Thirty-six percent of Americans think aliens have visited Earth, and almost 80 percent believe the government has kept information about UFOs a secret from the public...Sigh.
Dr. Brin, like many other highly-educated gentlemen, didn't pay attention in Statistics 101. If, according to a poll, 80% of people believe the government is hiding UFO information, while 36% think aliens have visited Earth, what do the 44% believe? That UFOs have come to the edge of the solar system, been photographed by CIA satellites, and then left? If 80% of people think that the government is hiding information about UFOs, it seems likely that 80% of people, or at least pretty close to 80% of people, should think that aliens have visited the Earth in some fashion. So, what does the missing 44% believe? Perhaps "UFO," or "unidentified flying object," refers not to Dr. Brin's fantasy about saucer-people-believers, but rather, about human technology that is unidentifiable by a person who notices a cool blinking light in the night sky.
Contrary to Brin, answering "Yes" on such a dumbed-down question does not necessarily mean "I believe in the saucer people," but rather, "I think the government does not inform all its private citizens every time it tests a new plane, drone or missile." The only worthwhile information we can gain from such a poorly-done sampling is that National Geographic is more sensationalist than scientific, and that there are major problems with its use of statistics.
To jump from those simplified results to "Americans are wacky and believe in aliens" is as much of a flight of fantasy as "The blinking light from that deviated UPS flight is an alien battlecruiser come to take away all the faithful." At the very least, it's "not a scientific conclusion."
Mr. Sci Fi and aliens here... and I am in the 12% who say “not!”
In that little gem, we notice that Dr. Brin is "Mr. Sci Fi and aliens." That's quite a mantle to claim in such a populated field; it rather smacks of the guy who's "Mr. Life Insurance" in your town. More importantly, it's a propertized take on his chosen subjects. There's "science," or real science, which is what smart people like Dr. Brin believe in, and then there's "science fiction," which is what they sell, but which can't ever be real (this is why people never developed horseless carriages or moon rockets).
By being Mr. Sci Fi, Dr. Brin gets to define the boundaries of real and unreal; to decree what is true and false, possible and impossible. Being that he is apprised of all classified information held by all governments and intelligence services worldwide, we know that there is no possibility, however miniscule, that he is wrong on the subject of, say, aliens or UFOs.
Any writer of science fiction should be held to a higher standard with regard to the many possibilities of what we, or a special unknown character-individual somewhere on this planet or off, might know or not know. How do we know that we're not being monitored by an advanced species that can hack our satellites, put up optical cloaks around our planet/solar system/galaxy, and make us think whatever they want about the size and composition of the universe? We don't, of course, anymore than we know that Plato's evil demon thought experiment isn't reality, and that the "person" reading this right now is not, in fact, the only real creature in existence and being fooled by the Matrix into believing in society and internet and food and air. Cogito ergo sum could even be flawed in a way we're not able to understand within only the three spatial and one temporal dimensions we may think we now perceive.
So, if a Mr. Sci Fi can't imagine these possibilities, what might be holding him back? Dr. Brin, like many postgrad industry writers, is primarily a technical writer, not an artist. His education is in "space sciences." Since we already know he's fond of standardized multiple choice poll questions, here's a standardized test question on the subject:
13. "Space sciences" is to "Astrophysics" as:
(a) "Management Information Systems" is to "Computer Science"
(b) "Pharmacy technician certificate" is to "Doctor of Medicine"
(c)"Microwave" is to "Ice Hockey"
(d) A and B, but not C
Space sciences--which could have, in all fairness, been "astrophysics" anyway without changing Dr. Brin's outlook; there are plenty of self-avowed science-priests who feel this way, with mainstream or off-brand PhDs of all kinds--equips him to understand the jargon of the trade in post-industrial corporate science. He reads industry technical journals, discovers what possibilities all the coolest theoretical scientists are suggesting, develops them a little, then creates a story around "what if mankind began mining the Kuiper Belt and a brave young man had to save an alien rock girl from exploitation?" All very cool speculation, but not the limits of imagination or reality. There are more stories out there--and more realities out there--than our current witch doctors declare to be holy. Bring out the curative leeches, Brin.
However silly traditional saucer-people may seem, it is within the realms of possibility that one given human does not know everything. We're falling back on Brin's fatal flaw: his religious devotion to science, which science once was a movement of conceiving of and studying possibilities beyond the limits of religious inquiry, and has now become a tool of dwindling the total number of approved possibilities by misinterpreting glossy magazine studies to insult non-PhDs...and to draw banal political conclusions therefrom.
Hence, the War on Science... and on all other intellectual or knowledge castes is a lot more than just politics. It is a stab at the very heart of any chance for your grandchildrens’ prosperity. Think about it. (But then, people who come here are already thinkers. You already HAVE thought about it. So I’m wasting breath.)
This one is, simply-put, beautiful. This is the language of a clever businessman. Like Sean Hannity massaging the War on Christmas, or Dubya working the War on America, Brin knows to pump up his base with an illusory attack, then compliment them for being so smart that they chose to patronize him. Because people who eat at Red Lobster are better-looking.
Notice, also, the phrase "intellectual or knowledge castes." Like Dawkins, who wants to classify people into "Brights" and non-Brights, Brin here does something that will eventually have to be scrubbed out of the science religion's official wordplay: he admits his perception of, and preference for, formally acknowledged castes of people who are smarter and better. Plato's Forms have reared their ugly head; the allusion to India's centuries of a horrible, murderous, exploitative caste system are the preferred terminology for splitting shepherd from flock.
For further evaluating the rhetoric about the war on science (which war is supposedly being fought in the country of computer-guided drone bombs and the biggest glut of technology research money in the world), let's trot out Hermann's old saw:
All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
The "War on Christmas," of course, however direly it is presented by Glenn Beck, is never meant to actually have Beck and Hannity out in the streets with flamethrowers defending Santa. It's just meant to whip up consumers to buy their books and listen to their shows. Governments sell wars; technical writers sell books and short stories.
After the Goering business, Brin continues nobly:
But that hasn’t stopped me from issuing taunts at alien lurkers. Which you can laugh at (aloud!) in Existence.
So, we've got a war on science. We've got good guys--scientists and Brin readers--and we've got bad guys--"alien lurkers" and people who answer questions the wrong way when a National Geographic polling subcontractor calls them over supper. And we've got encouragement to mock the bad guys, which can be done by...that's right! Buying one of Brin's latest books. It's a strike for science! A strike against ignorance! Don't you want to get rich like he did? Do you have the courage?
For Congress now speaks a full grade level lower than it did in 2005. Falling from grade 11.5 to 10.6. Using the Flesch-Kincaid test that gives your kids the "reads at a 10th grade level" score, the Sunlight Foundation has measured the vocabulary used in Congressional speeches over the years and found that the level has dropped suddenly. For both parties, but particularly amongst Republican Congressmen...
Here's a great standardized test question for Dr. Brin: "If Congress dumbs down their speech vocabulary during a ten year period, and during the same period, National Geographic subscription-seeking poll-takers dumb down their poll-question vocabulary, is America any worse off if David Brin doesn't notice a correlation?"
A last bit of awful fun:
I have lived in both London and Paris. I know the quirks of their inhabitants.Now, this is a worldly man. We don't doubt that he knows the quirks of the inhabitants of America, surely, but London and Paris, too? The only real word for such smarmy arrogance is "facepalm."