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One of the controversial Muhammad CartoonsI’m sure you have all heard about the controversy surrounding cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims forbid images of Muhammad and though Shi’a Muslims do allow representations of Muhammad any depiction of him must be done with respect and dignity. Because of the Danish cartoons many Muslims were quite pissed off. In true religious insanity they wanted the heads of the cartoonists because of the disrespect done to Muhammad and because the images depicted Islam as violent.

So why does Islam get so touchy about images of Muhammad? Christianity seems perfectly fine with showing Jesus as black, white, Asian, young, old and pretty much anything else you can think of. Some of the most beautiful art ever made has featured Jesus yet Muhammad is strangely neglected in the world of art.

From the Qur’an
Shakir translation
Chapter 21 : Al-Anibiya (The Prophets)

When he said to his father and his people: What are these images to whose worship you cleave?

They said: We found our fathers worshiping them.

He said: Certainly you have been, (both) you and your fathers, in manifest error.

They said: Have you brought to us the truth, or are you one of the triflers?

He said: Nay! your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, Who brought them into existence, and I am of those who bear witness to this:

And, by Allah! I will certainly do something against your idols after you go away, turning back.

So he broke them into pieces, except the chief of them, that haply they may return to it.

The earliest surviving image of Muhammad made in 1315 and showing Muhammad re-dedicating the Black Stone at the Kaaba.

This passage from the Qur’an is talking about idolatry and is similar to the story of Moses on Mt. Sinai getting all worked about the golden calf. We have to dig a bit deeper to get at the real meat of the issue.

From the Sahih Bukhari
Volume 9, Book 93, Number 648:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

I heard the Prophet saying, “Allah said, ‘Who are most unjust than those who try to create something like My creation? I challenge them to create even a smallest ant, a wheat grain or a barley grain.’ “

The Sahih Bukhari is known as a Hadith which is a written form of the oral traditions regarding discussions “relevant to the actions and customs of the Islamic prophet Muhammad”. These Hadith are used as tools to help Muslims gain a deeper insight into their faith. They are a supplement to the Qur’an on issues either not covered in that text or that may be open to interpretation because the teachings are not clear. These Hadith are considered cannocial but are not technically part of the Qur’an so there is plenty of room for disagreement which has led, in part, to the divide between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.

Putting aside the history lesson and any of the deep religious reasons for controlling (or forbidding) a “graven” image of Muhammad there is another benefit. Think about it this way – Miles Davis, Jim Morrison and Maynard James Keenan are all potent public figures who knew that people will want them even more if during a concert they turned their back to the audience. Anticipation motivates people and in some ways makes the presenter even more powerful because he remains something of a desired mystery.

15th century illustration in a copy of a manuscript by Al-Bîrûnî, depicting Muhammad preaching the Qur'an in Mecca.

In the movies of the 30’s and 40’s the screen would go dark when the characters were about to have sex and your imagination was left to fill in the blanks. This same method then turns Muhammad into a much more of a personal experience for those who believe in him because each believer is investing a bit of themselves into the experience. A Christian has plenty of images of Jesus with which to stare at but it becomes a less personal investment made by the viewer. Instead of a happy profile of Muhammad hanging on the wall on the other side of the room like Jesus, Muhammad is right there in your minds eye – a visualized manifestation created by the individual that is always present. He becomes not only a God from a holy text but also a God you have helped to create for yourself.

This close attachment to Muhammad may be why Muslims are so much more fervent about their faith than modern Christians. 1000 years ago Christian icons of Jesus were harsh and angry and motivated people to do terrible things (to Muslims ironically enough) but over time the image softened and so did the Christians. Islam, on the other hand has taken the opposite route. Before the 16th century images of Muhammad were more common but then artists began painting him with either a veil covering his face or even just as a glowing bright light.

Illustration portraying Muhammad preaching to his early followers. 15th century illustration kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.Muhammad at Mount Hira (16th century Ottoman illustration of the Siyer-i Nebi)Though many Muslims do allow Muhammad to be shown his image is tightly controlled because Islam understands the power their prophet can have over the faith. Since the Qur’an requires supplemental texts to clarify murky issues and with the deep divisions already present within the Islamic faith, keeping Muhammad on a tight leash keeps the faith from spiraling out of control because they are controlling its most important figure.


To conclude two days of posts I want to impress upon you that art can be a powerful tool even if many people may not know why or how. Since religion relies on faith in the unseen, the decisions made in depicting various important holy figures plays a large role in the lives of the believers and can literally alter the tenor of the faith. By controlling art, music, literature and other forms of human expression a religion can become a powerful vice with which to hold people inside of.

Islamic protesters in London denouncing the Danish cartoonsThough there are theists who believe they are well meaning in limiting the sorts of expression that should be publicly acceptable (banning books in high schools, denouncing rap music, etc), what is really going on is just plain and simple control over free will. Something seemingly as simple as a friendly picture of Jesus or a veiled image of Muhammad has a deeper meaning than just some fickle taste in art because it can literally change the world and they way people “choose” to see the world.


Nearly everyday I get junk mail from some church wanting me to attend a service, join a bible study or give money to them. The advertisements are usually pretty slick too; glossy paper, color images and bright, bold text proclaim eternal salvation through the glories of modern printing. One thing most of these fliers have in common is the face of Jesus staring back at me. He is usually represented benevolently with open arms and a ray of light behind him – very welcoming and non-threatening. Somehow I doubt this is the image Jesus would approve of if he had an agent since he was prone to more assertive measures to get his message across.

A few weeks ago I received an oversize, 4 page flier requesting my presence for a seminar titled “Israel and the Countdown to Armageddon”. The presenter, a smarmy looking young man named H.S. Rester was giving a free conference about Bible Prophecy and if I acted quickly I could receive a free DVD about other “Unfolding Revelations“. Basically this was to be another end times sermon designed to pick and choose fuzzy bits of the Bible to scare suburban soccer moms into religious submission. All in all, the advertising was exciting with F-18 fighter jets flying over Israel, troops carrying guns, a very D&D dragon, a lion with wings and a 666. On the back cover was something I did not expect, this:

Jesus?What? Who is this guy? Is that Jesus? Sure enough the Christian savior actually looks like he’s from the Middle East. Shocking! Needless to say I was surprised since most images of Jesus are far more, how should I put this, ethnically biased.

I live in the very suburban Front Range community of Fort Collins, Colorado and most everything I see is white-watered down to keep me feeling safe. Though we have a large Hispanic community, there is very little in the way of any real ethnic diversity so seeing a Middle-Eastern Jesus on my glossy, end of the world flier really sticks out.

Since 9/11 I would have imagined that portraying Jesus as being from the Middle East (which the Bible clearly says he is from) would be a bad PR move. Anything even remotely resembling the Middle East is considered scary these days in America. Terrorists are supposed to be from that part of the world, but not the Christian savior, right? But actually I was kind of glad that the people promoting the end of the world seminars were actually getting at least one bit of information right. For all their nonsense about the marks of beasts, four horseman and outrageous Biblical interpretation they at least moved a step closer to realizing their prophet was a Jew from Israel. Sure, the above image still leaves something to be desired in terms of accuracy but maybe the days of the Anglo-Saxon, Romanesque hippie are drawing to an end.

The white Jesus has always bothered me because I think Christians need to face facts and stop watering down their faith with friendly, nice guy pictures of Jesus holding lambs and smiling with his 12 buddies as happy children run behind him tossing palm leaves. How is anyone going to take a guy who looks like he travels with Phish supposed to be the same guy that’s going to judge all souls come time for the apocalypse? I thought religion was supposed to be serious business and not a feel good romp through the meadow.

In my opinion white Christians like to avoid the nasty side of their religion. They like to make it easy on themselves to continue believing. They want to feel righteous and to do so they strip away all the stuff that clearly states they are poor sinners who could quite easily go to hell for all eternity. White Christians want to feel good all the time without any of the guilt.

Scary Jesus?Here is a very early image of Jesus. This fresco was painted in Daphni, Greece around 1100 and it can be found in the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin. The title is “Christ Pantocrator” which in Greek means Christ the Almighty. Some familiar features are visible such as the beard, long hair and thin face. His expression, though, is far more foreign that when we are used to seeing. Here is a man to be reckoned with, his large eyes look away from the viewer as if he has more important things to worry about than just you. The hand he keeps on the bible is interesting in that it is twisted and seems ready to drop that bible to punch someone if need be. Jesus is not smiling either because he is serious business and he means it. Overall he looks kind of mean and frightening but I bet you would not want to piss him off either. He certainly lives up to the name of this work.

Kingly Jesus?This next image was done by Orcagna around 1354-57 and is titled “The Redeemer”. Here Jesus has been given a bit of a face lift to make him look somewhat more Italian since the artist was working in Florence, Italy. We still have the long hair and beard but now he is staring right at us and with his glowing crown he seems to be passing judgment on the viewer. He is still not smiling and his insensitive eyes make the viewer fear him somewhat like the above image but he at least looks like he could be related to any good Catholic Italian and thus he seems like an accessible savior who can be reasoned with. The title “The Redeemer” suggests as much anyway.

Friend Jesus?Sad Jesus? These two images (left & right) were both painted in the late 1400’s. The painting on the left is by Schongauer and is titled “Noli Me Tangere” (Christ With Mary Magdalen). The image on the right is by Geertgen Tot Sint Jans and is titled “Christ As The Man Of Sorrows”. Here both artists are appealing to our empathy. Gone are the angry, judgmental figures from 400 years earlier. The Jesus we are now seeing is frail and almost feminine and seems somewhat weak in the face of evil. Both paintings feature women who are reaching out towards him and instead of Jesus being an imposing, king like figure he is more of a friend who we can feel sorry for. Here is someone willing to die for all of human sin so that we don’t have to. He will take the pain away unselfishly so that you can go about your day without having to worry about all that yourself.

Cryptic Jesus?In this detail of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci (which was painted in the late 1400’s as well) we get more of the same. Recently much has been made about this painting and it’s supposed hidden meaning. True, the symbolism of the number three is used all through the painting (3 windows, triangles, apostles in groups of three all represent the trinity) but these meanings are usually lost on the casual viewer. Sure most people can “feel” this is an important work of art and may marvel at it’s beauty but the image of Jesus is surrounded by cryptic meanings that only scholars can ever really appreciate. Leonardo give us a Jesus that is all math and symbolism, his meaning is shrouded in mystery and code. Jesus moves further away from having any real, down to earth meaning for the common man and becomes just another Christian symbol.

As the ages pass the images of Jesus become less and less what he probably would have hoped to portray himself. Forgotten is any message he may have had because it has been replaced by artists who wanted to make him less threatening in hopes to bring in more converts to the churches commissioning their work. Jesus the friend of man, Jesus the nice guy, the good looking white man who will forgive you no matter what you do is what we have left all in the name of Public Relations.


Bored Jesus?

The above image is what remains of the guy. A portrait and profile of a white guy with a nice Romanesque nose and golden, flowing hair. He may be looking to heaven but I don’t think it’s because he is praying but rather because he is bored. In short, it’s a silly image.

Young black Jesus?Rasta Jesus?There have been attempts to put the meaning back in the art though. The image on the left paints Jesus as a sort of pissed off black man and that’s not too surprising since it was made in the 1960’s. The right image is from the Caribbean and both images are trying to engage the viewer. They both have an iconic quality similar to the famous icons you see in Russia in that they are both looking right at you, ready to take you on and judge you. Jesus may not have been a black man but the point is you can’t hide from this guy because he will find you.

So why am I so concerned about how Jesus is portrayed in art? Basically it’s because I’m sick of Christians who believe in Jesus as the savior yet have absolutely no idea how to deal with him. I find it hypocritical that Jesus is just watered down faith with no substance. White Christian Americans love to proclaim that Jesus will send you to hell for not believing in him as your personal savior when at the same time they strip away all meaning Jesus has just to make their lives more comfortable. Christians may say they believe in Jesus, but which one? What Jesus are they worshiping every Sunday (when the game isn’t on)?

Blood soaked Jesus poster from Central America Christ Syndrome Chocolate Jesus Hirst's Resurrection Indian Jesus
Dr. Jack Kevorkian The Arrival of 1095 H.R. Giger's Satan I Nexus II Jesus By Robert Craig at
Serrano Andres

Let’s call him Stanley, an elderly gentleman who suffers from manic depression and mild mental retardation due to complications at his birth. Stanley grew up in Missouri on the farm way back in 1930 and spent much of his youth working and going to church each Sunday. Stanley is a very outgoing and friendly man who loves to talk for hours about cars, farm equipment and his family. Due to his disability Stanley can at times during the manic phase of his depression be extremely stubborn and nearly impossible to reason with. When Stanley’s family could no longer care for him state institutions assumed the role as care provider. Some of these facilities resorted to physically restraining Stanley to a wheelchair during his manic phases. Now try to imagine your own grandfather tied to a wheelchair, his dentures removed and his needed medications withheld. Imagine that during your visits his eyes fill with tears when he sees his friends and family coming towards him. Now try to imagine doing nothing at all for him, in effect turning your back and leaving him at the mercy of a state run agency.

For most, if not all of us, we would do everything legally and even illegally possible to remove a loved one from such an environment. But every day millions of adults who have developmental disabilities have no one to go to bat for them. Their fate resting upon the charity of complete strangers. Are these people less important because their families have died or even abandoned them?

Millions of Americans must deal each day with a developmental disability, a population more commonly known as the “mentally retarded”. For a lucky few care providers strive towards helping them attain a higher degree of independence which in turn gives their lives the same meaning and purpose we all strive for. For many though, like Stanley, each day is filled with hopelessness and despair.

Much of this suffering is due to ignorance of the disability. Many people assume those who are mentally retarded have only the minds of children and cannot possibly know what is going on around them, but this is a terrible misconception. Like any other disability such as blindness or an amputation, only part of the person is disabled while the other parts function normally, in some cases even better to compensate. Would then this not be true for someone who has a mental disability? When we realize that a mental disability effects only a part of the person, we must then acknowledge that the rest of the person is perfectly healthy. How then can we continue to allow adults to suffer inhumane treatment, to be subjected to near torture and have their dignity stripped from them? The only answer is that more resources need to be made available to people and agencies who deal with developmental disabilities.

In 1998 I have began working with this population at a local facility. I worked directly in the home of the “consumers”, which is the insider term for referring to those persons receiving services. This is the same work my grandmother devoted herself to when I was a child and her experiences have given me a unique insight to the dilemmas and concerns of working with the developmentally disabled. From a very early age she would take me along to work with her to learn and see the conditions, which back in the late 1970s was nothing more than an old mansion donated to the state for mental patients. Many of the adults had been institutionalized since birth, never knowing independence, responsibility, or even how to sit and eat at the dinner table. Since funding was so scarce the institution had difficulty even providing nutritious meals consistently let alone providing an educated staff whom could offer reasonable care.

Now twenty years later, though some agencies provide excellent care, many more agencies operate in terms equivalent to a dark ages. Much of this can be due to a combination of a lack of funding, which seems odd considering the prosperous economic times we are currently enjoying, and a lack of education on the subject. Sure, we may all want to help the mentally retarded, nobody needs any convincing of that, but how do we overcome the social ignorance of the subject which is at the very heart of the problem?

Recently I had the opportunity to go bowling with my friend “Robert” who is moderately disabled. Having great difficulty communicating verbally, several obsessive compulsive behaviors and since his eyes do not look straight ahead but rather point outward, Robert, upon first appearance, would seem unable to take part in the sport. I was pleasantly surprised when he bowled near a 200 each game. I had forgotten one of the golden rules: never underestimate your fellow man. Not only was my friend an outstanding bowler but my watching the pride in his eyes and in his walk reaffirmed in me that, though he may be disabled in some ways, so was I. We must never forget that the disabled are human beings with feelings and dreams who each have desires and abilities.

All through history we can find examples where people who are different have been misunderstood, abandoned, and even left to die. The human animal has always considered physical weakness as a threat to the tribal community. Possibly when man had to hunt wild game in order to survive in the wild was this the only way to ensure success. The ancients of Greece exposed babies which bore signs of abnormalities on mountainsides for the wolves. During medieval ages persons who were different might have been accused of being a witch or demon and executed. American folklore is colored with tales of the town idiot, a fool portrayed as an eternal child or human animal capable of the bestial activity. The mentally retarded “are perceived as deviant, different, and economically unproductive” (Bogdan 15).

History holds the answer to why those who are different, and mostly those with a mental disability, have been mistreated. We fear. The mentally retarded “represent an embarrassment to others” (Bogdan 15). Fear is still the reason why parents who have a child with mental retardation will put them up for adoption. Some parents may retain a legal status over their children, but place them in institutions for their entire life and rarely take part in their lives. Right from the moment their lives begin they have been abandoned and not given a fair chance to make an impact on the world and to be productive. When this crucial first challenge is missed private and state agencies must provide care for these individuals. Unfortunately the opportunity is often lost even at this stage.

Recently, during an interview with an interviewee, a young woman talked about the agency she had just come from. When asked to cite an example of a challenging situation she had to deal with she spoke of how two individuals who were roommates at this facility wanted to have an intimate relationship. She decided the best solution was to remove the door to their room and forbid any such behavior from occurring. Not once did she or the other staff stop to consider the rights of these two people. They managed only to strip them of their dignity and take away something which no person has the right to refuse another. For obvious reasons our agency did not hire this person. Incredibly this situation is common and occurs every day in our civilized and enlightened society. People who are in positions of care have so few skills and education that these disabled persons may never have the opportunity to lead a full and independent life.

Funding plays a key role in this tragedy. Agencies who desire to give the best care cannot afford to hire staff with the necessary skills to carry out that plan. Even when a staff is assembled that does care and does everything it can to provide the best service, a lack of training and education will once again fail the person receiving services. A good example is to go to your local library and collect all the books on the subject of developmental disabilities. You might be surprised to find all the books fit into a neat and tiny pile of terribly outdated resources. This explains why even parents who are involved in their disabled child’s life turn to agencies because there is just not enough information available to educate the public on the subject.

These agencies have subsisted on such minimal funding for so long that their policies reflect outdated standards and the managers are too tired and stressed out to care anymore. State institutions are even worse because they are controlled by bureaucrats whose only concern is for the bottom line and not with the patient. Facilities such as these are the most antiquated and useless of all. Many still resort to tying people like Stanley up to their wheelchairs rather than offer a needed service. The only possible solution for cleaning up these institutions is for citizens to demand their legislators to provide more funding and educated staff into these facilities.

When families do want to provide for their disabled children and they discover that there are no adequate agencies available they must resort to providing the services themselves. With such little information on the subject a parent must “play it by ear” hoping that they are providing the best care for their child while at the same time helping them be more productive and independent. In many cases this can be only half the battle though for many developmentally disabled persons suffer from physical ailments which can strap a family financially. Medical insurance policies can be extravagantly overpriced and medications can cost some persons thousands of dollars every month. How can a family working three jobs be expected to provide the necessary care? Medicaid, Medicare and other social agencies have restrictions on what types of care can be given. Everywhere one looks there are brick walls set up to impede the success of a mentally disabled person.

In the June 1994 Developmental Disabilities Journal, Barbara Hanft, an occupational therapist, describes the pitfalls of parenting a child with a disability. She speaks of the rift between health care professionals and the parents. Often a parent can become extremely stressed out and appear to be doing a “bad” job. Sometimes families may disagree with the professional and again be labeled as a “bad” parent (Hanft 5). These issues can only hinder a persons ability to receive the appropriate services. In a case such as this, when all parties are concerned for the care of an individual, it becomes clear the many impediments which can stand in the way of success for a disabled person who is attempting to receive/provide good care.

These issues would seem of even greater importance if for some reason you were to one day become mentally disabled much as another one of my friends had become. He had been a healthy and independent young man until a head injury on the job site caused brain damage. “Chris” has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder that has caused numerous injuries when he has fallen. Chris must wear a helmet wherever he goes and he must also wear a large belt with hand loops so that staff can assist him in walking. He now relies on the services of others to help him with everyday tasks such as bathing and shopping. Luckily he has found an agency which can provide the best possible care but there are many more like him who have not been so lucky. These are people just like you and me, people who remember a time in their lives when they were totally independent and who now must rely on the care of strangers.

At the very core of the entire problem is an issue of self-esteem. When society labels a group of people as being useless to the productivity of a community how then could these persons ever be expected to have a reasonable chance to explore their many talents and skills? By ignoring this population we are in effect saying we do not care. Even if we do care, we cannot simply assume others are providing for these people effectively.

All our resources must be made available to the developmentally disabled. With the economy of the United States having never before seen such growth and prosperity Americans are enjoying a standard of living unparalleled to the rest of the world. Yet many Americans are not being allowed to take part in this success because they have not been given the skills necessary to make a positive impact and even worse must deal with the discrimination of being “mentally retarded”.

There are never going to be easy solutions to this problem, years of prejudice and ignorance must first be overcome before we can ever expect appropriate funding and services to be allotted to the persons and agencies who are desperately needing them. When the funding issues have been dealt with then one can expect to see an influx of care providers into the field because they can expect a reasonable wage to be earned in the field. But for now hundreds of thousands of children and adults languish in inadequate facilities – their talents lost, their potential being wasted by agencies not even trained to recognize them. Surly this tragedy can no longer go unnoticed, money and education must be made available immediately. Stanley should never again have to fear the day when he is strapped to a wheelchair and left to die alone.


Works Cited

Bell, Leland V. Treating the Mentally Ill: From Colonial Times to the Present. New York:Praeger Scientific, 1980.

Birren, James E., Dennis K. Kinney, K. Warner Schaie, and Diana S. Woodruff. Developmental Psychology: A Life-Span Approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

Bogdan, Robert, Steven J. Taylor. Inside Out: Two First Person Accounts of What it Means to be Labeled ‘Mentally Retarded’. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Hanft Barbara. “The Good Parent: A Label by Any Other Name Would Not Smell as Sweet.” Developmental Disabilities: Special Interest Section Newsletter 17 (1994) : 5.

Meyers, Robert. Like Normal People. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.

Morales, Armando T., Bradforn W. Sheafor. Social Work. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,1992.

Photo credit AFP

Believed to have lived for 300 years, the birthday of the Hindu Guru Jai Shri Bawa Lal Dayal Ji Maharaj is celebrated across India during the Magh Month (usually between January and February). The young men in the photograph above are taking part in a fire breathing ritual in Amritsar. 2007 marked the 652nd anniversary of the guru’s birthday.

Money, it's a crime ...

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are interested in science and you want to learn more about it. Maybe you’re tired of creation vs evolution debates and you want to do the research yourself, or maybe you just want to become a more informed citizen. Whatever your reasons, you have a few options but none of them are all that appealing.

First, you can obtain most of your information online (as most people do). This includes subscribing to the various RSS feeds such as National Geographic, Scientific American,, and the PLoS journals. Now, aside from PLoS, what you can expect from these services is a wide assortment of scientific news written for the average lay person by a professional writer or journalist. Many of the topics will be media friendly because each site makes money off of online ad revenue and will not be very in depth. You will get a decent overview of the topic at hand but often you will notice that further reading is required.

The PLoS Journals are unique in that they are professional, peer reviewed journals that scientists pay to publish in. They are really no different than other professional journals and are often quite good. PLoS, hopefully, is the wave of the future, but we’ll get back to them a little later.

Your next option would be to subscribe to a print magazine. Again, much of what you can find online will also be found in the magazine, but sometimes the articles are slightly more in depth. Over the years I have subscribed to National Geographic, Scientific American, Astronomy and others. Lugging around boxes of 10 year old magazines (heavy, I might add), can be allot of trouble but at least you can hold them in your hand. Once more, the magazines make money from the advertising contained within so the articles are usually written for the lay person, though on occasion you might come across something with some meat in it (though not often). The real difference is that you have to pay $20-$40 a year for 12 issues of a popular print magazine.

The final option is to go right for the jugular and subscribe to a real peer review scientific journal. These are not called magazines because they are not condensed news and are written by the scientists who actually did the research (well, usually some poor grad student typed it up, but you get the idea). The language can range from well written (a scientist with some liberal arts influence) to downright cryptic (a scientist who expects to only write for other scientists in their field). In other words, very often you will need a degree in the subject you are reading about. The largest hurdle to a peer-reviewed journal is the price. A subscription to Science or Nature is double that of Scientific American, but you do get 52 issues per year. Other journals are much more expensive – in some cases costing thousands of dollars annually. I’ve compiled a list below of some of the more popular and well regarded journals:

General Science : Science : $99.00 (weekly, online only)

Astronomy : The Astrophysical Journal : $1525.00 (weekly, online only)

Chemistry : Journal of the American Chemical Society : $3589.00 (weekly)

Physics : Physical Review : $40.00 (monthly)

Biology : Cell : $179.00 (bi-monthly, 26 issues)

Medicine : New England Journal of Medicine : $99.00 (weekly, online only)

Total Annual Subscription Rates : $5531.00 (does not include shipping rates or ISP fees)

For a real, in depth journey into the bowels of scientific research, you can expect to pay nearly $6000 annually to stay up to date on the latest, greatest discoveries (a few of which may even remain relevant in the face of newer research for a year or two).


So, what is the concerned, scientifically minded citizen to do? Personally, I get allot of my information off of the web and through books at Barnes & Noble and Trouble is, that even though I have a good mind for science and I can usually weed out the bollocks from the real stuff, it’s hard to really know if what I’m getting is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unfettered, un-hyped, un-sensationalized truth.

About 100 years ago (or more), it would have been possible for one person to stay atop and even contribute somewhat to the scientific process. One person working alone in his basement could perform experiments, make observations and create new technology that might better the world in some way. Back then, science was seen as a new frontier and a ways with which humanity could finally pull itself from the medieval ooze of religious darkness into the great enlightenment of a bright and useful future. Everyone, from old ladies to young people were excited about the possibilities of progress and science because it seemed that finally the mysteries of the universe were at our fingertips and all we had to do was muster the courage and imagination to forge ahead with our grand ideas.

Today, however, that is simply not the case. While it may be possible for the lay person to make a breakthrough (such as an asteroid hunter making an astronomical discovery), the chances of you or I contributing in any significant (or even insignificant way) to the scientific process is pretty much nil. The cost is simply too high. Even a decent telescope such as a 10″ Meade reflector (though I prefer a good refractor because I’m old-school and I appreciate quality optics) will set you back thousands of dollars.

This high cost of science is a major contributing factor to the decline of the popular scientific process and it’s no wonder that science and scientists are not held in any high regard by a major portion of the American population. People are skeptical of science because it’s practically impossible for the average Joe or Jane to independently verify the results or even comprehend the findings in print format. What we are left with is relying on paid professional journalists to “dumb down” the science in such a way that it’s readable but also very often misleading. These journalists may only focus on one aspect of a discovery and totally disregard the other research solely because it is “boring” and won’t sell magazine subscriptions. To compound the frustration, when these journalists “get it wrong” people become even more skeptical. I’m sure most of you can easily count how many times you’ve read a retraction or addendum to a major discovery.

Science, then, has become such a foreign culture to our lives (even though we so heavily rely on it), that we just don’t think about it anymore. Many people not only don’t think about, they outright don’t trust or believe it. Think about how many people believe global warming is a hoax, or that the moon landing was faked, or that evolution is a lie. Now imagine if the scientific process was more accessible to the average person. Do you think we would still have this mistrust of science in general?

PLoS Online Scientific JournalsI spoke earlier about the PLoS journals and I want to point to them as a reason for hope. PLoS is freely available to the general public, and though the language can be very daunting in each article, it is not impossible for a fairly intelligent person to make sense of what they are reading about, even if some of the details are a bit fuzzy. My hope is that in the future, we will see more of this type of publication so that more people can gain access to a very important part of the personal education.

However, scientists themselves must also be responsible for what they publish. Though it would be impossible to write a full paper dealing with the quantum fluctuations of the atomic structure of the nitrogen atom in a superheated state without relying on some “thick” language, it should not be written in such a way that someone with a good mind can’t read it either. The other main reason why science is not trusted anymore is because nobody knows what the hell scientists are talking about. Yet scientists are really just teachers, right? They explore the unknowns of the universe and report their findings, yet when they (or their grad students) type up the paper, they too often forget that they need to be writing in a style that is assessable to more than just the 5 other people in their field.

Science has a responsibility to the people who will ultimately benefit from the process – you and I. Though I would never require scientists to “dumb down” their findings for the average citizen because it is also our responsibility to raise our own intelligence as well, it should never the less be a requirement that scientists never forget why they are doing the research in the first place. Science must be held accountable to not only present their findings in a clearer and more concise manner, but they should also explore every possible alternative to publish those findings so that the majority of people have reasonable access to them. $6000 a year for journal subscriptions just is not going to cut it anymore.

Scientific journals need to stop stealing the science away from the average citizen because they have been a major reason why people have wandered off to study Intelligent Design and Young Earth theories. I mean, think about it, do you see this fake research being sold to Christians for $1000 annual subscription rates? Of course not because if that were the case, nobody would read that crap either. Yet the people who wish to dabble in falsehoods and fake science, understand economics much better than the real scientists do. They know that if they keep the cost down, they can reach the brains of millions more people and influence their thinking.

I’m not saying science should be free, but science can no longer be practiced for such a high cost because if it does, we will only see even more people put their faith in the cheaper sciences (psychics, faith healers, creationists and the rest of the bull). I do understand that science is an expensive field (particle accelerators don’t exactly grow on trees, you know), but if more average people were excited about science, they would be more willing to allow their tax dollars to go fund such expensive programs.

It is high time we put the scientific process back in the public eye because the days of white lab coated, goggle wearing, funding greedy, secretive scientists will only lead to another demise in enlightened civilization. Do we really want to live in a future where prayer replaces medicine, where astrology predicts when to plant the crops and where alchemists attempt to create the next alloy for a space craft?