Point of View: Carl Sagan’s ‘Baloney Detection Kit’ captures us today

On 1997 the brilliant and wise sage astrophysicist Dr. Carl Sagan wrote: “In popularizing science and trying to make its methods and findings accessible to non scientists, it then follows naturally that not explaining science seems to me to be perverse. But there’s another reason: science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s and grandchildren’s time when the U.S. is only a service and information economy, when awesome technological powers are in the hands of very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority … our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what is true, we slide, almost without noticing, we slide back into superstition (religion) and darkness. The decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media … has become a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

We have arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements, including the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that few understand science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. Sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces. (Could Sagan have foreseen the Jan. 6 insurrection, election denials, the quest for power above government of the people, by the people, and for the people?).

As if to confirm his fears, comes now Sarah, Donald and the entire MAGA retinue, Mike Dunleavy, Dave Bronson and an expanding cast of evidence.

Recently, standing next to the deceitful Steve Bannon at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Ms. Palin spoke: “We can’t give up on the other corrupt acts that put our country in the position we’re in, like the 30,000 emails that were erased and, Oh, that was OK that crooked Hillary did that. Bengazi. Oh, my gosh. All these things were , ‘oh, lol yeah, we’re going to investigate’. Congress should be having these badass huge rallies on the steps of the Capitol and it should be Congressmen, they have a platform. They should be having these press conferences. They should be having fireside chats. They should do whatever they can to get at these with a message to the public to let them know what’s going on. I don’t know why they don’t seize the opportunity.”

(Can anyone decipher this unintelligible “bladderdash,” ala Don Young, after whose seat she grovels?).

Dr. Sagan has gifted us a Baloney Detection Kit . It provides a detailed list of “tools” in the kit, but I distill it as the tools for rational, factual and skeptical thinking. It must also teach us what not to do.

Or, as the American revolutionary Tom Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, “Infidelity … consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief … that mental lying has produced in society… When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind … he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.”

Today the bamboozlers have captured us. For Sarah, Donald, the MAGAs, Dunleavy, Bronson, and even SCOTUS and so many in power, the Baloney Detection meter is flashing the red alarm.

How prescient, how marvelous and yet frightful that so many brilliant thinkers could so accurately anticipate such profound moral and civil consequences for our society today.

Peter Mjos is a retired Anchorage physician.