Interstellar and the dangers of anti-intellectualism.(Minor Spoilers)

Interstellar and the dangers of anti-intellectualism.(Minor Spoilers) November 10, 2014

Although Interstellar is set in a dystopian future, one of the scenes is an all too familiar page borrowed from the present. The setting takes place in the future where crops are dying from a plant pandemic of some sort of blight. With plants gone, all life will become extinct as the atmosphere becomes unbreathable. And of course, the extinction of plants or the producers at the base of the energy pyramid will cause irreparable harm to the biosphere.

Terrifying as it is beautiful.
Gargantua: Terrifying as it is beautiful.

Why don’t they genetically modify crops? That question isn’t answered as this movie is a physics showboat. The physics are top notch, as they consulted Kip Thorne, an actual physicist for the effects. Modeling a black hole required using computer rendering software that had to be modified to do the heavy calculations involved in rendering just exactly how light, matter energy, and for that matter space and time behave around the colossal gravity of a black hole. The result was the most accurate depiction of a black hole in movie history. As a model, Thorne explained it actually taught him a thing or two that he could publish a few papers about. For physics geeks, Neils deGrasse Tyson and Phil Plait have reviewed the physics.

Physics aside, the movie also manages to model a possible outcome of the science and history revisionism that is going on right now by school boards and textbook publishers all around America. In the movie’s future timeline, America has been devastated by crop failures, and the last crop remaining is slated to fail within a human generation. All other intellectual pursuits such as space exploration have atrophied, as humanity focuses on agriculture and day to day survival. Even war-making has stopped.

Cooper, the main character, is a former astronaut and engineer.  He is called to a parent conference at his son and daughter’s school. He learns that his son was not selected by the government for college, and is slated to be a farmer. The principal explains the government can only afford to educate a slight minority of the population, as its resources are devoted to more practical matters like feeding everyone. His daughter’s teacher explains that Murphy, the daughter of a former astronaut, got into a fight over the new textbooks. The school adopted new textbooks that say that the Apollo missions were faked. The old moon landing conspiracies presented as fact to children.

It seems laughable but right now here in Texas, it is almost certain that our school board will adopt Social Studies textbooks that minimize the work of meteorologists and scientists on climate change. It’s actually a bit surprising that Interstellar didn’t use climate change as a catalyst for the human race migrating to another planet. Perhaps, they deliberately avoided climate change as so many people have been persuaded by anti-science propaganda that they would shut down, and not hear some of the other messages in the film.

Excerpt from an actual textbook proposed by a major publisher.
Excerpt from an actual textbook proposed by a major publisher. From: Washington Post article Texas Textbook Review: ‘I’d like a Biblical Check on that’

Publishers are only partly to blame for minimizing climate change data as a “belief” that “some” scientists have. Texas textbooks are bound by a new requirement to reflect at least 50 percent of the social studies standards that the Texas School Board adopted. The board can reject a textbook for not conforming to standards they themselves overly politicized costing publishers millions of dollars. The publishers could technically also exclude the inaccurate standards as long as they include at least 50 percent of the standards overall.

The board will vote to adopt textbooks from publishers, and decide whether they conform at a public hearing on Nov. 18th. The publishers have reportedly made some improvements after the September hearings Aron and I testified at, but major problems still remain. The Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education are circulating a petition for people to sign to appeal directly to the hopefully more reasonable publishers than our infamous school board that is run by politically motivated fundamentalists.  There is also another petition to protest Moses being inaccurately being portrayed as having inspired the American system of government. Truth is stranger than fiction right?

The future timeline of Earth is yet undetermined. If we don’t want the possibility of a reality devastated by human ignorance like the dystopian world portrayed in Interstellar, scientists are going to need more support and the respect of not summarily outright denying what they are saying.


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  • L.Long

    With physics one of the lasts sciences still acceptable, it makes it easy to use that in the main plot.

    As climate change, evilution, GMOs all on the chopping block in many places, ‘merica is quickly passing 3rd worlds and going to just jump to 4th.

    And although not specifically stated the underlying message of the movie is “thank you! you radical Aholes for not dealing with the problems of crops failing–ie bananas and coffee– climate change, getting a good space program going, doing more research in GMOs and stem cells and the problems in INTERSTELLAR would not be nearly as bad.”

  • I know ‘Mericans like to eulogise Europe over our acceptance of science, but when it comes to GM you guys are at least 2 decades ahead and moving further forward.

    The are virtually no GM crops grown in Europe and very few allowed to be imported other than for animal feed.

    If you did try to set a small part of your farm aside for a test crop (like they still need to be tested) I have no doubt that a bunch of self identifying Liberal Lefties would come and deliberately destroy it.

    Our general population is more scientifically aware, but our left wing politicians still only listen to a narrow band of narrow minded science deniers and woo-woo enthusiasts, who just happen to self identify as atheists rather than Christian.

    Its a poor show.

    • Narf

      Well, the GMO stuff is big business. America sold itself to big business, decades ago. Sometimes big business even does it right; you just have to watch them closely for their usual antics.

      Strangely, most of the crazed, fundamentalist anti-GMO stuff is coming from the left, which would explain why Europe is having a tougher time accepting it.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal

        It’s the green movement. I hate those guys, and yet I still call myself an environmentalist. It’s this weird mix of new-age pseudoscience drivel plus left-anarchy leanings plus nature worship.

        Yes. I mad. I’m particularly outraged at them for standing in the way to the solution of many of the worlds problems – nuclear. I’m also mad at them for contributing to the starvation of millions of people by attacking all GMO crops. Just for example, if you don’t know who Norman Borlaug is, look him up. I think Penn Jillette has it right when he calls Norman Borlaug the greatest person to have ever lived, and you’ve probably never even heard of him. How f’ed up is that?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

        > These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.

        That’s billion. With a “B”. By introducing GMO crops (and doing other things).

        • mistertwo

          I’m with you there. I try to vote Green, but I’m so surrounded by Republicans (who are also anti-GMO) that I really didn’t identify anti-GMO as a liberal bandwagon. So ironic that the thing that can conserve land and water is opposed by environmentalists. Shouldn’t they much rather champion it?!

  • mistertwo

    My ultra-conservsative Christian women friends who buy and sell Young Living Essential Oils and the appropriately named “Thieves” products are the same ones who “like” the March Against Monsanto FB page and who believe that nobody should eat gluten or drink dairy. I do have a liberal friend (from another state) who is anti-GMO, but in my neck of the woods (Southeast Texas) the conservatives are definitely on that bandwagon. Unfortunately, I don’t have whole bunch of liberal friends, so I don’t have much to compare.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal

      Of course, the green movement does not have a monopoly on stupidity nor anti-GMO leanings.

  • steve78b

    Isn’t cross-breeding actually modifying the genes of plants? Like genetics modification?

    Like the banana that we all know and love so well?