April 7, 2007

Scientifically Impatient

I’ve heard a lot of people lately who are frustrated or seem to be losing patience with science. I guess I’m losing patience for their frustration.

Yes, it’s frustrating that science doesn’t give us the answers to everything right this very second. If you want answers to all your questions right now, turn to superstition or myth, or just make up some answers.

Yes, it’s frustrating that science often gives us very fuzzy answers and takes a very long time to fill in the details. Yes, it’s frustrating that there are bad studies because there are bad scientists or sometimes just mistakes or bad luck. Or because a problem is very complex and a small peek isn’t helpful.

Science is so gosh-darned successful that everybody loves it. Even people who don’t want to admit they love it want to pretend that they have science on their side. Because science is so popular, people feel familiar with it. They watch the news and when the newest study is being reported, they think they can apply it to their lives immediately and have… dare I say… better living through science.

Never mind the way certain shysters wrap themselves in science. I’m thinking of religious zealots who feel that pretending to be scientists will give their dogma weight and I’m also thinking of this commercial I’m watching on TV where some fly-by-night company is claiming to have a pill to make a “certain male body part” bigger — and parading people in lab coats around to convince you to open your wallet.

Yeah, it’s not a perfect system because it is a human system. Yeah, it’s frustrating that the self-correcting effect of science can be very slow. But the good news is that while superstition relies on the perpetuation of bullshit, whenever bullshit infects science its days are numbered. There are too many forces gunning for bullshit. Peers review data and have little or no loyalty to bad conclusions. New scientists are born every day who care about uncovering good science and care nothing for covering up bad science. Good scientists see bad science as an opportunity, not a treasure.

It’s a big universe out there. It takes some time to sort it out. In this fast food world, science isn’t something you’re going to get to have your way. It very likely will take more than 30 minutes and next one isn’t free.

Posted by James at April 7, 2007 10:27 AM
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