In which a family cheers at the suffering and death of an animal...

Monday, September 27, 2010 at 12:15 AM Bookmark and Share
Science is cold, emotionless.  It takes no moral positions, it has no fears, it's just a method for rooting out incorrect ideas by challenging those ideas with logic and data.  This is a good thing: it's what makes science so successful at giving us relatively objective descriptions of reality and how it works.

But scientists aren't science.  They do hold moral position, and sometimes they give a damn about something. That means the things they care about - be it puppies, women's rights, great music, historical buildings, or hot shoes - these things evoke emotion, and dictate action. Personally, I'm rather partial to snakes, which is why my blood boils when I watch this video of a family cheering as passing traffic repeatedly hits and eventually kills an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake...

Interestingly, I don't hate these people - I don't even dislike them (which I'll admit feels a bit odd - I feel like I should). Certainly, if I were in their shoes, I would have jumped out of the car and tried to saved the snake. But that's me - I know a fair bit about rattlesnakes, and through that knowledge I've developed a great deal of appreciation for them.

That's important, so I'll reiterate: my knowledge of snakes has brought me to appreciate them. Science may be cold and emotionless, but the factual details it provides can significantly shape our morality - our sense of good and bad, right and wrong - and I think this is generally true for nearly everyone.  I'll let Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris elaborate (although see Massimo Piggliucci's commentary for a critique of Harris's talk)...

So when I see videos like the first one above, I don't see an evil family of ruthless sadists raising sociopathic  children.  In fact, I'd be surprised if they weren't actually a rather likable and otherwise decent family.

What I do see is a family that doesn't live near a good nature center. That doesn't spend much time at high quality zoos. That lives where the schools have ineffective biology teachers. A family with no pet reptiles, maybe no pets at all. Mom and dad are almost certainly not biologists, probably don't get out into nature much, and the kids probably don't want to become doctors or social workers or biologists (yet!).

What I see is the target audience of every science and nature educator ever to speak to the public.

Ignorance is the problem, education the solution.  


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