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Harvard Prof Will Explain Science to Baffled Small City America

Photo credit: Ethan Kan, via Flickr (cropped).

I cracked up when a reader, passing through Fargo, ND, sent a photo of a poster on the wall at a coffee shop. I had to think for a moment about what was so funny about the words and the image. Explaining humor always ruins it.

The upcoming presentation, “Why Trust Science?,” features “World-Renowned Harvard Professor” Naomi Oreskes and seems to have been sincerely imagined as a dispatch to the baffled, loincloth-wearing natives of Small City America. A naïve emoji person with its head exploding exclaims, “COVID Vaccines?” “CO2 Storage?” “What to Believe?” “Climate Change?” “Who can be trusted?” “My Head HURTS!!!” 

I doubt that Professor Oreskes designed the poster. One of the sponsoring organizations styles itself, “What in the World Is Going On?” What, indeed? The venue is Valley City State University in Valley City, ND. 

Professor Oreskes writes articles with titles like “The Reason Some Republicans Mistrust Science: Their Leaders Tell Them To.” That was in 2021, a bad year for “experts,” in the woke journal Scientific American. Do I need to say more about what certainly gives the impression of clueless elite condescension? As Wesley Smith wrote here last week, there are, in fact, very good reasons for not trusting much of what we read in science and medical journals, and it has nothing to do with mindlessly obeying the GOP. You can esteem the scientific enterprise, while observing “how science has been distorted by nonscientific agendas at the highest level of ‘expert’ discourse — aided and abetted by the media.”

“My Red State Pledge”

Ahead of her presentations and book signings in Fargo and Bismarck, Oreskes spoke with

Professor Oreskes when asked to give a Ted talk on trusting scientists, realized, “that title was wrong. It wasn’t about trusting scientists; it was about trusting science as a process, an enterprise, or an activity.” 

Later in the interview, Professor Oreskes also recognized that staying in coastal academic circles is limiting, often people there have interesting things to say because they live in South Dakota and see the world from a different perspective. It makes you a better scholar and a better human being when you engage with people who are viewing the world from a different perspective. So I embrace the opportunity to go to places that other people might not embrace, and I have what I call my Red State Pledge, which is, if I get invited to a Red State, I do everything in my power to accept that invitation.”

That’s cute about the Red State Pledge, and hats off to Professor Oreskes for acknowledging that her own coastal academic tribe has its limits. I hope she’ll enjoy the change of scenery. However, after all the blows to the credibility of experts in recent years, perhaps it’s the people of North Dakota who should be lecturing to Naomi Oreskes.