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. 


  1. Well written and interesting thoughts. Some thoughts of my own:
    1. Both of the major party candidates were unelectable. Neither would have had a chance against a reasonable candidate on the other side. Clinton was just more unelectable, and I believe more for they way she tends to antagonize people than anything else.
    2. We've had a 'love/hate' relationship with education in this country for a long time. It's respected, but its fashionable to ridicule it if you don't understand it.
    3. I also think the election results have an element of backlash against how complicated things have gotten (and especially so if you don't have a higher education). Ever read "Future Shock"?

    And I understand your frustration and fear. But the game's not over. That was just one round.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have not read that book, I'll look it up. :-)

  2. I am sure the argument from the opposing side might be that his cabinet has many Ivy League educated. However, practically anyone can get a college education, provided they have the financial means. The difference is not everyone can, or even desires to, internalize the knowledge they acquire. For many, it is a means to an end, not an unquenchable thirst.

    1. Excellent point, Pam, thank you. In fact, more than a college degree what's missing in today's society is a thirst for critical thinking. The only reason why I mentioned the degree part is because I'm baffled by how many people have lost trust in scientists and educators.

    2. I totally agree with you, Elena. Yours is a voice of reason. Keep up the great work! We need more like you.

  3. I love you Elena for standing up for tall for those of us that feel we no longer have a voice. I only have a little over a year of college, but I fear what you fear. Thank you for putting it into words so much better than I ever could.

    1. Thank you Cathy, I hope I made it clear that why I took the "college degree" remark as an excuse to rant, this is not about the degree, it's about applying critical thinking and knowledge and feeling those adverse forces against us because it's much easier to rely on beliefs and irrational fears. And, if I may add to that, that's exactly what a tyrannic government counts on and why such governments do not invest in education. For as long as education will remain a privilege of the rich instead of a right of every citizen, this country will never be truly free.

  4. Anonymous' first point is so true.
    Like you, I'm tired of hearing about it. Tired of the complaining. Live with it and pray he does the best job ever, because it's OUR country and we want it to succeed.
    Why thirst for knowledge when the Internet has all the answers? (Regardless of the source or the media's crooked slant.)

  5. Cuidado - Two Part Diatribe to Follow Herewith, Part the First:

    Hi Dr. Giorgi,

    Just another Aging Baby Boomer here. I just wanted to tell you that all the backs turned to science these day are a relatively modern though unfortunate phenomenon.

    We Boomers remember well the threat of the Rest of Your Life in an Iron Lung and were delighted to take the injection and, later, the yummy sugar cube to protect us from polio. Medical research science at its finest. And we were aware of penicillin and sulfa drugs being relatively recent discoveries to treat infections. We were grateful that research physicians like Drs. Fleming, Salk and Sabin had found ways to protect and cure us.

    We grew up aware that many of our dads came home from World War II - hence our very existence, come to think of it - because a bunch of ten pound brains gathered in a place called Los Alamos and designed an Atom Bomb that forced the Japanese capitulation. We were nervous to learn after the effect that the Germans had built a plant capable of producing something called "heavy water" that somehow pertained to an atomic weapon. We were grateful that our physicists had built the war ending bomb first.

    As pre-adolescents, we became adept at duck-and-cover in anticipation of the godless commies dropping a hydrogen bomb on us. I remember a film (yes! moving images on cellulose) put out by the phone company saying that their employees would stay on the job from warning to detonation (and die, by implication) to provide critical communications for our government. We knew that was important and were grateful that American electrical engineers had built so robust a comm system.

    Then came the space race. We knew about our ballistic (goes up and comes back down) missiles and had some appreciation of the difference between and ICBM and an IRBM. The Russian Sputnik satellite showed us that there was more to missiles than being giant mortar shells. How could those damn commies do that? Russians? Perennially whacked on vodka? But they did it and we realized
    a) the implications of a satellite in orbit, and
    b) that we were behind and needed to amp up our public education system.
    We responded and responded well and thanks to our scientists and engineers we witnessed "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" in 1969 twelve years after Sputnik.

  6. Herewith, Part the Second:

    In 1969, our president was a man of low character named Nixon. We were embroiled in the Vietnam conflict - not a war, a conflict, you see - which proved to be enormously profitable. All those birth defects and cancers had nothing to do with Agent Orange, likewise all those were maimed by jettisoned ordnance in Laos, well it's unfortunate, but how do you know that an American bomblet caused that? Do you hate freedom?

    The '70s and '80s were the decades we married and started our families and made sure our kids got all their "puppy shots" that followed the work of Salk and Sabin and many other devoted researchers.

    At the same time, most of us maintained a profound distrust of Soviet Russia and China. We grew up on Cold War propaganda and remembered that they were the ones whose H-bomb would have killed all the daddies who worked for the phone company. The Chernobyl meltdown in '86 convinced us that Russia was a crappy nation that could not be trusted. We were grateful that our nuclear scientists had not built a plant that melted down.

    We became aware of vulnerability to fossil fuel during the Arab embargo in '73-'74 when gasoline spiked as high as 49 cents a gallon! We began to learn about "renewable" energy and wished for safer (Three Mile Island) nuclear plants and began to put our faith in the potential of wind and solar. We were cheerleaders for the scientists and engineers who would lead us out of the desert of our dependence on foreign petroleum.

    Once we'd concluded Operations Desert Shield & Storm (although we found out there was serious unfinished business), the '90s were fairly calm and we saw the rise of everything cyber. Hey, look at my $3000 home computer! Great place for me track the monthly bills and the missus to store her recipes. Aaaand, I just ordered something called "Leisure Suit Larry" that's supposed to be lots of fun. So in the '90s, even if Gates and Jobs were college dropouts, I'd wager the second level of personnel and below at Apple & Microsoft held advanced degrees in electrical engineering and other disciplines.

    It seems to me that the '00s are where things started to really go wrong. George Bush, in my mind, was a naive man whose trust in the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld was betrayed sorely. The response to 9/11 from our government was the standard practice of "throw money at it and then throw more money at it." Through money, we built a security state with little regard for the Bill of Rights and saw the rise of what I call the Cult of Conservatism. I believe the latter was the result of the proliferation of propaganda outlets which convinced too many Americans that the path to salvation lies through voting for conservatives. Those who became the Cult's disciples were and are those who are easily and willingly led astray and are those whose formal education may have gotten to a high school diploma. They don't understand what they have been told is elitist behavior by the few. The old joke was B.S. = Bull Shit, M.S. = More Shit and Ph.D. = Piled high & Deep. Har har.

    The best possible outcome of the forthcoming administration would be for a plurality of voters to realize that, in 2020, they and this country are much worse off than in 2016. Hopefully, as you say, Elena, the scientists and engineers will be ready.

  7. Thank you Mike for sharing your perspective, I truly appreciate it.

  8. I am still so disappointed in my country. In my heart, I believe that Hillary was not elected because she was a woman, and too many Americans, in their secret hearts they dare not speak aloud, still think that means she is worth less than a man. Even a hateful man. We still have so far to go for gender equality in this country. And up until this election, I thought it was a fight largely already won.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    1. I hear you. I thought it had been won too. :-(

  9. Apparently, there's a growing number of college students who know zero about American history. I've read some articles that are just terrifying (especially since I love history and learning it.)

    What I've heard of Trump's cabinet hasn't made me feel very confident, but I'm crossing my fingers that he'll prove me wrong (and also to spite all the people who have done nothing but freak out over his election since election night. I only do pessimism when I'm being silly. The rest of the time I try to look on the bright side.)

  10. It's sad to realize how little some people respect education and knowledge anymore. Makes what could result from the upcoming presidency even more frightening to think about...

  11. Sadly I've had some first-hand experience with education at the college level. I used to scratch my head, then my head throbbed because I couldn't understand how some of the students in my classes had ever made it out of grammar school, let alone high school. And how did they get into college, I asked myself. Well, the university took care of the minor issue of their not being able to read college-level texts or write logically. We created remedial classes. I remember thinking at the time that these were our voters. Semi-literate. No understanding U.S. or world history. Geography? If they knew where the next town was located, I was ecstatic. (That last is an exaggeration, but not by a lot.)


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