t normally get.” With Mercury simultaneously in retrograde, Mr. Hill reminded us, “Now is the time for introspection and reflection.”
A second astrologer added to the growing knowledge base. “Full Moons are times of great stress on the planet,” declared Bob Mulligan, also from Florida, apparently Earth’s new astrology capital. “A lunar eclipse is a Full Moon on steroids; symbolically, it’s a time of letting go of something from the past.”
What has happened to science literacy in the United States? At the same time CNN runs rah-rah clips about how science and technology are critical to the future of the United States, they devolve into promoting nonsense in place of substance. And, of course, it’s not limited to CNN; other news organizations also feature infantile coverage of UFOs, psychic phenomena, and other pseudoscience, lunging for cheap ratings rather than credible reporting. Doesn’t anyone care about knowing the truth about the world and how the universe actually works?
The philosophy of the truth begins with the most primitive technique, intuition (favored by astrologers), which amounts to believing that which someone dreams as premonitions of reality. Not too reliable, believe it or not. Slightly more trustworthy is the authoritarian method — believing what authority figures tell you to believe, whether they be parents, teachers, clergy, or government. The rational methods, computation, analogy, and logic, are far better yet. But the best way to determine what is true is the scientific method — empiricism, which demands observation, experiment, and verification. Whether or not “vibrations” from the Moon are “disrupted” — whatever that means — I can tell you unequivocally that gravity exists.
With television having morphed into entertainment rather than responsible truth, it’s no wonder the United States is raising a new generation of young people who are unprepared for science and technology, just at the time when they are most needed to be *** good at it. Do you hear that faint rumbling sound? It's the rest of the world chuckling at the United States and its lack of scientific knowledge. Although I realize things are far better off than they were several hundred years ago, the opportunity for Americans to be really aware of what is going on around them is largely being squandered.
The next time I check CNN.com, I might expect to find a special report on witches, hobgoblins, elves, unicorns, yeti, dragons, griffins, and wizards. And perhaps a commentary on recent social events from the busy lives of serpents, jackalopes, Romulans, and Klingons. Possibly a “this just in” on the latest developments in the life of Gumby.
At one time, the media actually helped the lives of Americans — helped them to become better informed, smarter, and more capable for the future. Under the current situation, there’s a long road to travel to get back to square one.