The problem and prevalence of ignorance

One need only look in any popular book shop to see how ignorance has overwhelmed science and philosophy; the section on 'new age' books that typically are not at all supported by any credible evidence is always much larger than that on popular science, the section on religion is always much larger than that on philosophy.

How many of your friends accept at least some astrology? I am disappointed every time someone I would have though well informed displays some belief unfounded by any viable evidence; divining is another common one.

And, of course, religion is the most prevalent delusion of all. How many people accept the meme (idea, belief) that humans have an immortal soul while that can be shown to be absurd.

We all, if we have any self-respect, should examine our beliefs and see if they are held for good reason.

Written 2009/11/10, last edited 2020/06/30
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

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'New Age' books in a book shop in Mandurah, Western Australia
New Age books
There were only a half dozen or so books on philosophy (including ethics: moral philosophy) in this section! The fact that book shop managers place philosophy in with this non-evidence-based material is bad enough, but the small proportion devoted to philosophy is an indication of the poor critical thinking interests and abilities of the general public.

Many people in the modern world, in which science has shown us so much, still believe much that is entirely lacking in evidentiary support.


Climate change is the greatest threat facing the world today, there is a strong consensus among climate scientists that the world's climates are changing and that this is being forced by the activities of humanity, yet many are ignorant of this, even among those in a position of power.

While climate change is the greatest threat, there are many other threats that, if we do not reverse them, could cause the collapse of our present global civilisation; yet far more people are concerned with beliefs that are entirely without evidentiary support than are trying to move the World toward sustainability.

Science has provided us with an unprecedented depth of knowledge in almost every subject, yet among the general population there is ignorance. Ignorance even of what science is, is prevalent and often profound. The great majority of people, probably even of university graduates, would be hard pressed to explain the scientific method.

Never in history has there been so many democracies in the world, yet voters give very little thought to how they vote, and most of the thought they do give is selfish and short-sighted, consequently many countries are effectively run by moneyed interests rather than by 'the will of the people'.


A wind farm in Mid North South Australia
Wind turbines
The world must change, with urgency, from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as wind power. Ignorance is standing in the way.

The scientific method

Science is about the application of the scientific method. A description of the scientific method goes something like this:
  1. An observation, or more likely a series of observations, are made;
  2. A hypothesis is produced, that, supposing it to be true, would explain the observation(s);
  3. Experiments are devised to test the hypothesis;
  4. If the experiments fail to disprove the hypothesis then it can become a scientific theory.
Note that the theory need not be proven (usually it cannot be proven), but every test that it passes increases its standing. A hypothesis that cannot be tested is considered to be of dubious value.

The scientific method is also explained in Wikipedia.

Science in practice

"Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a method" (anon).

Learned, or scientific, journals

Learned journals are usually published by scientific societies, for example a learned journal on cosmology would be published by some group of cosmologists, most of whom would be qualified in, and practicing cosmology. The publishers send copies of articles (usually called 'papers') to referees (specialists in the same scientific field, peers) for comment. If the referees find that the logic behind the theory is faulty, or there are serious flaws in the methods of collecting evidence, or if the work is not original, he/she will pass his reservations back to the publisher. The publisher may then recommend that the author does more work, or simply refuse to publish the paper. If the referee's reports are favourable, the paper will probably be published.

Over a period of time scientific journals build up 'prestige' if they publish good science; if they publish dubious work they loose prestige.

Also see Impact factor.

A scientific theory is built up over a period of time. Most theories would begin their public life by being published, together with evidence supporting the theory, in a 'learned journal'. It would be expected that the author of the theory would have studied previous research relevant to his theory, if any.

Anyone who believes the published theory is wrong can publish a refutation; an explanation of evidence that indicates the fallacy of the theory.

If a theory is important, and is not refuted over a period of time, the original paper will be referred to (referenced) by other scientists in the same or other learned journals. The number of these references provides a measure of the acceptance of the theory among the community of scientists in the particular specialty.

Theories are not all that are published in scientific journals. Anything of interest to the scientists whose field is dealt with by the particular journal may be published; for example Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California in San Diego, published a study that she did showing that there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific publications on the human cause for climate change.

Science has made enormous progress

Science has shown us how the World and the Universe works, what the Universe is made of, even where all the elements that make up the Universe were produced. Yet ignorance in the modern world is widespread, profound, and very much on public display.

Science and climate change

Thousands of papers relating to climate change have been published in relevant learned journals (see Science in practice). Of those that relate climate change to human activities, very few or none provide evidence that human activities are not the primary cause of climate change, most show strong links between the two. I refer in particular to the published study into the consensus on climate change among relevant scientists mentioned above.

From my reading of the popular science journal, Scientific American (to which I have subscribed for about 35 years), I can say that it shows a similar preponderance of articles relating climate change to human activities; while it does (correctly) give consideration to some of the more reasonable of the contrary opinion.

Of course not all supposedly scientific journals are equal. You might think that the journal published by an organisation named The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) would be a respectable learned journal. (The head of OISM is one of the main organisers of the "31 072 American Scientists" who deny climate change.) If you look into the OISM and its climate change publication you find that it is in fact of very dubious credibility.

The popular press and the commercial media are very different to the prestigious scientific press; they are much less concerned with fact than with sensation. The latter is much more likely to sell newspapers than the former; some apparent expert who is willing to take up a view contrary to that accepted by the relevant scientific community makes good press. In the period from about 2010 to 2014 lazy, sensation seeking journalists were largely responsible for spreading the false belief that wind turbines cause illness.

I have recently been shocked at the depth of the ignorance about climate change science in the parliamentary Liberal Party of Australia; it is an indictment on Australia and the Australian voters (who voted these ignoramuses into Parliament). It was the revelation of this ignorance on the ABC Four Corners program of November 9th 2009 that provoked me to write this page.

Ignorance versus science

Sign outside shop in Denmark, Western Australia
"The essence of science is skepticism. The essence of religion is faith" (anon).

My page on threats to our global civilisation lists many things about our present society that are unsustainable. Science has discovered these threats; in many cases science has, or can, show us how we can eliminate, or at least minimise, these threats. However, instead of recognising the threats and tackling them head-on, probably the great majority of people are either ignorant of the threats or are so hung-up on their irrational belief systems that they don't see the dire need for action.

To judge by the books that are on sale in shops, the advertising in the popular media, and the articles published in the popular media, there are far more people who base their beliefs on something other than evidence than those who look at the Earth rationally. The rise of 'new age' beliefs (things like the magical properties of crystals and pyramids; non-evidence-based therapies such as homoeopathy, reflexology, magnetic therapy and even 'cranio-sacral balancing' and 'sacred geometry grid healing'; and then the old chestnut of astrology) in comparison to science in a time when it is essential that we look rationally for cures for the World's ills, is hugely concerning.

Science has shown us what the stars are made of and how the Universe works, but people seem to prefer to believe in things lacking in rational backing, religion and creation 'science' come to mind.

Ignorance in the Australian Parliament

Climate change denial


Climate change denial on other pages

I have also discussed climate change denial on greenhouse from an Australian perspective and Climate change. In Climate change skeptics or climate change ignoramuses I attempt to inform voters of the climate change stance of their Members of Parliament.

Ignorance in the Liberal Party continues

WA Liberal Party, 2011

About 12th August 2011 the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party passed a motion, by a large majority, calling for a royal commission into the science of climate change. The science is settled, has been settled for years. Is it any wonder that Australia's transition to renewable energy is slow with ignorance like this in one of the major political parties? Should the WA Government be stupid enough to take this up one would have to wonder where they would find a judge sufficiently dim to want to run such a royal commission.

Preselection of a climate science ignoramus, 2019

It must have been an embarrassing day for many of the faculty and students of Western Australia's Notre Dame University when the woman who was previously their vice-chancellor exposed her gross ignorance of climate science. Professor Celia Hammond resigned her vice-chancellorship to take up the Liberal candidacy for the federal seat of Curtin.

Craig Kelly

A page on ignorance would not be complete without mentioning Craig Kelly, Liberal MP and outspoken climate science denier. Any more than a mention would be giving him more attention than he deserves.
In November 2009 it became public that many members of the Australian Parliamentary Liberal Party believed (or claimed to believe) that humanity had nothing to do with climate change. The National Party Senators had previously made it known that they were climate change deniers. See FailAust. (The Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Opposition in 2010, Tony Abbott, has said that "Climate Change is crap").

That many (although a minority, I believe) of the Australian people are ignorant of the facts of climate change is more understandable, they do not have ready access to well-informed advice and they are receiving mixed messages from the commercial media, but for federal parliamentarians in a Western Democracy, with easy access to advice from experts in the climate science field, to be so abysmally ignorant is inexcusable.

Or could it be that these parliamentarians only claim to be climate change skeptics so that they can justify their continued support of the fossil fuel industries? Is it believable that they could be so corrupt? Is it any more believable that they could be so ignorant? (I have held elsewhere that knowingly lying about climate change in order to oppose renewable energy developments or in support of fossil fuels is the greatest crime in the history of humanity.

Warren Entsch and the Great Barrier Reef

Warren Entsch was appointed Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef in the re-elected Morrison Government in late May 2019. He claimed that "the reef didn't need saving" and refused to accept that climate change was the greatest threat to the reef. This is totally at odds with what the world's climate scientists are telling us.

He went on to complain about adults "coaching" young people who quite rightly expressed deep concern for their, and the planet's, future. He said of the adults "They're frightening the living hell out of kids. It's like child abuse and I think they should be held accountable". If there was any justice in this world people like Warren Entsch would be held accountable.

The Morrison Government seems hell-bent on destroying the future that these kids will live through.

The ignorance is not confined to Liberal and National parties

Steve Fielding of the Family First Party has also 'come out' as a Climate Change Skeptic. He has called for a Royal Commission into Climate Change; why doesn't he simply seek the advice of climate change scientists rather than listening to geologists who have strong links to the mining industry?

It seems that Steve Fielding has been listening to Ian Plimer, Professor of Mining Geology, University of Adelaide. (Plimer's arguments have been dealt with in Plimer versus Monbiot; where George Monbiot points out some of the many faults in Ian Plimer's book, 'Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science'.)

In Fielding's favour(?), his ignorance is real, not perhaps pretended as in the case of the Liberal and National Party climate change skeptics.

This section added 2020/01/15

Ignorance in local government

At the time of writing, early 2020, terrible fires had burned out almost a half of Kangaroo Island, which is off the south coast of the state of South Australia.

This followed the year 2019 which was Australia's hottest and driest year on record. There were unprecedented fires in a number of Australian states and a terrible drought.

Climate scientists had predicted for decades that climate change would result in more intense fires, longer fire danger seasons and more frequent and more severe droughts. Australia's volunteer fire leaders had openly discussed the link between the fires and climate change.

In spite of all this, Kangaroo Island's Mayor, Michael Pengilly, called ex-US President Barack Obama "so, so foolish" for linking the Kangaroo Island fires to climate change!

What Mr Obama had tweeted was:

"The catastrophic fires in Australia are the latest example of the very real and very urgent consequences of climate change. It’s on us to stay focused and protect the one planet we’ve got for the next generation"
Quoting an ABC article written by Eugene Boisvert:
Kangaroo Island Mayor Michael Pengilly responded to a tweet by Barack Obama by saying climate change was not connected with the bushfire that has burnt almost half of the 4,400-square-kilometre island.

"So, so foolish in your pronouncement. My respect for you has totally evaporated. Pathetic," Mr Pengilly said of the former president on Twitter.
The only thing good about this airing of gross pig-headed stupidity is that it suggests that Pengilly's over-reaction would have been brought about by him feeling threatened by the many better informed people telling him that the fires are related to climate change.

Unfortunately this sort of denialism is still not uncommon in Australia. Mr Pengilly was a state Liberal MP from 2006 to 2018; climate science denialism is widespread in the Australian Liberal Party.