Monday, January 26, 2009

science is no joke

The term science is not actually easy to define. Is it a method, an orientation, a set of tools, a body of knowledge or, as some people of faith describe it, just another faith? Some advocates would describe it as a form of inquiry for inquiry’s sake, free from ideological baggage or assumptions, getting up a head of steam as it burrows into things, developing strategies and tools as it goes along, modifying and adapting the tools and strategies of previous inquirers, often within other fields of enquiry, constantly diversifying and yet finding a loose unity in approach, a unity based on what works and bears fruit, which they’ve labeled the scientific method. Critics might respond that there’s no such thing as disinterested inquiry, that all observations are theory laden, that results are already determined by the methods used, methods based on assumptions about findings.

The arguments here can get very abstruse. Scientists, working now within a long-established tradition, just tend to get on with it. The result of their getting on with it is that, in the twenty-first century, we have a fair amount of scientific agreement on a spectacularly rich harvest of data with respect to the universe in which we live, the place of our planet in that universe, the nature of life on that planet, and the nature of our species within the frame of all life forms. It’s hard for us to imagine that, only a few hundred years ago, none of this data existed. Nor did air-conditioners, anesthesia, bicycles, blood transfusions, cars, computers, condoms, electric light, microscopes, movies, planes, refrigeration, robots, skin grafts, solar panels, submarines, vaccination or washing machines for that matter. The scientific method, and the technology derived from it, are so much a part of our everyday lives that we would be utterly bereft without them, a fact which so many of us take for granted it isn’t funny.

This is the first entry in part one, Science



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