Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sidelines science

It has occurred to me that my post, Science is not a democracy, so shut up!, could be misinterpreted. One could argue that I'm attempting to silence the religious, the same way that I accuse them of wanting to silence atheists. This is not true.

I'm perfectly willing to see anybody participate in science, whether they're religious or atheist. The problem is that what many religious people call, 'participating in science', I'd merely call, 'bitching from the sidelines'.

Science is not done by talking, protesting, whining or public speaking tours to bible colleges, any more than sports are played in the stands (forgive me British soccer, err..... football fans). There are no points given in sports for how loud your fans were, how drunk they were, or how many nifty chants they came up with. Similarly, you cannot win in science by nipping at its heels like a little bitch. You must participate in the research and publication!

So when I tell religious people to shut up about science, I mean for them to shut their mouths and start their research!


Pinkydead said...

Try telling that to Charles Darwin.

The truth will come out in the end - but it is a slow process.

And to continue the analogy, how about sharing your coach (Francis Collins) with the other team. Even if he was totally fair, the best you could hope for is a draw.

Ray Yaegle said...

I would argue that atheists do the same things as the religious in that respect. Most of the sideline scientists I know are philosophers who simply extrapolate truths from others' research; their bitchiness has nothing to do with religion, but more with their propensity to prove themselves intelligent by finding fault with the theories of others. We all know what kind of person I’m talking about – the kind who wouldn’t agree the sky was blue, for fear someone else would judge them lacking. (And honestly, I think that group is split about evenly between religious and non-religious people.)

I also don’t think it’s prudent to dismiss sideline science so quickly. What good is an experiment or hypothesis that no one knows about? Without the publicity stunts of popular science and the people willing to read a lab report or scientific journal – even if they have no intention of replicating the experiments – what would we be left with?

Just a bunch of nutters in lab coats and a significantly less aware populace, really.

Consider Mendel. No one of note read his work in his lifetime, and Darwin and Lamarck were stuck trying to figure out how genetics influenced evolution with a black and white model instead of Mendel’s blending gray scale. If someone had popularized his ideas before the 20th Century, it would have saved evolutionary science a huge headache, even if it were only our much-ignored Augustinian priest speaking in European seminaries.

The sad fact is that people bitching about science on the sidelines is what brings science to the masses. So, would we rather have the so-called scientific democracy whining in the background and a more aware society, or ought we limit scientific discussion to the scientists and fall dangerously close to exclusivity in our newly formed elite caste of scientific researchers?

Admin said...

Ray, if we have a bunch of uneducated and untrained laymen rejecting scientific results, have we made the more aware society that you talk about? If half of the population of the USA rejects evolution, have we brought knowledge to the masses?

There is a big difference between the public trying to further their knowledge by asking questions of the investigators, and a bunch of people with no research who argue that they know better than the scientists who did the work. The latter is what we see much of today.

Ray Yaegle said...

I agree, fundamentally, but at the end of the day it's still that incessant squabbling that makes headlines and the evening news (which, to be fair, is how a good number of the educated but not overly-motivated people like myself find out about new research we might like to tack onto the end of our reading lists.)

Admin said...

Fair enough. Unfortunately.