Date: Tue Jun 28 1994 00:00:02
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Knowledge gap=disaster
Knowledge gap is formula for disaster, Sagan says
06/26/94 The Ottawa Citizen
Nancy Reagan's trust in astrology, stories of alien abductions and surveys
showing one in four adult Americans doesn't know the Earth revolves around
the sun are all symptoms of the same dangerous disorder, says Carl Sagan.
"We live in a society fundamentally based on science and technology . . . and
almost nobody understands science and technology, said Sagan, the Cornell
University astronomer who has become widely known for popularizing science.
Because of the enormous power science has over our daily lives, this
knowledge gap is a formula for social disaster and political abuse, he said.
Sagan was the keynote speaker Friday for a conference, The Psychology of
Belief , sponsored by the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of
The organization was created in 1976 by scientists and others to critically
evaluate so-called "fringe science.
Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack has drawn wide media attention for urging a
serious evaluation of UFO abduction and interplanetary sexual abuse claims.
Mack contends that examination of these self-reported UFO abductees under
hypnosis indicates they are not lying and so must be believed.
But Sagan and others Friday countered that the fact that someone believes
something to be true does not make it so.
Sagan said it's statistically plausible that extraterrestrial life exists but
that this is not the same thing as proof.
"I would love it (alien visitations on Earth) even if they were short, sullen,
grumpy and sexually obsessed, he said. "But there just isn't any good
Elizabeth Loftus, a University of Washington psychologist and expert on
"false memory syndrome, also spoke Friday of the social cost of scientific
illiteracy. Loftus is a strong critic of claims of repressed memories of
Given the premise of unconscious repression that pervades psychology, Loftus
said, the public has come to accept uncritically almost any claims elicited
from people as a result of psychotherapy.
But scientific studies have shown, she said, that such memories are easily
created through suggestions made by the therapist during therapy.
Loftus said the same phenomenon was likely at play in some of the 16th
century witch-hunts. Those who urged restraint or solid evidence of alleged
witchcraft, Loftus said, were often ignored or worse.
"Skeptics were burned at the stake along with the witches, Loftus said. She
contended that the modern, popular concept of repression in psychology -- as
opposed to plain, old forgetfulness -- has