On one hand, you might think that I’d approve of the recent “March for Science” because if you’ve read this blog for more than a few minutes you’ll realize I’m a fan of the scientific method. Secondly, I recognize that the world seems to be increasingly full of derp and bringing the value of science to the forefront seems like a damned good idea.
But…. nope. Couldn’t have cared less about the “March for Science.” Largely because it didn’t seem to be a “march for science,” but rather a “march for some science and for certain politics.” Now, granted, the right wing, which I suppose most people would at least nominally lump me in with, seems to be on a particularly anti-science course. The tardtacular creationists seem to be creatures almost wholly of the right, and they’re sheer wrongness is as obvious as a suicide bomb. The current administration (which is somehow assumed to be right wing, against all evidence) seems to have a hardon for slashing science funding. But the left has their anti-nuclear idiots and the anti-GMO scumbags… and even their pro-science advocates often seem to be more religious zealots than adherents to a methodology that starts off with “well, maybe I’m wrong here; check my math.”
Even Slate sometimes gets it:
… most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it.
The sad fact is, most people don’t have clue one what science *is.* Most people seem to think that “science” is “technology.” But it ain’t. Science is a method. A method that, at it’s core, is simply a rational way to separate fact from bullcrap… even if the bullcrap is what the scientist doing the work desperately wants to believe to be true.
Science isn’t proclamation from on high; science is often hard damn work, with a whole lot of number crunching and statistics. But the really, really grating thing is this: science need not be that hard to explain and understand. Oh, sure, the more advanced corners of it will always be well beyond the vast majority of people… start going on about *anything* that involves tensor math and my eyes instantly glaze over and I start pondering something simple and sexy like “gee, wouldn’t it be fun to build a small ejector ramjet in my back yard, one hardly needs *any* complex math for rocketry.” But the basics of science are – or at least should be – taught to every school child. It’s really not that hard… see an issue, come up with a hypothesis, run some tests and try to prove yourself wrong. As tests produce data that conflicts with your hypothesis, either change the hypothesis to match, or ditch it entirely. Imagine if every adult got enough of a refresher course so that this sank in. People wouldn’t be able to create new antibiotics or search for gravity waves, but they might be able to do some basic science about “what’s the most cost effective way to do my laundry” or “what’s the fastest route to work” or some such. If people would apply the scientific method to everyday issues, they could not only improve their lives, they’d also come to appreciate science… at the same time they lose the cargo cult religion aspect of science worship.
It occurs to me that “science” has something in common with “firearms” here. Science and firearms are both used by some people, not used by most people; science and firearms are things that are held to be virtually magical by some people, and treated with respect by others. And in both cases, it’s the people who use and understand them that treat them with respect; it’s the people who don’t use and understand them that convert them into fetishes. It’s Hollywood and the gun grabbers who venerate firearms as magical killing machines, capable of doing things they cannot, and attributing to them motivations that firearms do not have.