Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Saturday, December 17, 2016

We are the "educated elite" they won't listen to

Why did Trump win the 2016 presidential election? Since November 9, many people have been asking the same question. Some say it was because Clinton wasn’t likable enough. Others blame the fact that we didn’t understand the white working class and we believed too many fake news and conspiracy theories.

Yes, those are just some of the answers. There are many more, of course, and political scientists and historians will debate this election for decades to come. But I’ve reached a point where I’ve had enough of reading how everyone else is feeling about this election. I need to say how I feel about it. Because I’m not the white working class woman who lost her job, I’m not Muslim, I’m not Mexican, and yes, I’m an immigrant but the privileged kind if you will. I’ve always been legal and now I am, in fact, a citizen.

I am the educated elite to whom it’s ok to say, “Your college degree doesn’t make you smarter.” The one who tries to counter-argue using scientific sources, real numbers, and logic, and yet all she gets back in response is name-calling and ridicule.

And if you are reading this blog, I know you are part of that same group of people who strive to educate themselves and improve their knowledge, the group of people now clumped under the umbrella term of "educated elite." So you know exactly what it feels like to be in a strange society where beliefs overcome centuries of scientific and ideological progress. It feels like the doctor who’s been telling his patients to go on a diet and quit eating junk food. We all want to be healthy and fit, yet when it boils down to making the effort, many shrug off the scientific evidence that bad eating habits and no exercise harm our health. We’re all gonna die anyway, right?

No, a college degree doesn’t make anyone smarter. Critical thinking does. And while for many things a college degree is not even needed, there are others—like health, science, and the environment for example—for which those extra years of education provide perspective and deeper understanding of those fields in particular. So when a person with a college degree or equivalent experience tells us something about the field they've studied, I think we should listen. What kind of society have we become when we no longer trust scientists when they tell us that greenhouse gases are causing the ocean temperatures to rise? Or when we no longer listen to our doctors when they say that a vaccine can save our children’s life?

There was a time when education was revered and school teachers were respected. A time when people listened to educators and doctors because they had spent decades studying and gaining their knowledge. A time when scientists were heroes because they got us to the moon and physicians saved lives with vaccines. Today, I tell my kids to study because otherwise they’ll never get a good job, and what do they reply? “Mom, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates dropped out of college.” Or, even better: “Mom, YouTubers make millions of dollars and they never have to go to college.”

The Internet has it all. Because anyone can contribute to the Internet, it has all the answers your doctor will never give you, all the science your religion allows you to believe, and a perfect world that beautifully matches your so called values. Why bother with education? Evolution isn’t real, it’s just a theory. We don’t need educated people telling us how old the earth is. We don’t need educated people injecting stuff in our kids’ arms claiming it’ll save their lives. We don’t need educated people telling us that the climate is changing—it’s been changing all throughout the 6,000 years the earth has been around.

Just so we’re clear, what I did in those last three sentences is called sarcasm. Because I did go to school, for many years, in fact. I went to college and then to graduate school. I got my PhD while I was raising two young children. I worked my ass off, I suffered through many failures, I received many rejection letters and yet I kept plowing along, learning from my mistakes, working through the adversities. No, you don't need a college degree to achieve that. Any kind of hard work makes people stronger. Learning from our mistakes and taking responsibilities makes us grow. And it teaches to respect one other.

But no, America doesn’t need any of that. America keeps binging on junk food and relying on whatever the Internet has to offer. So now teachers are indoctrinating our kids, scientists are conspiracy theorists who enjoy telling us that the world will end, and doctors are vaccine impostors paid by the Big Pharma. (On a side note, vaccines are cheap, they don’t make the Big Pharma rich. What makes them rich are all the drugs you need when you get the diseases you could’ve vaccinated against.)

Who needs educated people when we can do stuff on our own? This, you see, has been this election’s winning message. And that’s exactly why the incoming cabinet features a secretary of education who wants to dismantle public education; a national security adviser who tweets fake news; a secretary of treasury who ran a bank that was dubbed the “foreclosure machine”; an EPA administrator who doesn’t believe in environmental policies and doesn’t believe in climate change. If you think about it, it’s like all these people, instead of being rightfully shamed for their failures, have been rewarded with the highest positions in the government. All because we no longer trust education, let alone if it comes from the establishment. Can you hear your teenage kid’s voice? “Get out of the way, Mom. I can do stuff on my own, now!”

Truth is, the secretary of energy for the past two terms has been a PhD. In fact, our previous secretary of energy was a Nobel laureate. These bright minds will now be succeeded by a BS in animal science and Dancing with the Stars contestant. I’m sure those stardom experiences will come in handy when talking to scientists and engineers about the state of our nuclear weapons and climate change policies. Oh wait. I forgot, the guy doesn’t believe in climate change. So I’m sure he doesn’t believe in investing money in basic research to address questions like, “Why are our trees dying?” or “Is there going to be enough water for our growing cities twenty years from now?” or “How are we going to sustain our agriculture when we’ll run out of water?” or “Can we make more potent antibiotics in order to fight drug resistant bacteria?”

And if you are wondering, all those questions do pertain the US Department of Energy. DOE oversees national security labs like the one where I work. My colleagues and I work hard everyday on questions like the ones I mentioned above because drug-resistant bacteria and water problems are among the greatest threats our society is facing today. Ill-minded people can easily get a hold of these problems and turn them into bioweapons. But don’t worry, I’m sure the Internet holds all the answers.

Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I want you to think about that for a moment. What do Mandela's words say about a country where college education is so expensive that many can no longer afford it? And even worse, a country where a good chunk of the population does not trust college education? Knowledge is freedom. Ignorance, instead, is the shackles used by tyrannic powers.

And so America gulps down another mouthful of fat hamburger with fries, washed down with corn syrup based soda. Because no matter how many times we tell America to go on a diet (i.e. invest in renewable energy), no matter how many times we lecture America about the risks of high blood pressure (i.e. stop fracking and drilling before all of our drinking water ends up contaminated), and no matter how many times we remind America that the number one cause of death in the US is heart failure (i.e. temperatures are indeed rising and we’re all going to die if we don’t do something about it), America has decided that we are the educated elite and no longer deserve to be listened to.

So good luck America. In a world too busy to take the time to ponder, too loud to stop to listen, and too arrogant to realize its own ignorance, the educated elite is all you’ll have left when catastrophe will strike. And in the best of Hollywood traditions, we will be there to come to the rescue.

Until then, God help us all.

Thank you to Kat Fieler and Mike Martin for helpful suggestions while editing this post. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. I respect yours, please respect mine.