Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why Science Is Important?

Periodically, I read something that made me say "That's exactly what I've been trying to convery!" This Cosmic Variance post is one such thing.

The post is highlighting a video that consists of interviews of various people on why science is important. One would expect that the typical, standard response is that science allows us to progress in our knowledge, to understand the universe around us, etc... But this article (and the video) has a more important and constant message to get across.

The responses are diverse, as are, refreshingly, the participants. But if there is a common theme it isn’t that science can tell us how the universe evolved, or what describes the behavior of protons. Rather it is that science is about how to go about seeking the answers to questions, and how to evaluate the claims of others. This last point is hammered home repeatedly, not least in Shaha’s opening monologue above, where, after walking over a bed of glowing coals, he says

“You’ve just seen me walk across red hot coals, at a temperature of over five hundred degrees Celsius. I could tell you that I’m an expert in an ancient form of meditation that lets me block out pain at will. I could then tell you that you could lead a happier life if you follow my teachings. For a small fee, of course.

Or, I could tell you the truth; that walking on hot coals doesn’t require any kind of magical powers. It’s just the case that the coals are a poor conductor of heat, and I walk so quickly that there’s hardly any time for heat transfer to take place.

Separating truth from fraudulent mumbo-jumbo is just one reason why science is important.”

This is such an important point to get across. I've always tried to emphasize on HOW we arrive at a particular conclusion, and that this is something we have to do all the time in science. It is why in my effort to suggest a revamping of the undergraduate intro physics laboratory, the emphasis was always not on trying to verify some already-established physics, but rather on finding out for oneself how something behaves. The fact that many people cannot tell the difference between scientific evidence and more dubious pseudoscience clearly show why the point being made in this video is still something most people are not aware of.


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