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Isaac Newton

Science

I do not know what I may ap­pear to the world; but to my­self I seem to have been on­ly like a boy playing on the sea­shore, and di­vert­ing my­self in now and then find­ing a smooth­er peb­ble or a pret­ti­er shell than or­di­nar­y, whilst the great o­cean of truth lay all un­dis­cov­ered be­fore me.

― Isaac Newton

What is Wrong with Science

In the Jan­u­ary 23 is­sue of ScienceOff-Site Bruce Alberts writes, Rath­er than learn­ing how to think sci­en­ti­fi­cal­ly, stu­dents are gen­er­al­ly be­ing told about sci­ence and ask­ed to re­mem­ber facts. Their sci­ence teach­ers fail­ed to make it clear that sci­ence fun­da­ment­al­ly de­pends on ev­i­dence that can be log­i­cal­ly and in­de­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fi­ed; in­stead, they taught sci­ence as if it were a form of re­veal­ed truth from sci­ent­ists. This at­ti­tude car­ries o­ver in­to the way sci­ent­ists re­port their find­ings and the su­pine at­ti­tude of the me­dia.

Alberts re­marks, Most shock­ing to me is the find­ing that man­y col­lege-­ed­u­cat­ed a­dults in the U­nit­ed States see no dif­fer­ence bet­ween sci­en­tif­ic and non-­sci­en­tif­ic ex­plan­a­tions of nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­na such as e­vo­lu­tion. But more shock­ing is the re­al­iz­a­tion that Alberts and most sci­en­tists don’t re­cog­nize the dis­tinc­tion ei­ther. Alberts seems un­aware that there is no sci­en­tif­ic ex­plan­a­tion for the fos­sil re­cord of spe­ci­a­tion. Darwin’s the­o­ry of sur­vi­val of the fit­test pro­vides no mech­a­n­ism that gen­er­ates dis­crete yet in­ter­de­pen­dent or­ga­n­isms. Dar­win­ists have no i­dea what the spark is that brings mat­ter to life or what sym­bi­ot­ic re­son­an­ces are be­hind or­gan­isms’ a­dap­ta­tion to their en­vi­ron­ments.

Man­y oth­er sci­en­tif­ic facts like black holes and the big bang are mere­ly flaw­ed math­e­ma­tic­al con­structs. They have not been ob­serv­ed. Teach­ers and stu­dents should be con­scious that math­e­ma­tics op­er­ates in a vir­t­u­al re­al­it­y and is not to be con­fus­ed with sci­ence, which re­lies on real-­world ob­ser­va­tion, mea­sure­ment and ex­per­i­ment. Math­e­mat­ics de­scribes be­hav­ior, it doesn’t ex­plain. To make mat­ters worse, math­e­ma­tic­ians rou­tine­ly de­mon­strate con­fu­sion and lack of rig­or in their use of lan­guage when de­fin­ing math­e­mat­i­c­al terms.

So in sci­ence cur­ri­cula the em­pha­sis should not be on facts but on clear think­ing and skep­ti­cism, a­long with the his­tory of key sci­en­tif­ic de­bates and the phi­los­o­ph­y of sci­ence. But the most im­por­tant les­son is that the bas­ic mys­ter­ies re­main. And it is the man­y mys­ter­ies that can mo­tiv­ate stu­dents and the pub­lic to take an act­ive in­ter­est in sci­ence a­gain. As the bi­ol­o­gist Rupert Sheldrake has re­mark­ed, by giv­ing up the pre­tence that the ul­ti­mate an­swers are al­read­y known, the sci­ences will be fre­er — and more fun.

— Wal Thornhill
(from the Feb­ru­ary 15, 2009 Ar­ti­cle It’s Time for Change)

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