I’ve been following the LHC project for quite some time now and I was really excited about it starting up yesterday. It’s been getting lots of press in the last few days regarding the crackpots who think it’s going to result in a black hole and destroy the world. Obviously, this hasn’t happened, but it seems it’s all the media care to focus on when talking about it. Never mind the possibility of actually finding the Higgs Boson and unifying fundamental physics. My frustration with the apocalyptic stylings of the media has just hit critical mass thanks to this:
Phil Plait over at BadAstronomy brings to our attention an Indian girl who killed herself out of fear of the LHC. Apparently the Indian media has really blown this one up and coupled with their heavily superstitious culture has created a bit of a panic over there. Plait doesn’t play the blame game though, placing responsibility squarely on us and really hammers home the need for critical thinking:
All over the world, in all different countries, people are raised to believe in superstitious nonsense, and raised to believe with all their hearts that it’s real.
And when we do that, we do far more than remove people from reality. We leave them vulnerable to all manners of nonsense, from believing in fairies to truly and honestly thinking the LHC will destroy the planet. People don’t learn how to think critically, and then they drink homeopathic water instead of taking real medicine, they chelate their children, or they deny their children vaccinations. And when that happens, people die. Children die.
I’m a parent. I sometimes think the most important thing I can do for my daughter is love her, keep her healthy, protect her. But in all of those, there is an overarching responsibility for me to teach her how to live in the real world. And that means showing her how to think. Not what to think, but how
Most people don’t see critical thinking as an important faculty in daily life, or they consider their “common sense” to be adequate. Stories like this make it very clear that that isn’t the case. “Common sense” just isn’t enough. All beliefs, superstitious or otherwise, must be continually examined and updated to reflect reality as best as possible. Critical thinking is critical in every sense, and relinquishing it would be to doom us in a way untouchable by any mere partical accelerator.