Doomsday Clocks, Scientists, and Intellectual Malnourishment






Today, a group of scientists have moved the Doomsday clock to three minutes before midnight.  This is the second closest the clock has been to "Doomsday" since the inception of the idea.  I was immediately reminded of Dr. Manhattan from "The Watchmen" in that scene where he asserts that "the idea of a doomsday clock is no more nourishing to the intellect than a picture of oxygen is to a drowning man."  This one line captures the sentiment I wish to convey entirely.  Can anyone tell me what the hell the actual purpose of a Doomsday clock is?  When you consider that the minute hand has never been any further away from midnight than 17 minutes, and that there are 11 hours and 43 minutes of other possibilities, it seems that the clocks only real purpose is to inflame and incite, not inform.

I was disappointed by the dog and pony show that culminated in the announcement that as a result of various factors, mankind is once again on the chopping block.  It was the reporting of these factors that left me annoyed.  Scientists, it seems, are not in the business of educating the public.  I used to think they were simply modern alchemists locked up in laboratories with their inventions and their formulas. But I was wrong.  Now they have taken up spectacle with tabloid like flair, not unlike carnival barkers to inform us that once again, "the end is nigh".

It seems to me that if scientists can busy themselves with a task so utterly useless as moving the metaphorical hand of a non-existent clock forward or back a minute or two, they can get up to something rather more useful such as more detailed reportings on the actual causes of the advancement of the clock itself.  The cited reasons were nuclear proliferation, and climate change.  Rather than making a simple yet dramatic declaration, why not inform the people in detail what must be done to move to clock back, or perhaps abolish it altogether?

I believe that the relationship between science and the public is a dysfunctional one.  Between the Higgs-Boson debacle and that money pit at CERN, the inability to vociferously assert consensus on climate change, the public distrusts science.  It has become less a means of intellectual stimulation and nourishment and more another avenue of entertainment.  People enjoy the drama of the God particle, but they don't realize it's the drama and not the discovery.  People are free to believe what they want, no matter how ignorant or misinformed because they remain unchallenged even by empirical science.  Meanwhile the scientific establishment clamors for more funds, more money, more resources, and while we benefit from these investments on an extremely long arc we are no wiser or more informed about them.  So far it seems that the only thing our money buys us is ambiguity.

About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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