Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is science always a good thing? Anti-science always a bad one? - Denyse O'Leary

A walk into a century ago might shed some light. A review of Eugenics and the Firewall:

The pop science media today strenuously market the idea that “science” is threatened by “anti-science.”

But “science” has a restricted meaning in the view of many journalists. It means, for example, the truth of human-caused global warming, the necessity of human embryonic stem cell research, and the view that human mind is indistinguishable from the chimpanzee mind. “Anti-science” means, by contrast, doubt about human influence on global warming compared with the Sun’s cycles, confidence that adult stem cells (especially the patient’s own cells) work well, and doubt that chimpanzees really think like people.

Something is obviously wrong with the pop picture. For one thing, real sciences don’t work that way. In real science, reasoned doubt is always legitimate. Even in mathematics. Yes, even in mathematics. Recently a mathematician offered evidence that the natural numbers were inconsistent. He turned out to be mistaken, but no one blamed him for wondering. Physics has been convulsed recently as well, by neutrinos that apparently move faster than light, which is generally held to be impossible. That may turn out to be a mistake too, but reporting the data was okay. Because, contrary to the pop science media, real science happens when evidence matters.

To see how that works, let’s take a quick walk by one popular science certainty from a century ago. In the early 1900s, when Einstein and Bohr were reshaping physics, their work wasn’t considered nearly as important as this incontrovertible truth: The wrong people were having all the children.


1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Enlightening and thought-provoking, Denyse.
"... contrary to the pop science media, real science happens when evidence matters" -- I like that!
For some, that's an "inconvenient truth"!

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