Saturday, February 21, 2009

Threatening science

Credulous people often subscribe to the meme "Science feels threatened by things it cannot explain" so widely the idea has gained currency in the general population, and I think this idea is so alien and ludicrous to scientists that they don't refute it with sufficient enthusiasm. So I was thinking of an analogy and this is what I came up with.

Gold miners feel threatened by the idea that there is gold as yet undiscovered.

To be sure, a gold miner, on thinking of the idea of lodes of gold not yet found, desperately wants to be the one to find them, rather than having his fellow gold miners find them. And a gold miner is surely wary of being fooled by any iron pyrite (fool's gold). But the idea of more gold yet to be found is not only no threat but the very lifeblood of a gold miner's trade.

Similarly, science isn't at all threatened by the idea that it has questions it still has to answer. The whole point of science is to take on those questions and find answers for them, and the very nature of science is that as-yet unanswered questions don't threaten its underpinnings, but become absorbed into its body. A scientist longs to find the question he can answer before his peers do, for that is how he gains recognition and respect in his field. All he doesn't want is to be fooled into accepting something that isn't real, for that's the only fool's gold in science.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

I like the way your analogy matches up, especially the gold miner rivalry. If you wanted to apply this in an argument, you might want to think about your assertion "The whole point of science is to take on those questions and find answers for them," because I think the refutation for this would go "Science will not find answers to some questions. Some questions fall outside of science's purview." That's an underlying assumption for many conversations (I'm not without it myself) applied both to obviously testable phenomena such as UFOs and vaccine risk and to questions such as "What is the purpose of life?" and "What is consciousness?".