The bowler ran up and delivered a looping ball to the batsman who swung with all his might. The cherry hit the top edge of the bat and flew up into the air. As I positioned myself under the ball, it disappeared into the bright sun, and as I blinked, the hard cork ball struck me squarely on the eye. For an 8-year old, the shiner was embarrassment enough – but worse was to come… Later that year I was diagnosed with a severed optical nerve which left me with less than 20% sight in my left eye. Doctors advised a break from sport to minimize further damage. So began my journey into the wonders of books……
By the age of 11 I had read the entire American Peoples Encyclopedia. I joined the local library and became a frequent patron of the 2 book exchanges in town. I read anything I could get my hands on, but my favorite was science fiction! Isaac Asimov, Rad Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells took me on journeys to distant galaxies with wondrous worlds inhabited by strange creatures. Science fiction is what ignited my imagination to the realm of possibilities.
Though our family was poor I dreamed of somehow getting into the world of science. I was 15 when I decided that I wanted to ‘get into computers’.
At the ripe old age of 23 I IPL’d (Initial Program Loaded) my first mainframe. Thus began a journey of discovery that is still ongoing to this day. For many years ‘I did what I loved’ and ‘I loved what I did’, a privilege not many can attest to. I watched how behemoth computers shrank down to desktop units and then down to hand-held cellphones and video-conference-capable wristwatches.
So much of science fiction has become science fact. The benefits to mankind of science and it’s sometimes serendipitous discoveries are a matter of record. However, when science is used to further man’s darker objectives the stuff of war and horror movies is made…
I have no problem with scientific research, per se. There are however, times that I wonder if some of these efforts and research funds could not be better directed – for example, surely by now, solar, wave, wind and geothermal energy should have replaced all the other more dangerous and pollutive sources of power? It is patently and painfully clear that the world leaders have placed the upliftment of the human race and human living standards at a frightfully low priority, while the bulk of the global wealth goes towards enriching the elite. Apparently one tenth of one percent of one year’s global defense budget would eliminate poverty from the face of the earth – yet no will exists to address such a terrible imbalance.
But what happens when science fact becomes science fiction?
I am still an avid follower of science journals and documentaries and cannot escape the nagging feeling that a great deal of scientific research which holds the focus of the majority of the world’s greatest minds is being misdirected. Not only that, but the continued pursuit of ‘research’ which apparently serves little or no purpose, at tremendous financial cost, beggars belief!
One example of such research is the quest to identify and name the elusive ‘gay gene’. An untold amount of research funding has been poured into this pursuit since 1984 – almost 20 years of the lives of a great number of people have been ‘spent’ on this issue – but to what end? How does this uplift the human race? It is worth spending so much time and money to give a small minority of the world’s population the ‘peace of mind’ to be able to say that their choice of life-style is scientifically justifiable? Ask yourself: IF such a thing were to be indisputably proven in a laboratory, and could be replicated at will – how would that change the world? Do not the gay community already have enough recognition and ‘rights’ thanks to the plethora of establishments which have been founded and funded to give them exactly that? What if this pursuit had never begun? How much time, money and human endeavor could have been redirected to other equally if not more important world issues?
How many times have we heard scientists boldly proclaiming a new fact, hypothesis or discovery, only to find that the exact opposite is later purported as fact, sometimes by the selfsame scientists! The defenders of the religion of science will be quick to report this as ‘self-correction’ amid much pomp and applause.
Of one thing I am quite sure: the ‘slant’ of scientific research and reporting has been changing ever so gradually, but with inexorable progress towards modifying the world’s perception to suit the mores and ends of a specific mindset.
There are without doubt certain scientific pursuits which fall into those categories which support ‘popular’ and\or humanistic ideals. These receive much is not all the publicity, while discoveries which are not considered to fit these categories decline over the years, both due to publication bias and the ‘bandwagon’ effect.
In many fields, particularly those of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology, workers regularly repeat the results of others to promote progress in their own related work. It is not uncommon for publications to be based on false positive results (or, perhaps, exaggerated results). Only when other researchers spend the time and money in an attempt to verify certain claims made, do these individual investigators find that they cannot replicate the published results.
There is in fact such a thing as selective reporting, whereby investigators will be less likely to report findings that do not fit their current world view; they might even go so far as to try to shoehorn findings into the paradigm they currently favor.
Due to the “inflated error effect” and the “multiple testing effect” in hot research fields, one can expect to find some positive finding for almost any claim, while this is not the case in research fields with little competition
Scientists are humans after all, and their drive for reputation - and other nonscientific issues - can affect what they produce or perceive as “truth.” But it’s a mistake to imply that all scientific truth is simply a choice among explanations that aren’t very well supported. Scientific “truth” means “the best provisional, most compelling explanation.
Truth, then,as far as scientific pursuit is concerned, while always provisional, should seldom be regarded as absolute.
“The problem isn’t with science, the problem is with the human foibles of scientists and the constraints that other humans impose on them to allow them to do science. The goal in science is to do science and to understand reality as it is. The goal of humans is to become more popular, to attain greater wealth, influence and kudos and to move up in the social hierarchy. So what is the goal of human scientists? To move up the social hierarchy by doing science. One can only move up in a social hierarchy when your peers move you up. In science that can only happen by doing science that is popular and exciting and that science is usually fad driven.”
It is important to understand that while some basic things can be agreed upon, there is a lot of disagreement in pretty much any field of science. There are competing theories and sometimes competing evidence, which makes it hard to understand who is right. Scientists, being human, are not always as objective as they portray themselves to be. A prominent scientist might promote a bad theory just because it was his and use his position to prevent other theories from seeing the light of day. It has happened. There can be a lot of politicking surrounding peer review.
For most of us, our only access to science is through the 'experts' and specialists. Even then we are prey to their interpretation of facts, in that conclusions start to be drawn and published even when it is quite possible undiscovered evidence will later put a whole new slant on things - if not show the original conclusion to have been totally mistaken.
Science is not an answer, it is the search for an answer. The question is often irrelevant. The answers are always changing as does our understanding of the world around us. Any answer can only be the right answer until a better one comes along.
“You can never verify, or prove, anything with science with certainty ... you can only disprove bad hypotheses”
This attitude which prevails in the hallowed halls of scientific research, puts most of humanity at a great disadvantage.
The only scientific progress we are permitted to see and use are those deemed most profitable or those which support the predefined worldview of those in control of what is published.
I believe that mankind possess the potential to rise above it’s current pitiful state. I believe that with the proper global leadership, every challenge that faces mankind could be met and matched. However, it is the human condition which most prevents humanity from embarking on such a course.
Professor Richard Lewontin, a genetic scientist, is one of the world’s leaders in evolutionary biology. He wrote this very revealing comment: “ ‘We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. “
Until science is able to irrefutably explain how life started, or where all the water on earth came from, or how it is that every single person on earth (including identical twins) have unique fingerprints, or why there is such a vast array of life on our planet, despite all the odds against this being so, I have to conclude, in the absence of a more compelling explanation, that the Divine Foot was always in the door….
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