A very smart man I know of has gone out on a limb, and has written a short list of some of the things about science and scientists which, well, he believes are annoying, or downright foolish, or, worse than that, actually dangerous; things which cause him to distrust scientists, though he still thinks there’s something to science worth the effort. One reads his list and can think of other things that may be or have been dangerous for anyone, especially scientists, to think or do. And for the rest of us to live with.
His list may not be long, and as I say it is probably not exhaustive. But it sure got my attention. And, after giving it some thought, a good thinker might think something like this: that the scientist in his lab, or the V.P. For Research and Development of Really Good New Things, who is quite often someone with a background in science, might take a look at what is bubbling away in the beaker, or reproducing itself in the dish, or slowly being assembled by the techs down in the clean room, and simply toss it instead of taking the “concept” to the boys down in advertising, or applying for an NIH grant for the next new cure for creeping “coreopsis” disease, or ending “kudzu” syndrome in the elderly. When you get a booster like Stephen Hawking saying things like AI may be the death of us, you ought to pull over to the curb and consult the map. Maybe, just maybe, we ain’t supposed to try to walk on water.
Now, there are quite a few people, and I have met some of them, who have strong and positive opinions about science and scientists. They are very much in favor of both of them. In favor too are they of the things that other folks make and sell all over the place that come from the minds of scientists and the hands of the people who work at making scientific stuff; things as entertaining and harmless as computer games and energy drinks.
According to these folks, science explains everything. Well, it’s pretty far along the way they’ll say. The end is in sight, almost. Stuff like that. And only scientists can make sense out of the world with their explanations of everything. Once the world has been made sense of, why, it can be tamed, used, improved, and everyone in it cured; including being cured of creeping “coreopsis”.
And, that’s progress – mostly. And, ain’t progress good?
Why, take paved roads for instance. We got about 60,000 square miles of them, not counting parking lots, and I used to hear said with pride and excitement you can go from one shining sea to the next without a stop for a traffic light. 60,000 square miles of concrete and asphalt. That’s Ohio and some, give or take, or The Rockies if you pile it up. 100 years ago we had none of it. See how far we’ve come. Look at what it’s done for Detroit f’rinstance.
Plus we now got a lot of jobs paving and plowing and painting guard rails.Until, I suppose, some AI thing with ten legs, eight arms that end in bristles and a belly full of paint comes along.
Whenever I listen to these folks talking about science and scientists in such glowing terms I am reminded of a story I heard long ago when I was young. The story is about the world long ago when it too was young. You know the one I mean? It’s about a couple in a garden who share an apple after some snake tells them they’ll know all they need to know if they just take a bit of the delicious red thing; they’ll be as smart and as powerful as the smartest and most powerful, umm, (?). That’s, to my mind, where advertising was born.
There’s a lot of truth in thinking that there’s some things scientists oughtn’t to be thinking of doing when they’re in their labs about to do some of the things they’re thinking of doing. Instead, I kind of think, they ought to spend a certain amount of time thinking about the things in their philosophy that are “more” than they thought of; the things they cannot sniff, touch, taste, hear, see, either by themselves or their immensely sensitive machines that zip when they move, bop when they stop and whirr when they stand still…and ain’t no toys.
Because, really, there are things beyond science, you know. Science is limited, despite what the boosters say, and it follows as the night the day that “progress” is, too. S0meday, we’ll run out of paving materials. Really! And, then what? We’re already running out of bug killers; they, the bugs that is, now laugh in their gambols through our veins and arteries and organs at the stuff we pour over them hoping to kill ’em.
Some day, maybe sooner than later, the appropriate treatment for a fever may again be a cold compress, a soft pillow, a sympathetic look, a cup of tea and a whispered prayer.
A whispered prayer. Now, there’s something that might be worth thinking about. Tea is always worth thinking about.
Listed below are the things which got me thinking in my “lab” about what I was thinking about above, and they’re only his Top Ten:
Top Ten Reasons Why I May Trust Science, but not Scientists (in other words, why scientists are people like the rest of us, motivated by pride and passion, avarice and ambition, stubbornness and fear):
1. Abortion — and all the retro-fitting of textbooks and of the Hippocratic Oath, to relieve them of the embarrassment.
2. Nineteenth century hospitals and the medical profession, NOT listening to Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur, and so consigning thousands of women to death.
3. Euthanasia — including letting grandma go under with morphine, even if she is not in pain.
4. Rachel Carson’s lies, leading to the deaths of millions of Africans.
5. Josef Mengele et alia.
6. Lysenko et alia.
7. The whole LBGTQERTYUIOP double-talk — and all the retro-fitting of textbooks and of the psychiatric profession, to shore up the politics.
Dishonorable Mention: Low-fat diets, margarine, cigarettes are good for you, eggs are bad for you, we should all eat Burpee vegetables, let’s make everything out of corn oil, sterilization of the feeble minded, the Pill, AZT …
Oh, the very smart fellow whose Top Ten list I used is Dr. Anthony Esolen. He really is a very smart fellow; a professor, even, in a famous eastern college.