Thursday, April 30, 2009

Science yes, but to what end?

Alright, this has been a pretty pro-science blog and that is more or less by design. Science and technology have brought lots of great things into our modern lives. I really don't want to imagine a world without indoor plumbing and vaccinations to name just a couple. Above and beyond just practical applications, scientific reasoning has increased by leaps and bounds humanity's understanding of the world.

It is not 100% positive though, most technologies are a mixed blessing. Let's take for example, our friend the airplane, in just over a century of flight, it has really transformed the way people from technologically advanced countries think of distance. It can also really be a help, loaded full of relief supplies and personnel, it can speed up the recovery from natural disasters and the like. On the down side, the same airplanes could be filled with soldiers to invade a country or hijacked by fundamentalist chuckle heads and smashed into buildings. To take an example from more recent headlines, an airplane could seal a hundred or more people in a flying aluminum can with a carrier of swine flu and deposit all those people several hundred miles from where started to distribute the virus to a whole different geographic region. The point I am trying to make is that science and technology too often taken into our lives without critically analyzing the full effects down the line.

Another point to make here is that science if great, science as the obedient lapdog of business and industry, not so good. If you want to go into medicine, great but try and model your career more after Jonas Salk than after the team of pill pushing ninnies who brought you Cialis. If you want to be an engineer, look to the people who designed the H2 and H3 Hummers as a cautionary tale, not as role models.

Continuing with the polemic rant, next up is the scientific world view. While it is certainly preferable to the world view that produced the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition) the scientific world view does have a disturbing habit if devaluing any other way of knowing. Forget all your traditional lore, historical place knowledge and things like that, all that stuff is devoid of value unless it can be quantitatively verified by somebody in a white lab coat with a clip board and advanced degrees from a properly accredited institution. Of course, a lot of this is more a problem with how science is done in modern society than with the idea of a scientific understanding of the world. If you stop and think about it, it an expert comes forth and says do X, a scientific society would look at their research, try and reproduce their experiments and then, maybe, if they came up with similar findings, they would go along with X. That is not what happens most of the time. More often the expert is taken at their word because the social institutions of science and technology are losing their ability to be self critical.

In conclusion, be skeptical of new technology, don't trust a businessman further than you can throw them, and be sure to tell the next expert you are confronted by that they are full of bologna.

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