Thursday 13 December 2012

Science is Fake

It isn't really. But for some strange reason, a lot of people seem to think it is, or that significant amounts of science are fake. I often wonder where these people think their cell phones and computers come from. Or their television sets and cars. The Guardian has a great article lambasting people who believe in scientific conspiracy theories (such as believing that the moon landings were faked). It's quite funny and well worth reading.

When I was young, I was often ridiculed by friends and family for being too "closed-minded". From their perspective, I too rigidly stuck to science and wasn't willing to open my mind to other possibilities (like that the Egyptian pyramids were built by aliens or my brother's brief obsession with pyramid power). From my own perspective, I simply couldn't understand their perspective. As far as I was concerned, I was quite open-minded. And I still believe that. The thing is, to truly be open-minded, you have to be critical of what you see, hear, and read. This doesn't mean dismissing everything without a second thought. It means determining whether there is reasonable evidence to support it. That includes being critical of legitimate science as well. Any scientist will readily admit that. After all, it's what science is all about. Scientists don't just sit around and make stuff up. It has to be checked and re-checked, and duplicated under controlled conditions. If it survives peer review, then it starts to get accepted, no matter how bizarre and unbelievable it might have seemed at first. Just look at quantum physics for a glimpse at how truly strange and utterly non-intuitive the universe is. It is not something easy to accept.

The reason I accept science is not out of blind faith and closed-mindedness. It's because it provides the best explanation we have for how the universe works, supported by empirical evidence that is routinely recreated under laboratory conditions. Yes, science sometimes gets it wrong. Science is constantly being adjusted and rethought as new discoveries are made. Most of those adjustments are small, but once in a while something big comes along that completely changes our understanding of something. Scientists have to be open-minded enough to accept that things might not be exactly the way they've always thought; they have to be open-minded enough to try new ideas.

So, in my open-mindedness, why don't I accept "theories" that the moon landings were fake or that the world will end on December 21 or that psychic powers exist? Why do I close myself off to them? The answer is, I don't. I do approach them with an open-mind. In fact, I think it would be utterly awesome if something like psychic powers existed! However, these beliefs don't offer any evidence of their existence beyond a few anecdotal reports. Science, on the other hand, provides evidence that is backed up by further evidence. It's more than just a bunch of mathematical equations scribbled on the blackboard (the typical method used to show that someone is a scientist in the movies and on television).

So, if there's so little evidence of pyschic powers or what have you, why do so many people believe in them? That probably involves a lot of factors, more than I can go into detail on here (perhaps another time). However, I think part of the problem is due to the media. When stations give airtime to programmes like the one mentioned in the Guardian article linked above, they give these ideas a sort of fake legitimacy. I'm not saying that stations should be prohibited from airing such programmes. However, I do think the media at large need to be more critical of what they choose to support. As we all do. Being critical is not being closed-minded. Rather, being critical opens you to the full wonders of the universe, and lets you experience a far more interesting world than you ever previously realized.

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