Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Science Is Hard

I've just read a piece by Anthony Gottlieb in Intelligent Life, titled How Sceptical Should We Be Of Science (sorry, but you'll have to buy the magazine to read it yourself). While it has left me wanting (and hurting, in places) quite a lot, it also set me thinking. Mostly about what it is about science that makes so many people unappreciative to say the least (and some openly hostile, too).

I think I have at least a part of the answer.

In Gottlieb's article things seem to revolve around inherent uncertainty, and ultimate disapprovability (I know, this might not be a word - yet) of science. And this is where I think the author put his finger on the very pulse of the problem. Yes, he also duly goes on to acknowledge and praise science as the "only game in town". He is also careful to end on a, for science, positive note. Although, reading through you can't help wondering (well, at least I did) if he was truly convinced. I also wondered about whether such an article (and a not very well written one at that) has a place in a magazine created by one of my favourites, The Economist.

But I digress...

What I think the article helped me realise about the difficulties of accepting science as the only game in town (no quotes!) is that what people, as a multitudinous mass, are really after are certainties. And not just any certainties, either. You can be very certain about sun coming up in the morning, yet science tells you it may not, in due course. What people really want are certainties that will last forever. And that, at least now, and by the looks of it not any time soon, is something science cannot give.

And this is where pretty much all of the purveyors of unscientific "truths" get their purchase. What they offer is both (usually) very easy to swallow by even an uneducated person and (more often than not) eternal. Don't look there! The scenery always changes. Look here! We offer beauty to behold all your life, and certainty it will never change. Don't think about what comes after you! After all, it's only your grandchildren you'll ever meet, and by the time they bury you what we offer won't change.

So maybe there should be another kind of warning issued against the unscientific mob. And, this particular warning is very well known, even by the unscientific mob itself. For your own viewing, reading, and hopefully thinking, pleasure, here it is:

If it's too good (easy) to be true - it most probably is!