Hilton Ratcliffe:

“Our worldview is increasingly being determined by how facts are reported. We think there are more storms now than two hundred years ago because of the increased efficiency in observing and reporting storms. We think there are worse storms now than a hundred years ago because of the awful, dramatic images saturating the large screens in our living rooms. We are appalled by the scenes of flooding in the Indian sub-continent, yet the data show that rainfall is 11% below normal.  Mass information media are playing a significantly more influential role in the formation of our opinions, not because of bias necessarily, but also because of the way information is derived and presented. We are being hypnotised by colourful pictures of war.”

Although I don’t like anthropologist Scott Atran for the same reason I don’t go gaga for Richard Dawkins (militant arrogance), a comment he made during session six of the Beyond Belief symposium makes a crucial point:

“I think in science there is progress. But in ethics and politics, in history, progress is if anything fitful and it’s reversible. As Menachim Begin once said, ‘Civilisation is intermittent.’ Liberty and freedom are won and lost in alternating cycles of war and violence, and there is no evidence that it is changing one iota. And I don’t see scientists here are emotionally and intellectually equipped to deal with the facts of changing human knowledge in the context of unchanging human needs that haven’t changed much since the Pleistocene … It strikes me that if you ever want to be really serious and you want to engage the public to make it a more peaceful and compassionate world, you’ve got to get real. Be scientists. Get data, get information and facts. You can’t trust your own intuitions about how the world is.”

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