Wednesday, April 29, 2009

AWARE And Obama's National Academy of Sciences Speech

A week ago, Dr Thio Su Mien came out at the press conference of the new AWARE exco and announced that the sex education program conducted in schools under the watch of the previous exco had the ability to make students become gays and lesbians. Yesterday, the Ministry of Education issued a press statement which essentially destroyed Thio's ridiculous statements.
...Sexuality education conducted in MOE schools is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues. The aim is to help students make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality....

The schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students who attended the workshops and talks or their parents...

When Thio first made those statements using arguments that seem ridiculous, I was very intrigued as to how this could have happened: I couldn't reconcile it with the idea that Thio seems to be a brilliant lawyer! Or at least I assume that she is one given the fact that she was the first female dean of the Law Faculty at the National University of Singapore. So I wasn't able to fit the role that she plays (as a lawyer) with the assumption that her role usually entails possessing persuasive skills. Her argument are definitely not persuasive to the casual observer.

The only explanation that I could come up with then was that a higher power had replaced the 'lawyer in her'. This was of course her faith, or at least how she interpreted it. One's faith or ideology (depending on your preference), becomes the rock on which all other opinions rest on. Reasonable debates thus gets thrown out the window, rendering the person to make simple mistakes that people at the top of their fields are unlikely to make.

I am reminded just how important it is to separate a pre-determined set of ideology with facts, open mindedness and reasonable thinking; quite similar to what we call science. Two days ago, President Obama gave a speech at the Academy of Sciences when he promised increased investments in scientific research and development. He also addressed a serious issue which was seen during Bush's administration: the tainting of scientific judgement due to the influence of lobbyists and faith-based viewpoints. For example, right wingers like Focus on the Family's James Dobson had for years denied that global warming was happening because it would have been costly to businesses if that was indeed found to be true. A lot of other scientific research was also amended to suit particular ideologies ane political affiliations. This has to stop, Obama says.

On March 9th, I signed an executive memorandum with a clear message: Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation - and our values as a nation - are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.
That is why I have charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions - and not the other way around.
This is so, so important. I think that what is happening behind all the bad thinking and poor arguments from Thio and other new AWARE personnel can be attributed to a set of prior beliefs and assumptions that they hold. This ideology 'insists on its own way' and doesn't give open mindedness a chance. Instead, dissent tends to constitute a failure of faith. 'I find your lack of faith... disturbing...' that sort of thing. Another inherent difficulty is getting out of groupthink in an 'organised religion'. (Sometimes it's not exactly the organisation's fault in that the leaders haven't really planned it like that; groupthink just naturally happens.) Fortunately though, this does not describe all faith based places. There are churches which are more progressive do not interpret scriptures in similar ways.
At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it. Some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long held views. Science cannot answer every question; indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics, our values, our principles, or our faith, but science can inform those things, and help put these values, these moral sentiments, that faith, to work - to feed a child, to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this earth.
So, what the previous exco needs to do at the Extraordinary General Meeting Saturday will be to systematically demolish what the new exco have said themselves such as fear scaremongering and misrepresentation of previous work done by AWARE. There is a need for facts that concerns our health, because in matters of sex ed, we're dealing life and death issues. Presenting inaccurate information and holding on to an ideology when the evidence doesn't seem to support it cheapens the value of open inquiry. Science can help 'inform things', let's keep it that way.

Additional reading: Why smart people defend bad ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

we need thesekind of people more in our world today =D