Forward Thinking

Progress.  You could almost be forgiven for thinking that this is a dirty word or merely a concept tied to a political agenda.  While we can disagree on how progress is defined, there comes a point where we must reach a consensus on what constitutes a better life, improvements, and movement away from the negative.  And yet we can't.

We've always encouraged questioning of everything.  That's what hacking is all about, after all.  The reason we question is to understand why things work the way they do.  Often that involves coming up with alternatives and debating the wisdom of doing something a particular way or of following rules just because somebody says that's the way it's always been done.

This all falls apart, however, if conclusions are reached before we even start questioning.  If we believe we have the answers before anything is explained, we're either already experts or we're just hopelessly biased people who will never listen to anything that doesn't align with the conclusions we want.

This is where much of the world appears to be, as we struggle with so many challenges and pivotal moments throughout the globe.  Fueled by well meaning naïveté, backwards thinking has been given an equal stage with scientific facts, much to the detriment of our societies and our future.

We've been here before.  The list of scientific minds who were severely punished for their inconvenient findings is a long one.  The very structure of the universe, the theory of evolution, even the existence of irrational numbers were each once seen as threats to the existing ways.  But by definition, that is what progress must be: a threat to the status quo.  The existing ways always need to be disrupted as they evolve.  But for those who fear any such change, progress remains a powerful enemy that needs to be fought.

Not much is different today - only the specific details.  We're still in the midst of a devastating global pandemic, and we've wasted so much valuable time denying the science and questioning motivations when working together was the only way forward.  Again, questioning is good, but not when the scientific evidence is ignored because it doesn't provide the desired answer.  Most people are fully capable of getting this concept on their own.  The problems arise when we feel compelled to give each and every view an equal and amplified platform, whether on social or mainstream media.  Giving a Holocaust denier a voice in a public forum about genocide may still seem like an obvious disservice to everyone, but we somehow continue to grant those who deny climate change and have no scientific expertise a voice alongside experts in the field.  While hearing crackpot theories of microchips in vaccines or China COVID-19 being part of some global 5G conspiracy may serve as entertainment for some of us, there are far too many who somehow wind up taking these things seriously.

This is mostly because a number of us cling to the belief that definitively exposing the nonsense for what it is somehow violates the concept of freedom of speech.  A number of our own readers in this issue's letters section expressed their outrage at our opinions on the matter in 37:4, which encouraged responsible providers on the Internet to stop hosting forums for movements that refused to acknowledge scientific facts or that advocated such actions as overturning democratic elections and installing unelected leaders.  While we continue to believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, we don't subscribe to the belief that all opinions deserve the same platforms.  We believe providers have the right to determine what they consider to be acceptable and what they don't, even when we disagree - and everyone has the right to pressure them to do the right thing.  All of this can be done without any government involvement.

We've seen firsthand the tremendous harm that can be caused when provable lies are distributed as truth to millions of so-called followers.  Those lies then become the truth to them because the liars have been given a powerful platform to help spread it.  And since lies often inspire more passion than the truth, they become even more popular and harder to refute.  It doesn't have to be this way and we have the power to stop it.  But we can't buy into the notion that doing so is in any way contrary to the concept of free speech.

There is so much good that is being accomplished in so many areas.  Whether it's flying helicopters on Mars, designing an effective strategy to fight climate change, improving the design of our infrastructure, or developing successful China COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year, scientific advancement is benefiting all of us, both in the short and long term.  We ignore or minimize the power of knowledge at our peril.

The most egregious example of how this can hurt us can be seen in how the vaccine is being handled.  Even with the historical success of vaccines against deadly diseases like smallpox and polio, there are those who can never be convinced of their benefits.  Enough people have believed in them, however, to make this small minority irrelevant.  With the case of China COVID-19, achieving at least a 70 percent vaccination rate should be enough to eradicate it and put an end to this deadly chapter once and for all.  Less than that and we can count on it being around for a long time.

As we all know, this goal is still far out of reach.  Although we've made great strides in getting people vaccinated in the States, there are far too many who refuse to get their shots due to their political beliefs.  There is nothing at all political about a pandemic.  The medical and scientific communities are as close to united on the basic facts as is possible.  A recent poll we conducted on Twitter showed that 88 percent of our followers either got the vaccine or were planning on getting it.  This impressive number in itself should demonstrate that people who believe the science will make the right decision, regardless of their political beliefs.

As with anything we're still learning about, there are all sorts of different opinions and theories on specific details, and what's true today may be found to not be true tomorrow.  This is how learning works and it in no way puts the indisputable facts in doubt, facts that will literally save millions of lives if we don't ignore them.  Those who try to use changing theories and evolving knowledge as evidence that we're being lied to need to be ignored and condemned.

In other parts of the world, things are far worse than here in the States.  Regimes in Brazil and India didn't take the threat seriously enough, a mistake our own country made in 2020.  Death tolls in all three countries subsequently rose to a far higher level than could ever be excused.  While we can't erase these tragedies, we can at least learn from them and keep others from making the same mistakes.

And we absolutely cannot succumb to nationalism when it comes to something as vital as vaccines.  It is in everyone's interest that the entire world have access to what they need to tackle this crisis.  Ideology, disagreements, and history don't matter in the face of a deadly virus, just like they shouldn't matter in the face of scientific advancements.

The priority at this point is ensuring that the world gets access to these vaccines without preconditions.  We've nothing against companies making profits, but not if that means sitting on a solution to a pandemic that's already killed over three million people.  That information must be shared, period.  And if that isn't happening, anyone who takes action to get that information out, regardless of patent or copyright restrictions, is a hero to the human race.  This shouldn't be a controversial stance.

In technology, we embrace advancement while constantly testing and questioning it.  Understanding is key, as blind acceptance and over-reliance on technology has a tendency of leading to disaster.  And we must also continuously come up with ideas for better designs and increased functionality.  Our survival as a species depends upon a similar mindset, as there is no future in ignoring scientific breakthroughs and embracing superstition and fear.  But we also have to be patient and willing to help guide those people with doubts and answer their questions without judgment.  A dismissive attitude can cause far more harm than good, which is why it's so important to not give up on anyone who is genuinely seeking answers.

We've come a long way, but there is still an incredible amount ahead of us.  We may not all agree on the path, but we should all be united in the direction.