|Briefly, On Science
Author: Ecarlet PM
In response to the misconception that the scientific word is the last to be had in a conversation!Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 1,220 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 08-17-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2404011
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
We want answers.
And it's a mistake to think that following the scientific discipline is the only way to get them. The pace at which the world is embracing science as its leading problem solver is foolhardy and worrying. This is not to say that empirical studies and objective 'truth' through meticulously controlled experiments does not have its moments, however, people are somehow now under the false assumption that this is the only avenue to truth when in fact, science is far from it.
The scientific disciple prides itself on being empirical, self correcting and objective. It is a process through which ideas are broken down into simple, testable components that can be observed and recorded. It claims to be a tentative process by which the power behind ideas comes from supporting experiment results; a power that can be weakened and reshaped in light of contrary evidence. In this way, it seems like the ideal tool for answer finding because everything that it finds has been proven to exist. Science sounds like it knows what it's talking about and every claim it makes is backed up in some way by evidence. The reason science is so infectious is because it seems logical, and even if it didn't, people who use words like 'quantum mechanics' and 'neurochemistry' must know what they're talking about. Right? The answer is often less certain than people think. For a moment let us strip away the jargon and statistical analysis to look at places where science falls down.
The biggest false assumption in society about science is that anything it has proven is the truth. Results from empirical, self correcting studies must be reliable, right? People just assume that any result from a carefully conducted experiment is reliable. What they don't realize is that experiment results rely largely on how the experiment is conducted, and how the statistical testing is run. For example, scientists may be out to prove that rabbits exist. They will list a set of criteria that must be filled in order for an organism to be called a rabbit. This organism must be classed as a mammal, have one heart, fur, be a herbivore, look cute, no binocular vision, teeth… and the list could go on. The existence of a rabbit hangs purely on its classification. Should there be rabbits in this world that have more than one heart, or are furless, then it will not be recognized as a rabbit. If the rabbit is not acknowledged by any of the criteria that the scientists have used to classify the rabbit, then the conclusion will be that rabbits do not exist. Now, you may shake your head and think I'm silly for suggesting that rabbits don't exist, but the point I'm trying to make is less about the rabbit, and more on the way science conducts experiments. As it often happens, another scientist will refute the conclusion that rabbits don't exist and conduct his own experiment. This time, he will use different criteria and suddenly, because a rabbit happens to fill these criteria, then rabbits exist once more. Now, it cannot be true that rabbits exist and not exist at the same time therefore someone must be right and the other must be wrong. Usually in science (though they deplore using the words 'right' and 'wrong', preferring to use the words 'supported' and 'not supported') the theory with the most 'supporting evidence' wins out. Regardless of the truth, if the no-rabbit theory receives more support (also known as supported by empirical evidence), then people will follow that idea. Such is the tentative nature of science. It claims to be 'self correcting' when indeed, it is just Plan B in case they're wrong. It's like a 'Get out of Jail Free' ticket for whenever their 'laws' don't hold up.
If science is ever correcting what it previously said, then how can it be trusted? One thing you believe to be true one day may not be true tomorrow, but then it might be true again in five years time. Following science is just like following any other religion – they'll lead you on, they could be wrong, but they'll never admit it until it's too late. When I say too late, I mean too late for you.
Science also claims to be objective and that sounds so even-handed that it's hard to refute. But let's take this slowly. Firstly, objectiveness is looking at an issue from a neutral and outwardly observable point of view. So, instead of relying on our feelings, we rely on what is 'real'. A cup is real and objective. An apple is real and objective. We see it, we know it's there, and we know other people see it. You take a drug, it affects your body. These effects can be monitored objectively. Alright, confident now that we're on the right track, let's try to tackle something more difficult – if we can only prove things that can be observed, can we prove that we are conscious? It would take a very slimy philosopher to argue that he is not conscious, but the average person would say that they are aware. I believe that I am aware of myself. I can't prove it, it's a subjective reflection, but for some reason I just can't imagine myself without having a general awareness of who I am. But consciousness is not objective. I can't prove that you are conscious, but from your own observations of yourself, you will probably agree that you are you, and you are conscious. Science can't tell you that.
And to add salt to the wound, science also employs a technique called statistics. In layman's terms, this is just when they convert their findings into numbers, chew them through some formulas and come out with a score of sorts. Statistics are often misquoted as hard boiled facts. You often hear bold statements such as 'statistics shows that ninety percent of the world don't have running water'. But statistics is used to calculate probability. Far from showing that ninety percent of the world don't have running water, a statistic will only show the likelihood of how correct or incorrect the results of an experiment might be. So, scientists will never be sure if the results they are seeing is from what they are testing, or from other random factors. They will decide how much of a chance they're going to take that they're right, for example, they will accept that rabbits do not exist if there is a 60 chance that their finding is correct. The quote will often say 'statistics show that rabbits do not exist' when it should say 'statistics show that there is a sixty percent chance that rabbits do not exist'. So don't believe in statistics, it's usually a load of crap.
There are many other horrifying stories about science and its misuse that I sometimes like to scare little children with. If nothing else, be aware that the answers science gives will never be stable. Science is not some irrefutable authority, it is to be questioned and accepted only with caution.