Lang Waters: Invest in science
April 4, 2018
"If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." — Benjamin Franklin
We can generalize Franklin's statement to the country and say that an investment in the education of our young people is an excellent investment in the nation's future as it will pay great dividends. Supporting science and science education has never been more important.
In this age of fake news, conspiracy theories, social media, reality TV and other forms of weaponized idiocy we can push back on the forces of anti-intellectualism by emphasizing our roots — this country was founded by prominent thinkers of the American Enlightenment. Our country was endowed at birth with an abundance of genius in the moral and physical sciences. Numerous Founding Fathers were not only political leaders, but also scientists and inventors — Franklin, Jefferson and Adams to name just a few. These were men that believed in reason, and that reason could be used to solve problems in the most effective manner possible — supremely pragmatic and above partisanship. The foundation of this country lies in the ideals of the American Enlightenment that they manifested.
The scientific method is simple: pose a question, form a testable hypothesis to answer the question, conduct an experiment, analyze your results, communicate your results. Perhaps the most important step in this process is the last step — communication. It's this step that circulates scientific conclusions in a community where other scientists can review and test them. This crowd sources logical, analytical capacity as other scientists try to replicate results. Eventually a consensus among a community develops. Only when we have agreement within a community do we take an idea seriously and consider its use in guiding policy. It's the nature of science that it evolves. This is it's greatest strength — science is self correcting and builds upon itself. Our thinking gets better. Nevertheless science only ever comes up with theories, and accepted theories are just shorthand for "our best thinking on the subject at this point in time."
Good science corrects the excesses of our appetites and biases, and exposes our ignorance to logic.
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There's a temperament that believes that because something is a theory, all competing theories have equal weight. A scientific mind understands that nothing is further from the truth. Sloppy thinking and junk science abounds and we're drowning in it. The consensus of a scientific community invests theory with credence. Good science corrects the excesses of our appetites and biases, and exposes our ignorance to logic. It describes the world the way it is, not the way we wish it to be. The forces of "the way I wish it to be" have been in tension with science since we started listening to scientists. Today it's a pitched battle.
Those of us who wish to live in an evidence based world need to push back against the peddlers of conspiracy theories and junk science, those strains of thought that merely satisfy our appetite to have the world match our projections about it. To be ruled by our appetites is to be little above the animals. It's our reason that sets us apart. With leaders that bend light around facts, and social media designed with dopamine satisfaction of appetites in mind, appetite runs ahead of reason, and reason has a hard time catching up.
Science is patriotic. Using your brain is patriotic. Support our young people engaged in science by checking out the third annual Nevada County STEAM Expo 2018 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. STEAM is a program of the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office that highlights all aspects of science, technology, engineering, art and math. Also, attend the 2018 March for Science Sacramento April 14 and show your support! (http://www.marchforsciencesacramento.com/).
Or, in the very best tradition of our Founding Fathers, become a citizen scientist! The University of California system promotes a California Naturalist Program "designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities." It is truly inspiring (http://calnat.ucanr.edu/).
"Wouldst thou enjoy a long Life, a healthy Body, and a vigorous Mind, and be acquainted also with the wonderful Works of God? Labor in the first place to bring thy Appetite into Subjection to Reason." — Benjamin Franklin in "Poor Richard's Almanack" (1742).
Lang Waters lives in Nevada City.
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