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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Science has been wrong before, too

I was browsing the interwebs today, as is my wont, and I found myself in an argument with a kid who said that “science” had told someone something. It is irrelevant what it was that “science” had told her, it is the same tired argument that has for centuries assailed the scientific community. “Yes, we see the evidence, but science has been wrong sometimes too.”

No, it hasn’t.

Science cannot be wrong, because science has no opinion. The scientific community can make errors, yes, and individuals do it fairly often, if not daily. But “science” as an entity exists only in the lower-case. It is a method, a way of thinking, and membership in the scientific community is limited, objectively, only by one’s willingness to apply the method to an end. To your life. To a petri dish.

“Scientists” are only people who apply the method. It has nothing to do with their degree. If a person with a doctorate informs you that the sky is red, that the ocean is pink, that your underwear are made from rainbows, they came to that conclusion unscientifically. In that moment, they were not acting as a scientist.

To say that “science” has said something implies a complete lack of understanding regarding what science is. I believe that this may fuel most of the controversy between “science” and “religion.”

Proponents of the truths of religions, whichever religion they may be championing, find that they may assault “science” without evoking much of a counter-reaction. They cannot assault the ideology, the ideology of science is water-tight. It says nothing that common sense does not validate. Instead, they assault individual claims, and think that when they claim victories (at great cost) against those individual claims, they have won a great victory against science. But they do not evoke much of a counter-reaction because there's simply no one home when they throw the rock. Sure, if it's something being worked on all the time, something fundamental, like evolution, then there's people inside that theory all the time, applying the method, getting hit by the rocks, but the dinosaurs? Remember when that guy set up that museum to teach kids that the dinosaurs and people lived in harmony together? Not much reaction. People laughed.

That war is over. They are the insurgents now, small pockets of people who do not want to join the world as it is now. Science had already won, way back when Christians started using soap and doctors started using disinfectants to combat the unseen-but-obviously-there. It won when we started flying planes through the sky (ever flown in a plane designed by someone who didn’t believe that air was physically present?), when the lightbulb was invented, and when we started colliding electrons, too small to be seen by the naked eye, in gigantic machines covering acres of land.

Sure, religion is still around, and I’m not here to knock it. It adapts, just like everything else. It is a necessary component of human life. I myself am a Namer of god, I’m not going to knock anyone else’s beliefs. But when people are ready to watch the world end rather than admit that we’ve thrown things out of whack?

The kid I ran across was using the “science has been wrong before” argument to downplay the importance of global climate change.

Science has been wrong before.

The world is ending, but science has been wrong before, so let’s not bother doing anything about it.

That is some fucked up shit.

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