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The need to know

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Note: Jim Thompson's column will resume in a few months. Meanwhile, The Highland County Press is republishing some of "the best of" his columns. This one was first published in January 2013.

By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist


It is becoming quite evident that many decisions affecting people far and wide are made with extremely limited or often even erroneous knowledge.

It is the price of our technological world, perhaps. Two topics come to mind.

The role of guns in modern American society is one of these. I understand that some people just want to ban them. If you come from a certain perspective, this may make sense.

However, some of the arguments being used clearly show a lack of thinking and vision. I pointed this out in a previous column. Other columnists I have read in publications around the country clearly are talking without any knowledge of the subject whatsoever. I even saw somewhere an argument that smaller shotguns, say 12 gauge, make sense, while larger ones, such as 20 gauge do not!

(As an aside, does anyone know how shotgun gauges are established? A 12-gauge shotgun has the bore equivalent to the diameter of 1/12 of a pound of lead made into a sphere. A 20-gauge shotgun has the bore equivalent to the diameter of 1/20th of a pound of lead made into a sphere. Quick: Which has the larger bore? You guessed it – the 12 gauge!)

A similar lack of knowledge is often demonstrated on global warming. Professors with important-sounding titles make pronouncements which are passed around like a game of whisper. When we finally hear them, they are often far from the mark of what was originally said, and usually reflect the biases of the last person repeating them.

Additionally, and I know you are shocked (shocked!), but there are professors out in academia who will say anything in order to get funding. I know, because a few years ago I served as the part-time industry liaison at a university that shall remain nameless. The sacrifice of science and/or simple ethics for the sake of funding was appalling, widespread and discouraging.

If one "googles" google images for pulp and paper pollution, one will find image after image of big buildings with plumes rising from them. These plumes are water vapor. The average person does not know or understand that for every pound of paper that is made, roughly one pound of water is evaporated and sent out these vent stacks. (I am not talking about smoke stacks).

Ignorant photographers assume this is pollution, when it is as harmless as the steam from the tea kettle on your stove. Others come along, see these pictures and read the captions as being authoritative on the subject. Ignorance multiplies.

Similar examples of a lack of knowledge are everywhere.

I am also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. While much is made of ethics in this organization, it seems little is made of raising the level of scientific knowledge.

Hence, professional members of my own avocation seem guilty of relying on others for this important information. Not only have they often become merely regurgitators, without the knowledge, they know not the veracity of such expellations.

So, all-in-all, our future course as a country is often set by voters who do not have the best information and further may not have the skill-set themselves to discern good information from bad. Add to that, the bloggers and others, who may, through either carelessness or deliberate attempts to deceive, supply a portion of the world's opinions and news today.

It turns out we may be no more informed on scientific matters than the good citizens of Salem who routinely dunked witches in the pond.

What to do in an ever more technologically complicated world? Perhaps we could turn to our community colleges. They are ubiquitous, within commuting distance of nearly every American. They also seem more immune than the average behemoth university to the ethical lines that sway the bias toward money over accuracy.

I say encourage the community colleges of America to offer evening courses in basic science, geography and government. Higher level than high school, but more practical in application. Let's incentivize the population who successfully complete these courses by some sort of local tax break.

Then, let's not stop there, let's take this further with the media reporters. Let's give them a certificate of some sort for completing basic courses in the subjects on which they report.

This will help their careers, too – setting them apart from the common blogger.

When one looks back in history, public education was established, not to train people for employment, but to train voters to be intelligent in a democratic society.

Education has lost this purpose and, as mentioned earlier, today's voters' knowledge of critical issues is often nearly as ignorant as the fine citizens of old Salem, Massachusetts.

It is imperative we fix this now.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga., following decades of wandering the world, and is a columnist for The Highland County Press.

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