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Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm no scientist

But I know a good bit of science.

It's the universe's way of punishing me, I think, for all those semi-smug, semi-idiotic moments when I thought in school: I don't need to pay attention to this - I'm going to be an ARTIST.

Hey, we were all arseholes at 15, you know?

Anyway, I know a good bit of science. I don't know when I last read fiction, or even fact that wasn't science-related. I do it for work, I do it for fun too. Right now I'm reading one book about zero-fields and another about medicine, for example. They're the books by my bed.

I've come to realise that this stuff, inexpertly presented to the public, is actually all that we can be assured of in relation to our existence on this planet. Everything else, and I mean everything else, is supposition at best.

That includes art, soul, music, passion, emotions - all the good stuff, in a way. But while those things continue not to be measurable, they continue to be perplexing.

We can be sure about light in a way that we can't about love, for example. But that won't stop most people anguishing about love at some point in their lives, of course, and nor is it any succour to be aware of the fact that you can in recompense understand what photons do, even as your better half pursues pastures new.

So science is no succour, but it's all we've got. And surprisingly, we have more than most people think.

One question is how did the general public become so divorced from the currency of scientific thought to the point today where almost nobody now knows, for example, that we do not see, but imagine, since our optic nerve conveys light information received on the eyeball as information which it sends to the brain where it is recreated?

Is it the media's fault? When Einstein came up with E=MC2 it was quickly popularised, yet today it's still the best known theorem. What happened to the media so that it dumbed down below science?

Or did science become so difficult that it transcended simple translation into concepts that the public can understand? In the West at least, we have a better-educated general public than ever in history. So why the assumption that they can't understand science?

Is it because of the fact that they generally don't, even on the rare occasions in which it is presented to them?

For example, a great nuclear reactor in the sky showers us from close range with radiation, light, heat, solar energy and a number of other things too. It is many, many times larger than this planet, and it provides all of our energy sources. We call it the Sun.

Yet the vast majority of people genuinely believe that burning fossil fuels is the main cause of change in our planet's weather system, even though we have plenty of evidence that the planet has experienced big weather changes in the past.

But even scientists are buying into that one (literally, in many cases, since their research funding so commonly requires them to posit a 'global warming' or 'climate change' thesis to gain grant aid.)

So what about something self-evident, like evolution?

How come a huge proportion of people in the richest country on Earth are able to coherently believe that evolution is wrong and that an imaginary daddy in the sky planted evidence of a vast pre-human history on the planet in order to test the limits of our imagination, or faith, since the two terms are effectively interchangeable?

In short, how come Americans with all their resources, freedom and affluence, believe in 'intelligent design' (itself one of the least appropriate monikers for an idea ever, since there is nothing 'intelligent' about the ideology)?

I wish more people knew more science. That's about the only thing I agree with the government about, actually.

Science has taught me how to tell truth from lies. For example, we have the Greens in government pushing through a 'carbon tax' on carbon-based fuels in this week's budget.

On the surface, to the unscientific layman, this seems like a painful but legitimate response to combating climate change. But even let us assume that climate change is indeed being caused by us burning carbon fuels, science still tells me that this move is nonsense. Why?

Because firstly, there is no alternative. We don't have wind or solar energy feeding the grid yet. We don't have alternatives for driving our cars or heating our homes. Therefore, science tells me that this cannot stop people using fossil fuels. It will only charge them more for them. Therefore, it's a government revenue raiser.

But science also tells me that whether climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels or not, oil is definitely running out. It's a finite resource, and while we may still find quite a bit more, we really have to quickly learn how to use it a lot more sensibly, because we're definitely running out.

And while penalising people for utilising a finite resource could be a disincentive, that can only work when they can avoid the punishment by switching to alternatives.

So a carbon tax is the worst of all worlds - a punitive law designed to raise revenue with no positive benefit to society. It's today's version of the window tax introduced by an English king in the Middle Ages.

If more people knew more science, there'd be a lot more anger about that budget, I reckon. When people cease staring into their wallets and lamenting, they could usefully look at the small print hidden in the budget and see just how bankrupt of ideas this government has become.


Missing Neighbour said...

You may enjoy this.(Click the link on my name).

JC Skinner said...

If I were in charge of setting science curricula in schools, that's one experiment I'd have on the list, along with the old coke-and-mentos classic.
It really shouldn't be difficult to make science fun for schoolkids. After all, you can't blow anything up or make anything go really fast without knowing some science.

JC Skinner said...

Of course, I could simply have said, as Pop Will Eat Itself once sang, Alan Moore knows the score.

truthisfree said...

Science became "pop" sometime in the 70's, with what was regarded as nerdy becoming cool, maybe a bit too much "worship" involved, have wondered if these things become replacement religions for the new atheists who are really only atheist because again it is cool.

JC Skinner said...

You really think science went 'pop'?
I think the exact opposite - it became obscure to the public who ceased to pay attention to it.

The Shaved Ape said...

Great post. I live in Laguna Beach, California, and have never met anyone who doesn't believe in evolution. I know the weirdo "creationists" are out there somewhere, but I've never met one.

Maybe they're in Kansas. They call that state the buckle on the Bible Belt.

JC Skinner said...

LOL You're quite right. I certainly didn't mean to imply all Americans are creationists, just to express my incredulity that so many are.
I agree they're likely found wherever superstition is most rife.