Why Science? Because “Science Delivers the Goods.”

I’ve heard the above quote on “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast, it was attributed to Carl Sagan, but I couldn’t find a source, so I’ll just say that I think it’s one of his- thats besides the point.

There was an article recently at Discover Magazine, if it was a serious article, it was misguided, if not, then it’s fairly amusing. It effectively is suggesting to stop using the word science, not to stop studying science. Just to stop calling it Science. It also suggests that the cornerstone of all the modern sciences — the Scientific Method — is a “near-translucent fig leaf of an idea.” What? Thats patently ridiculous. More on that later.

I see several (thousand) problems with this, but here are two:

  1. As IDiot’s know well, you can call a duck (Creationism) by any name you like (ID), but it’s still a duck.
  2. Science is a term used to refer to a broad collection of subjects. Just like Mathematics refers to many subfields. Not using the term doesn’t do anything than make it hard to refer to the general “idea” of science. That is, the world can be understood through experimentation and reason. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Science by any other name would still be Science.

My big problem though, and maybe it’s just nitpickery, but making the Scientific Method out to be unimportant — thats almost hurtful. The Scientific Method, or TSM, as I like to call it, has provided us a means to cure the Plague, send some guys to the moon, invent the most useful metatool since the human brain — the computer, and hundreds of other amazing discoveries. How can you possibly say it’s just a “fig leaf of an idea”?

He does note a point which deserves some more attention, the decline in the interest of science in schools. I completely agree- the reason, I think, is precisely one he points out- noone advocates science anymore. Those who do — shows like CSI and Numb3rs — inspire interest in those areas. What about the rest of the sciences? Advocacy works– we see it in the examples he gives. He, however, draws a false conclusion, in that he says that advocacy won’t work- that it’s too much, too late. I disagree, we need new Bill Nyes, Carl Sagans, and more shows like CSI, Mythbusters, and Numb3rs. We need Mathematicians, Biologists, Physicists, Geologists, all of the Sciences to start getting excited about science. Science is not boring!! Science is amazing, the real world is more complex, strange, and beautiful than even pseudoscientific fiction can come up with. Evolution is amazing, the fact that we were, as a species, at one point nothing more than a bunch of proteins, and through Darwinian Selection managed to evolve and improve until we put a man on the moon. Astronomy is beautiful. If you don’t believe me, look at the pictures from the Hubble space telescope. If you don’t believe some little mathematician- go look  at the night sky sometime, out in a dark field, and just look up. See the Milky Way, get a Telescope. If you still don’t believe me, ask an astronomer to show you what they do, ask Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy to tell you the amazing things that he gets to study for a living! Imagine your job was to look at beautiful images all day, and try to find out new and interesting things about them. Computer Science is fascinating, and powerful. A computer is a meta-tool, capable of building within it other tools. CS is almost as wide a field as Physics or Mathematics, the study of computers incorporates every other science you can think of. Astronomers need computer models of space, Evolutionists need computer models of animal populations, Mathematicians need ways to visualize the models they build. Speaking of Math, Math is amazing, stunning, mindblowingly unbelievably beautiful and useful. Maybe I’m biased, but the ability to express complex interactions of just about anything with a few simple operations. How powerful the Axiomatic Method is, a few short axioms about lines and points and you achieve the beauty of Geometry and Trigonometry.

My point is, Science is amazing, and if you want it to die, you’ll have to do it over my cold, dead, mathematician’s body.

Science is beautiful.

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~ by jfredett on December 3, 2007.

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