Each day's news here in the U.S. becomes a bit more appalling.

Today, I wake to discover that our President-Elect has formed a new government commission on vaccine safety, appointing rabidly anti-vax know-nothing Robert Kennedy Jr. to be chairman of the commission.

{facepalm}

The assault on science and reason is so broad and coming on so many fronts that it's becoming hard to know where to start to mount a reasonable defense.   Our university has been involved with the effort to copy all of NASA's climate data and get copies to major research centers out of the country just to make sure it's preserved.  We're working to reassure foreign grad students and post-docs, trying to figure out how we continue lines of research from climate science to education to energy in the face of potentially hostile or defunded agencies...

Now we have to try to re-teach the public about vaccines?  Vaccines??

Fighting this is rapidly becoming a major institutional (and personal) priority, even for many of us who by nature are politically neutral in our pursuit of scientific understanding.   The challenge is where to begin, when facing such a broad-based assault on every federal agency along with attacks on sound sources of information and the legitimizing of fake news.

What are the group's thoughts?   What should be our top priorities, our first actions?

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I agree Dr. Bob. I am in the process of writing a blog along similar lines. It is difficult to understand how well educated people cannot grasp the association between vaccines and disease prevention. Were they not in school when the history lesson on Jenner and cowpox was taught? Have they not read any news about polio eradication campaigns? It was considered to be completely eradicated in the USA in 1977. How do they think that happened? Have they not noticed that diseases are making a comeback and that there is a distinct correlation with this and the anti-vax campaigns?

I have regular debates with various Christian groups. The J.W.’s have a very much skewed understanding of science. Like many other groups, they are indoctrinated to mistrust science. Most of them do not accept Evolution to be true because their God apparently created every animal in the “Form” we see it in today. So they have to be anti-science to preserve this idea, as they must with their ideas about blood transfusion or quarantine and germ theory (as understood by Moses centuries before Science figured it out!).

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. They are the worst.  It is all about “Big Pharma” taking over the world. They think all scientists wear white lab coats and work in bunkers!

There is a well organised “Big Homeopathy” industry that is given credence by well-established colleges and even Universities that allow them to have a “research” address on their premises. Many States have them on “approved” registries and allow them to operate in hospitals and sell their wares in clinical pharmacies alongside medicine. I am trying to stop myself using the term “alternative medicine” because it is not.  I don’t eat alternative food, I eat food. I don’t paint my house with alternative paint, I use paint.

The best way to start curing all this anti-science, anti-vaccination BS is to teach people how to think critically and to do so from an early age. Then stop giving credence to peddlers of this junk.  As Carl Sagan wrote, we still live in a demon-haunted world and science is a candle in the dark. Chapter 12 is called “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” which is prefaced by this quote from Francis Bacon in 1620:

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called “sciences as one would.” For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding.

//It was considered to be completely eradicated in the USA in 1977. How do they think that happened? //

I know when I've had this discussion, they correlate increased hygiene to the eradication of Polio and small pox. 

// It is all about “Big Pharma” taking over the world. They think all scientists wear white lab coats and work in bunkers!//

Sometimes not even taking over the world. I've gotten the "Just follow the money" even when I tell them that "Big Pharma" is taking a loss when the Feds tell them to not charge for it. 

The sleep of reason produces monsters. Not my line. So start by attacking the major source of ignorance. Religion. If it is ok to base one's life on a sleep of reason then it is ok to believe any crackpot creed or belief. It is the best way to change the culture for the better.

I always like to hear that line (by Goya) quoted as I have it tattooed on my arm :-)

cool and cool painting too.

So start by attacking the major source of ignorance. Religion.

Trump and his appointees aren't religious, beyond superficial lip service for appearance's sake.  They're mostly oligarchs.  

Attacking religion only guarantees that he wins, because it immediately brands the opposition to his policies as a bunch of anti-religious wankers.  After that, 90% of the population automatically dismisses what you have to say.  It drives religious people into the hands of the oligarchs, when the more natural religious response would be to oppose greed in favor of helping people.

by attacking the major source of ignorance, religion, I am suggesting that the absence of religion is akin to the vaccination in warding off the disease. I am not suggesting that it is a strategy to employ in the instant case.

and your lovely "anti-religious wankers" is more than a little autobiographical in revealing your bias...

The issue, @Jake, is that the simple absence of something doesn't help anyone make informed choices.  You all have been very clear that atheism is not a belief, not a way of thinking.  It doesn't offer anything helpful.

If you take away religion, it can be replaced by Ayn Rand radical selfishness or pursuit of who has the most Twitter followers or white nativism or militant nationalism or any of a dozen other toxic things that have lots more emotional appeal than just not believing in god(s).  It's dangerous, unless and until you have something better to offer.

As for "anti-religious wankers" we have major news media who beat the emotional drum about a "war on Christmas" just because people say "Happy Holidays".  You don't think that "starting by attacking religion" won't get you immediately dismissed as not worth listening to in the eyes of the majority of the population?   Strategically it's foolish.  

"If you take away religion, it can be replaced by Ayn Rand radical selfishness or pursuit of who has the most Twitter followers or white nativism or militant nationalism or any of a dozen other toxic things"

I don't want to drag this thread away from what you originally posted, Bob, so I will simply comment that this is a familiar theme of yours and I don't buy it. Yes, religion could be replaced by something toxic but seeing as, in my experience, that doesn't happen for most atheists I don't think it's something to worry about. Most of my friends and colleagues are atheists and I don't know of a single one who has fallen into this supposed trap of having to fall into something toxic instead. Most of them just live ordinary, imperfect lives, just like theists.

One question to consider is whether your sample is at all representative, or whether it reflects those whom you choose to consider friends and colleagues.  

The only point I was making is that you can't replace a moral decision-making framework reinforced by community which acts as a power center independent of the State with "I don't believe in god(s)".  You need to substitute another moral decision-making framework which is reinforced by community and which can act as a power center independent of the State.

What are you offering for that?  "I've got cool friends?"

"[...] atheism is not a belief, not a way of thinking. It doesn't offer anything helpful."

Aww shucks, Dr. Bob, at least it's step 1 in a recovery program!

Dr. Bob, I also do not wish to get us side-tracked here so I will be brief.

If you take away religion, it can be replaced….

Atheism is not a replacement for not having religion. It does not have to offer us anything. We define our worldview by what we understand to be true and not by what we do not believe. You do not define your worldview by your lack of belief in Brahma or Vishnu any more (or less) than we do. Why should your atheism towards these Hindu gods not offer you something helpful any more than my atheism in your god offer me anything helpful?

I never felt a loss of anything or an absence in my life when I realised that I had become an atheist. I did not seek or need a substitute for it.

An analogy we all can probably relate to is that of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. When he ended up on the beach after escaping his imprisonment he never felt he was missing prison or upset with not having other people’s rulebooks to follow. He may have missed the comraderie (fellowship) he had with the other inmates but he did not look for something similar to a prison as a substitute. He just got on with his life on his own terms. No replacement required.

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