VOCABULARY REFRESHER: SCIENCE

As I’ve mentioned before, I do believe that one of the biggest problems our society is facing with our current politics has to be vocabulary manipulation. It’s one of the most common tools used to take people’s opinions of other groups and turn it to something negative by the constant, repeated misuse of a word that makes it seem like something it’s not. I’ve brought up a number of examples in the past. I’ve seen it so often that I’ve been moved to address the issue directly and begin a series of articles that will specifically target some of the most common misused language and try to put it right. In this installment we’re going to take a look at the word “science”.

This has possibly been one of the most damaging examples of language manipulation. I say this because the weaponization of this word has not only caused misconception in regards to many hot-button issues, but also has served to push those who fall prey to it to regard those who do not as being of lesser intelligence and to be automatically discounted. This not only breeds division, but also creates a condition where alternate ideas are not considered as they are seen as inherently flawed due to source. It’s obvious how problematic this can be.

So, let’s take a look at what science really means and try to sort things out by looking at a standard definition.

*science
[ˈsīəns]
NOUN
1. the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

One of the first things that stands out is that science is “study”. Is this really how we see it used? Not that I’ve seen. Too often, when we see the word used it is to make claim that something is definite. Not that “studies have found”. Not that “signs indicate”. The rub comes when we see this usage in regards to things that are new or perhaps have a complexity that rules out the ability to establish standards, control groups and various other things that are necessary to give reliable results. The two examples that come to mind are the current coronavirus and “global warming”.

The coronavirus falls into the first category. It is a virus that is new to the scientific community and as such what we SHOULD be saying is that we have much to learn. However, what is instead pushed time and again are definite statements declaring definite outcomes for a virus that is still has a considerable level of mystery. How many times have we seen the symptoms updated? How many times have the responses been adjusted? The timelines for those responses? If you recall, we were told that our timeline for response would be a few weeks and that afterwards everything would be alright. Truly, when Kay Ivey first put the mask order in effect it was for a similar time frame. Then, when it came time to put it away we instead got an extension. Likely, we’ll get another one at the end of the month. If the solution that was first pushed didn’t have the intended effect.. should we reasonably assume that just “doing it more” will be any better?

They’re grasping at straws.

Which, if there weren’t any negative repercussions, wouldn’t really be an issue. But we’ve seen so much economic and social damage that we should really be factored in when analyzing possible responses. That would be one of those “variables” mentioned earlier. It also highlights just how far away from scientific our response has been. Would we agree to a “cure” if it had a dangerous side effect that effected far more people than it saved? There’s a term called “acceptable loss”. It refers to the idea that to accomplish something worthwhile you must accept a certain amount of sacrifice to achieve that goal. In war it’s the number of troops that might be lost. Here, we could picture it as how many people are put into poverty and hardship due to restrictions that have not lived up to the claims made by “science”. At it’s worst, the unemployment rate hit 14% which was a considerable jump from what was an economy firing on all cylinders. The virus has effected 1.5% of the population over the course of this event. 4% of those have died. So, is a fraction of a fraction of the population justification for the widespread poverty and financial strife? What of the debt? Government money doesn’t come out of nowhere. All of these relief programs that are championed are paid for with debt.. a debt that was already problematic. And while the recovery time for the disease in counted in weeks.. the economic impact is expected to last, has already lasted, much longer. Other not so apparent factors play in as well. It’s said that the rates of depression and thoughts of suicide have jumped considerably due to the social restrictions that we have implemented. Scientific analysis would dictate that another course would be more prudent.

And how about that “global warming”? It’s been bubbling back to the mainstream surface here lately after taking a back seat to the more exciting civil unrest and plague situations. It’s an old stand-by and we can expect it to keep coming back over and over.. even though the prediction track record is considerably less than stellar. You may recall Al Gore predicting that we would have no glaciers by 2015. Think back further and we were told that if we didn’t “reverse” the trend by 2000 then entire continents would be swallowed by the rising seas. Just a bit further back and we were warned about a new ice age on the horizon. Yet, in spite of the documented failures of the pushers of the climate scare we still have many who are the equivalent of those “the end is nigh” sandwich board folks. What we know is that, in this day, the large portion of the “climate scare science” is based in models. Simulations in a computer that often only take into account a small number of variables and “predict” outcomes. This doesn’t come remotely close to being science. A simulation, scientifically, can only be a starting point at best and, in this situation, it requires an infinite number of variables to be taken into account if you wish to be anything close to accurate. Do we believe that they have EVERTYHING accounted for in these models? I’d say that we can’t even know how much goes into the weather patterns as it’s effected by factors in the solar system which we can’t even study outside of observation from a great distance. Certainly that would make any model suspect at best. When an engineer takes a stab at improving a process or inventing an entirely new product they may use models to help give some insight as to how a theory may work out. However, no one is going to claim that they’ve invented anything until all of the testing, trials and finished working prototype is complete. That’s how science works. You have to have a bonafide body of research to back your claims or you’ve just got a theory.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But in certain areas we see a far different paradigm. The theory IS the science. All you have to do is get enough people to sign off and BOOM.. it’s science. To see the folly all we have to do is look back to past issues of “established” science and it all comes into focus. Darwin’s evolutionary theory gave rise to quite a bit of trouble in race relations. Phlogiston theory. And if we wanted to draw a parallel we could note that, even today, the “flat earth” theory persists. That one also gives us insight as to how bad science can flourish even in this age where information is so readily available. The damage caused by bad “science” won’t necessarily diminish with time and when it has such far-reaching consequences it should certainly give us pause before we push theories as something more substantial.

One of the contributing factors here is the “scientist”. It’s not that scientists are really causing any problem, but the idea of what a scientist is often leads to turmoil. In essence, a scientist is a professional “question asker”. I’ve heard it said that the most basic element of science is skepticism and I find that statement to be very insightful. The thing to keep in mind is that no matter how many questions you ask you can’t guarantee any answers will be found. So then, we can say that not every scientist has any more to offer a conversation than the questions and that means that not every scientist’s opinion has weight when issues of great importance arise. Let’s take Fauci. He has been more than ready to put out specific guidelines for the virus response in regards to public activity, but when he was grilled on specific activities during congressional hearings he was suddenly reluctant. Those activities were clearly within the realm of those he had spoken against, but for some reason he didn’t want to clearly say “it’s bad to do this”. Could it have been because those activities are some that would have been unpopular with his vocal supporters? Possibly. Either way, it’s strange that he would clearly speak against large social gatherings but then not say that a certain large social gathering should be avoided. Now, if someone is that reluctant to stand behind their declarations it puts doubt in my mind. It certainly makes me question whether or not it’s “science” that’s being pushed.

If you put faith in what science is supposed to be, it should make you question too.

Science is one of the most important educational disciplines that we have. It’s given us the ability to tackle some of the most troubling aspects of life in ways that have allowed us to thrive as opposed to just existing in this world. We’ve sailed the seas and soared on the winds. We’ve got humans circling the planet and have plans to colonize others. So much of our science fact was once the realm of science fiction. The movement we’re seeing now is taking science and turning it into pop culture. Premises put forth are lauded for their popularity as opposed to their credibility. If we don’t respect it.. demand a certain level of integrity from it.. it will not end well. It’s important to remember that progress is not a one way street. If we give ourselves to pop science that we prefer as opposed to demanding a science of process, analysis and credibility then we start to move away from an enlightened age and towards a darker one.

Question everything.


* https://www.bing.com/search?q=what+is+science&PC=U316&FORM=CHROMN

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