December 20th, 2009
Now, I don’t expect everyone to love everything that I love, but I do know that everyone loves the results of science even if they don’t readily acknowledge it. I mean, people love using the internet, driving cars, being warm in the winter, getting medicine when they are sick, all that good stuff. But even if they don’t readilly acknowledge this love for the roots of science, I do understand the hate. Or I think I do, part of it.
I’ve taught science to non-major students a number of years and also spend my time watching science wars on the internet (e.g., deniers of global warming, evolution, etc.).
I think that countering biases means figuring out misconceptions, confronting them, and knocking them down first thing. If you don’t hit the misconception, you don’t actually teach anyone anything. The misconceptions run strong and reassert themselves over time. So, I want to try to list the issues people have with science, rational and irrational, and want to think about how to respond to and perhaps counter these.
1. Scientists are arrogant, so I don’t like science.
Bush and Clinton are arrogant, so does that mean you don’t like politics? Simon Cowell on American Idol is arrogant, but he is popular and tens of millions of peolple like that show. Astronomers Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan don’t come across as arrogant on their TV shows, so maybe everyone can like some science.
2. Science is full of math. I’m not good at math, so I don’t like science.
Not all sciences have a lot of math (e.g., biology). Moreover, science concepts are more fundamental than the math. The science is all in setting up the equations. The math is in solving them, so you can understand the science without the math. (P.S. Math isn’t so bad, really!)
3. Science is full of negativity. Scientists are always doubting things. It isn’t just arrogance, it’s being pessimistic, skeptical doubters. So I don’t like science.
This is true, but necessary. Sometimes it’s better to have a dose of honesty, and not take everything on authority. Besides, not every idea is right out there, so let’s make a virtue out of honesty, ok?
4. My beliefs are strong, and I have faith. Science says some things contradictory to my beliefs (e.g. evolution, global warming, autism, etc.), so I don’t like science.
Well, this one is harder I think. Reality is reality. Science doesn’t care. We can be understanding about people in the past, with a different culture and educational background interpreting things as they saw them. We know better now. And science, ultimately, is less beholden to any particular belief system or ideology. Eventually it gets to the right answer, like it or not, and there’s always someone one your side and on the other side who both get bitten by science. Science is not a belief system. It reflects reality. We all have to deal with reality, don’t we?
5. Science is mechanistic and cold, so I don’t like it.
Think of your favorite robot. The Iron Giant. Bender. Data. Robby. R2-D2. HAL. Okay, maybe not HAL. But there’s at least one robot out there you like, isn’t there? Make that the face of cold, mechanical science, if you must.