Science vs. Opinion

During the last few years, I’ve noticed that there seems to be some confusion about the difference between science and opinions. This theme, the widening gap between these areas, has been made more and more apparent by the news coverage of topics like the anti-vaccination movement, climate change (and the deniers), and beliefs about genetically modified, or GM, foods.

When these topics appear in the media, its because there has been another argument that the science is wrong and vaccines or GM foods are hurting our kids or destroying our planet, or that humans aren’t changing the climate. The point being made is that the scientists are lying; science is wrong regardless of the evidence being presented. These views are able to catch on, and quickly, because the opponents of science and scientists are able to make reasonable-souding arguments with little or no evidence to support them.

Another problem that science has to contend with is that throughout its history, scientists have revised the hypotheses and theories that have been generally accepted within the scientific community. For instance: there was once a time when the Earth was the center of the universe. This was accepted by the scientific experts of the time. Based on scientific observations and experiments, though, it was found that the prevaling theory was false – the only thing that revolved around the Earth is the Moon. Anecdotes like this have taken place throughout the history of science. This is because science isn’t afraid of correcting itself. Where the problem comes into play is that the nature of science – to improve and revise our understanding of the natural world (and a willingness to admit when its wrong) – is exactly what the opponents of science use to “prove” that mainstream science is wrong about things like vaccines, the climate, and GM foods.

The people who make these arguments are responsible for confusing science for opinion. Their arguments are easy enough to follow (and believe) that it causes others to doubt science, to consider it an opinion, rather than the rigorous methods, data sets, and observations that make up science.

Based on what I’ve observed, listened to, and read in the news, (and the findings of a Pew Research poll earlier this year), the shift in viewing science as opinion has ties to political ideologies and the cultural demographics associated with them. Science has been associated more with more liberal and “left-wing” ideologies while “anti-science” rhetoric is associated more with the conservative, “right-wing” ideologies. In the United States, as our political process has become more polarized, with the left and right wings becoming increasingly at odds with one another, their oppositions have extended well beyond the political landscape. The political battles being fought are extending into whether or not scientists, and science, can be trusted. This is a problem.

References:

Gleiser, Marcelo. “Are Science And Truth At Odds?” 13.7 Cosmos & Culture: Commentary on Science and Society. NPR News September 02, 2015.

Funk, Cary and Lee Rainie. “Americans, Politics and Scientific Issues” Pew Research Center. July 01, 2015

Major Gaps Between the Public, Scientists on Key Issues” Pew Research Center. July 01, 2015

On hating subcultures

Throughout the 20th, and now the 21st, century, subcultures in the West have been met with pushback from the mainstream culture. From beatniks to hippies to hipsters, popular culture has had a less-than-positive view of these “counter” cultures.

A subculture is an identifiable group with its own set of cultural traits that exists within a larger culture. In the United States, to paraphrase Grant McCracken (2009), subcultures like beatniks and hipsters have been defined, in general, by their “coolness,” which separates them from the seemingly mundane aspects of the larger ‘American’ culture . It’s this coolness, according to McCracken, that makes the larger culture view subcultures in a negative light.

(This doesn’t apply to all subcultures. It only really applies to the “cool” or “hip” subcultures. There are plenty of subcultures that aren’t hated by mainstream pop-culture, car cultures for instance, however these are a discussion for another day.)

Over the last decade and a half there has been a steady stream of subcultures being portrayed in pop-culture. First, there was the metrosexual, who arose with the popularity of the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and was mocked on South Park. This group was the target until a man taking care of his appearance became accepted and eventually mainstream. Then, there were the almost universally-hated “hipsters” (a term that has meant something different in just about every decade in the last century, adjusting to whatever was ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ at the time) that, by some accounts, even hipsters hated. (Not that anyone would dare to define themselves as hipster.) Now that hipster fashion and tastes have found their way into the mainstream, nobody really hates them… or bothers to make mention of them for the most part.

Now there is another subculture that everyone can get behind hating: “The Lumbersexual”.

Part hipster, part metrosexual, and part flannel enthusiast, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a man that enjoys the aesthetic of “lumberjack fashion” – flannel shirts, blue jeans, leather boots, and beards – but living in an urban environment, wearing close fitting clothes, being covered in tattoos, and spending a lot of time maintaining their hair and beards with grooming product. The Lumbersexual also enjoys a DIY attitude/aesthetic, brewing his own beer, making soap, carving wood. Doing anything that is considered “crafty”.

Subcultures change through time, the same way that the larger culture does. Rules and norms change and adapt to the environment and preferences change based on in-culture and outside influences.

As aspects of a subculture become more prevalent or adopted by the popular or mainstream culture, media attention to the subculture subsides (it’s only entertaining if everyone is poking fun at something, once it’s you doing some of the same things, it’s your personality, or identity). When the outlier becomes the culture, what is left to “hate”?

Just as metrosexuals and hipsters were the target of mainstream ire, Lumbersexuals have filled in that space. What is interesting is that men gravitating toward a ‘manlier’ aesthetic is seen as negative. Every man wearing a flannel shirt can expect to be asked where his axe is, or how many trees he’s actually cut down. Is the outdoorsy, do-it-yourself, masculine aesthetic a reaction to urban life? Is it urban men being drawn to the masculine identity of the lumberjack-as-quintessential-American-male?

It’s hard to say.

What we do know is that Lumbersexuals are already old news. A lot of male actors are wearing flannel, jeans, and boots. It’s only a matter of time before everyone is Lumbersexual, and therefore no one is Lumbersexual. Then Lumbersexual will be pop culture. Then it will no longer be cool. Then, we’ll move onto hating the next thing until we like it, too.

Works Cited:
2009 McCracken, Grant. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. New York: Basic Books

Finding my niche

My background is in both anthropology and photography. During my time as an undergraduate in anthropology, I worked as a photographer for my university’s student-run newspaper. I had no formal training as a photographer, but I’d spent enough time behind the lens that I was able to develop my skills enough to get paid for it. It was at the newspaper that I began to develop my documentary style. From there I continued on with my anthropology education with a master’s degree.

As an anthropologist, I’ve been interested in how I could introduce photography into my work. While there were always photos mixed in with analysis in the ethnographies I read, there was never any explicit information on using photography as part of the ethnographic method. Even so, anthropology has included photography as part of the “ethnographer’s toolkit” since the inception of photography itself. It’s used as a form of data collection, sometimes as a way to illustrate a scene or a concept, and othertimes as the data itselt

Over the last 100-150 years, photography has transformed from one of the tools in the ethnographer’s toolkit, to becoming a large part of its own anthropologic subfield – visual anthropology. In addition to being part of anthropological study, photography is used in very anthropological ways, even if it’s not specifically anthropology itself: documentary and street photography. These candid styles capture people and things, the artifacts of everyday life. They can be visually interesting, capturing something we would consider strange, or of the mundane activities of everyday life. They might tell a story or they might just capture an opportune moment. They attempt to capture the human condition, which relates them with anthropology and ethnography. These methods and styles are found popularly in publications like National Geographic and photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tony Vaccaro, and Alex Webb.

Speaking of which, I recently began trying to identify my niche in photography. After spending a long period of time looking at different photographic styles and thinking introspectively about the things that I enjoy taking pictures of, and the things that I’m interested in (I still read National Geographic and wish that I could be taking those photos), what I eventually realized by looking back at what I’ve taken most of my pictures of, is that in some form or another I’ve been practicing candid, documentary-style photography since I first picked up a camera. And I’d never given it a thought.