Science Fiction

June 5, 2010

This is an old article I wrote for an ezine that never paid me, and I think has since folded.

In the centuries that unfolded since the Industrial Revolution, man has become more cynical, more curious, and more skeptical seeking to logically explain away old beliefs and superstitions.  As a result, there were those who would test the histories of the Bible seeking to explain away miracle as myth and to find reasonable, logical conclusions for the way things are.

            Science has replaced religion as the new modern religion.  The great halls of research and education are the temples to the twenty-first century techno-gods.  White-coated PhDs are their high priests and the media serves as their prophetic mouthpiece. 

            However, what makes science more of a religion is that its followers who demand proof, and considerations accept the final judgment pronounced by science without so much as a questioning glance.  The earth is getting too hot.  We accept it.  There is a hole in the ozone.  We believe it.  Stem cells are the cure-all for everything.  We know it. 

            It is not that science is without value or even to be devalued.  However, science must be met with the same skepticism that its practitioners claim to use.  Whenever a lone voice or perhaps a small chorus of voices challenges one of the above beliefs that have become sacred dogma to our generation, such voices are quickly shushed with condemnation.  Their opponents quickly cry foul saying that those opposing interests are being funded by this source or that.  Isn’t all scientific research funded by someone?  Does the government or public interest have any less to gain than private interest? 

            The public is in error if it is to believe that every scientific finding announced by the media is backed by all scientists or even a majority.  As one physicist said, “there is no such thing as a proven scientific fact”.  Science by nature approaches everything as theory.  And theory, by definition can never be proven, but incorrect theory can be disproved. 

            So, why does the public simply accept that the latest findings are indeed facts?  Part of it may be a lack of scientific literacy in the general public.  Another portion may be because that we are so bombarded with information that it becomes impossible to double check everything that makes the news.  The rest may come from scientists and the media themselves.

            First, one must realize how scientific “fact” is determined.  According to Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at MIT, data has to be gathered.  Usually, large amounts of data are gathered, too large indeed to work with.  So, data must be simplified.  However, oversimplify the data and it gives an inaccurate picture.  According to another climatologist, Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, if we look at too short or too recent a picture of global climate change, it will give us a slanted view of the global warming issue. 

For example, most people aren’t aware of a period known as the “little ice age”, a period of some of the coldest global temperatures on record.  The little ice age came to an end as the industrial revolution was cranking up.  Which brings up one of the first rules of scientific research, “correlation does not equal causality”?

To further exacerbate the problem, it is as John Stossel put it reporters are good at telling us what buildings burned down and what else happened today, but they do a “dismal job” when it comes to putting science and economics into perspective. On his ABC News web page, (   Stossel goes on to say that many in the media are scientifically clueless but when someone who is alarmed brings in a story idea, and then the media becomes alarmed.  Also, many scientists are not readily forthcoming with contradictory data, sometimes for fear of losing grant money.    

But, it isn’t just one-sided gloom and doom scare tactics that are used to pull the wool over our eyes.  Take for example South Korean Dr. Hwang Woo Suk whose “findings” in stem cell research had thrust him into the international spotlight just before he crashed into embarrassment with the admission that he had faked much of his own data.  The whole while beforehand, American politicians were debating the merits of funding stem cell research.

Which brings us the next problem with science—politics.  When scientific issues catch the attention of politicians, then truth becomes a convenient casualty. 

None of this is to say that scientists are inherently corrupt, but often, the media, the politicians, and the public at large jump to conclusions before they have been entirely worked out.  However, there are those with agendas on either side of an issue who will push the data that is most favorable to their cause.  The worst thing that the public can do is simply accept a statement simply on its face value.  We have learned to question the motives for war and the “evidence” that leads to it.  Surely we can question whether the party with the most environmentally conscious platform is really doing the right thing.  Or whether the latest disaster is worth a trillion tax payer dollars.