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Why do we need/do science?

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Administrator
Registered: Sep 2007
Posts: 175
So why indeed do we need or do science -- what do you think? My take on this was that knowledge and learning make you a better person, and the world around you a better place. If not for sheer curiosity, we would still be hanging off the trees, because how would a primate foresee the possible advantages of putting two sticks together? And why would we ever care about the laws that control the motion of celestial bodies or whether or not we can break a piece of a rock indefinitely?

The common vibe I am sensing way too often is that science is only justified if an immediate concrete economical or societal impact could be predicted. What is this stuff you're doing good for? Will it make a faster computer tomorrow? Better fuel? Cure cancer? Make me richer? And how exactly will it do it?

Do you think these are legitimate questions? And if you're practicing science -- just why exactly do you do what you do?
Member
Registered: Dec 2007
Posts: 14
Location: Tehran
Dear Prof. Krylov

Thanks for raising these questions. This is very interesting discussion for me. A scientist must come into these questions first, and let him/her catch the best idea or notions. These are as important as math and physics are. I believe there are many obstacles in the world; one is in obtaining a knowledge of all realities relies in the world (remember Stephen Hawking confession), I mean nature is always vanquishing (remember Einstein sentence). This is a fact, not boring, not disappointing or pessimistic at all, if someone deeply understood spirit of realty. Our nature always changes its beautiful face to charm us. For scientist there is nothing more beautiful than this fact. Science needs a true lover who has keen eyes on the facts, who can open a new door for other humans to understand their worlds better and to live better all together. I have some philosophical studies. I like Schopenhauer, I adore Heidegger, and I love Baudrillard’s point of view but I never believe in pessimism all at. We should accept we are alive as nature is. I love theoretical chemistry because it is exactly where we should pay attention to both nature and physics.

There are a lot to say. I will write here little by little. But one another thing for now: I can accept pragmatic point of view just as a management tool, not a deep approach appropriate for scientist. Scientist is a meaning seeker, if someone set his/her heart on meaning and to elaborate it for others, surely he/she is a deep pragmatist too!! But this pragmatism is not a tool, it worth to be approach.
Administrator
Registered: Aug 2007
Posts: 200
Anna, I am glad you raised this point. I want to comment on the observation that nowadays it seems like doing science is justified mainly with its immediate outcomes. I think this is a real trend just looking at the way people write their proposals to the funding agencies. I bet it is rare to find a proposal that doesn't somehow incorporate in some form the statement "this is also important in biological systems bla bla". The question of immediate impact is important, of course, however, one must step back and look at the big picture. I think we should look at how many of the big scientific discoveries were made just by chance, or just from the accumulation of pieces of knowledge which on their own wouldn't seem to be important in solving any of the current problems. The number is amazing!

Humanity will always have big problems to solve and we never know what is coming next. Some time ago we thought it was HIV and cancer. Now we realized that these will not bring our end, but global warming can do that! The people who first realized that excess CO2 will be our major future headache were probably not playing around with CO2 just because somebody in the funding agencies had a nightmare about global warming.

Human being is curious by nature. Ancient people developed weapons for hunting- that was a necessity, because they needed to satisfy their hunger. Then they invented math which brought us here today. I don't think they ever thought that math would trigger other sciences like physics which would let them fly one day. And what was science even in the 18 th and 19 th centuries? Mostly rich people just doing research for fun.

I think the right answer is in finding the balance. We cannot focus only on specific things and postpone the others, because there will always be something that will have to be solved immediately. This is true not only for the type of science we should be doing, but for everything in general. I remember my first year in college. People were crazy about this game called Civilization. Probably everyone knows it, but if you don't know, it is basically a game where you are in charge of some nation and start building everything from scratch. I also played it and as every young teenager with some ego, I built strong military and conquered every tribe that I came across. Then at some point I was destroyed by another nation that had aircrafts and my huge armies of knights were no match for them. OK, so I learned a lesson, I should not ignore funding science. The second time I played, I ignored my military and funded mostly science, only to see that people were unhappy because I didn't do anything to entertain them. And of course I was wiped out by another tribe because I didn't have the weapons to oppose them. It's amazing, just a little game made me realize how complex the society is, and how important is the balance in every aspect in its development.

To summarize my point: we need a little bit of everything. My research never had immediate application, but I like it and I am in peace with it, especially when I see how people who promised to cure AIDS are still where they were long time ago, or when I see how money is being wasted in many other ways...
Administrator
Registered: Sep 2007
Posts: 175
Kadir, this game sounds like a great educational exercise -- it should be included in the high-school curriculum -- ;).

I understand the point about the balance, indeed one cannot be spending all their money on sheer curiosity. Yet, we should be constantly building a base for innovations and technological break-troughs, which requires excursions in the directions which do not appear to be of any immediate practical value. Who cares why the planets move the way they do? Newton was pondering this -- and it brought about Newton laws. Some people were studying how nuclear spins interact with magnetic field (try to explain to your neighbors why their tax money should be spent for this) -- and in less than 50 years we have MRI. There are more examples of this type. I do not know where the perfect balance is, but I am sure that it is more dangerous to neglect the base than to overspend on it.

Anna.
Administrator
Registered: Sep 2007
Posts: 175
Here is a book review from LA Times that touches upon these issues:

From the Los Angeles Times
BOOK REVIEW


'The Age of American Unreason' by Susan Jacoby
The lethal forces threatening our nation's cultural and political future.
By Art Winslow


February 10, 2008

The Age of American Unreason

Susan Jacoby

Pantheon: 362 pp., $26

Half a century ago, the political historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "The widespread distrust of intellectuals in America reflects a tendency to depreciate their playfulness and distrust their piety. Ours is a society in which every form of play seems to be accepted by the majority except the play of the mind."

Hofstadter expanded that theme in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1963 book, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," which ranged across education, politics and religion. In documenting a majoritarian and nativist bias, it became what Hofstadter biographer David S. Brown termed "one of the most troubling criticisms of American democracy ever written."

What we have in Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason" is an attempt to update Hofstadter. He had concluded that intellectuals "have tried to be good and believing citizens of a democratic society and at the same time to resist the vulgarization of culture which that society constantly produces," and in many ways Jacoby's book concentrates on that vulgarization. She decries junk thought and junk science, youth culture, celebrity culture, degradation of the language, television, screen technologies for infants, innumeracy and other forms of cultural illiteracy. A particular concern -- not as vulgarization but as an overweening, deleterious influence on public policy -- is religious fundamentalism.

"During the past four decades," Jacoby writes, "America's endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been grievously exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by an ignorant popular culture of video images and unremitting noise that leaves no room for contemplation or logic."

The confluence of disparate forces, she argues, is "at odds not only with the nation's heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment reason but with modern scientific knowledge," propelling "a surge of anti-intellectualism capable of inflicting vastly greater damage than its historical predecessors inflicted on American culture and politics." Aware that much of what she has to say could leave her labeled a cultural conservative, a term "hijacked by the religious right and propagated by the media," Jacoby identifies herself as a "cultural conservationist" instead.

What are the markers of anti-intellectualism? Not even Hofstadter worked that answer out fully, since it includes questions of elitism (both as a magnet of resentment and as an attitude held by some intellectuals), overlaps with questions of cultural ignorance (related but not interchangeable) and, in the postwar period particularly, was wrapped up with anti-Communist fervor (because socialist or communist ideas were attractive to many intellectuals at the time).

Taking her cue from William Jennings Bryan, who railed against a "scientific soviet" that was "attempting to dictate what shall be taught in our schools, and, in doing so, to mold the religion of the nation," Jacoby identifies three enduring features of anti-intellectualism: the portrayal of experts as alien to the American polity; viewing the educated minority as an overclass bent on imposing its views; and identifying this class as an enemy of religion. She asserts that two anti-rationalist components remain "largely unchanged since the 1890s": treating higher learning as an opponent of religion and accepting pseudoscience "which Americans on both the left and the right continue to imbibe as a means of rendering their social theories impervious to evidence-based challenges."

The historicism in "The Age of American Unreason" drags its focus backward more often than not, which is effective in explaining the origin and continuity of ideas but stands out as a distinct liability whenever Jacoby deploys sharp insight on our present straits. She observes, for example: "Unlike its predecessor in the twenties, the current anti-rationalist movement has been politicized from the bottom up and the top down, from school boards in small towns to the corridors of power in Washington." That statement comes in a discussion of intelligent design -- creationism by another name -- and one can see the candle burning at both ends. The journalist Bill Moyers, often attacked for the pro-science, pro-rationalist content of his television programs, may have the best line here, quoted by Jacoby from a speech he delivered about Revelations-based "end time" beliefs: "One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal."

The culprits Jacoby fingers, as suggested above, are eclectic but to a great extent include the usual suspects too. Her documentation varies from the fairly thorough (on junk science) to the somewhat thin (in lambasting the media). She applauds postwar "middlebrow" culture for its ethos of self-betterment, its secularizing influence and its aspirations to the high arts, but her effort to track the erosion of print culture is like trying to take on the fall of the Roman Empire. In a book that seeks to trace the convergence of several cultural trends, such an attempt is bound to be spotty. (On that topic, incidentally, Jacoby discusses a 2002 study on reading conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts. Readers should be aware that last November, the NEA released a new study, available online, even more dire in its findings than the one Jacoby cites. The 2007 study, which NEA Chairman Dana Gioia termed "alarming," found "reading proficiency rates are stagnant or declining in adults of both genders and all education levels," and that, as of 2005, scarcely more than a third of high school seniors read at or above the proficient level.)

Jacoby manages to step on toes across political and cultural spectrums in "The Age of American Unreason," and whether by accident or design it is hard to determine. She questions the residual damage done by McCarthyism, for example, which is bound to raise hackles on the left; her main point is that the rapid acceleration of new protest movements (such as the civil-rights campaign) argues "against overstating the overall cultural impact of the postwar hunt for Communists." She accuses right-wing attacks on the 1960s of being "essentially a political indictment masquerading as a defense of Western culture." Yet, she has her own cavils about the period, maintaining that "the fusion of video, the culture of celebrity, and the marketing of youth is the real anti-intellectual legacy of the sixties" and that everyone took rock 'n' roll "too seriously."

Darwinism (read: validated science) and its religious opposition occupy much of Jacoby's discussion and form the perfect paradigm underpinning her book. Approximately 45% of those with no education beyond high school believe in the literal truth of the Bible, she reports, and in a 2006 survey by the Pew Foundation, 60% of white evangelical Christians contended that the Bible, not popular representation, should shape U.S. law. Citing educational deficits in the South (another set of toes!), Jacoby notes that Southerners are more likely than other Americans to have a fundamentalist faith, a general point she belabors more than once. "Of all the cultural phenomena slighted by the contemporary media and academic community, the rejuvenation of fundamentalist religion was unquestionably the most important," Jacoby insists, noting its adherents' belief "that it is both a right and a religious duty to institutionalize their moral values."

Jacoby posits a hatred of secularism at work: That's probably an overstatement as a general proposition, but it seems pointedly true when applied to educational and scientific arenas. The great social thinker Jane Jacobs wrote a book not long before her death titled "Dark Age Ahead," voicing an equally diffuse set of cultural complaints, but in which the abandonment of science figured as a major concern. Science "isn't a thing but a state of mind," Jacobs wrote. Noting that science is mistrusted by those who "don't like its discoveries for religious, political, ethical, or even esthetic reasons," she spoke of a rot of bad science and asked, "Try to imagine how demoralizing that deterioration will be." Jacoby offers no specific alternative to the path she says we're on. Contending that "every shortcoming of American governance, in foreign relations and domestic affairs, is related in some fashion to the knowledge deficit of the America public," her book suggests that this demoralizing state is already here. But don't tell that to Beavis and Butt-head. *
Administrator
Registered: Sep 2007
Posts: 175
This is a very nice article about science from NY times

Anna.
persipidus
Guest
Hi Anna,

Thank you for the NY times Article. Interesting..
Member
Registered: Feb 2008
Posts: 33
Although I didn't read them yet, I think the articles mentioned above allude to a common observation, and a frustration i have been feeling throughout the morning reading some of the ridiculous comments some people leave regarding current science topics and articles.

Because science employs and encourages rational thinking, it can help discipline us to think about things rationally in our everyday lives. And I think, in general, science is dying in America (I dont know about the rest of the planet). I see it everywhere, on every news outlet, in the increasing polarity concerning global warming and other scientific issues, and most frustratingly, the use of 'science' and 'scientific facts' to make totally erroneous conclusions. With a decrease in the pursuit of science of all types comes a decrease of our collective intellectual ability to think things through rationally. . . even to think before we respond and not simply regurgitate something we've heard or read. And with this comes a increased willingness for belief without question, just as long as information comes from what we perceive to be reputable sources (like Glenn Beck or Jesus in the Bible).

This aspect of science is in my opinion more important than the progression of any particular field.
morris09
Guest
We need science because it is the source of all the technology and development in this world. Without it, we would be living like our ancestors.. life without advancements..
« Last edit by kirhist on Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:47 pm. »
Member
Registered: Feb 2008
Posts: 33
I dont agree with your rational, as it is industrialization aided by science that is enabling us to consume our planet's resources and possibly destroy it (ourselves, rather). There's also the danger of a nuclear holocaust, which would be bad. So, no, that's not why we need science.
Member
Registered: Feb 2010
Posts: 6
in my opinion, why we need science to make us some better person. people with higher education usually has better habit, more mature, and wise :)
anyway, we can learn that we don't know before, smarter people :D

regards
Member
Registered: Mar 2010
Posts: 1
ghprod wrote
in my opinion, why we need science to make us some better person. people with higher education usually has better habit, more mature, and wise :)

Wow, this is a tough statement!

On the one hand you are certainly right that science helps people to become more mature and educated, but on the other hand I don't think it's adequate to call those persons "better" than uneducated persons as we all start off as uneducated persons anyways :D

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Member
Registered: Mar 2010
Posts: 3
jamescartell wrote
Science is the reason why the world is much easier.. but somehow it has drastic effects on the environment..


Yes, science nourishes and destroys us, well, it's the old "guns don't kill people" argument.
Without science we would still be living like cavemen, where a medical procedure like bloodletting seems state of the art.
Member
Registered: Oct 2010
Posts: 1
Without science, there would be ver yslow progress and who knows we might still be living in a simple way of life. Juts imagine your life minus the huge buildings, computers and all. I couldn't last a day if that's the case. :D
« Last edit by Olexandr Isayev on Fri Oct 22, 2010 4:08 pm. »
Member
Registered: Oct 2010
Posts: 1
ninjawerkz19 wrote
I couldn't last a day if that's the case. :D

Absolutely true. A lot of things we just take for granted until they are gone. Last year we had a power outage for one day but my Internet connection was down for 4 days. I almost died! :)
Member
Registered: Oct 2010
Posts: 1
These are great questions. In my opinion, science is fundamentally neutral in that it's goal aims at empirical truth. It's the players that fund scientific development for specific ends that create the perceived positive or negative impact. I think we in the western world are in a period now, where for the 1st time since the enlightenment we are beginning to really question whether the role of science has exceeded it's proper bounds. In essence - have we created a monster? In our quest for faster, more, bigger, better, we have completely lost touch with our most basic essence. Is our only way of relating to the world based soley on our ability to manipulate it for our purposes? It's most obvious when we look to our effects on the environment, but it can be seen in all facets of life across the board. So I think a few other important questions are, how do we balance our amazing technical abilities and aptitude with a sense of collectivism? How do we bring attention to the need to reclaim a sense of sacredness (not of any particular religion) in our daily lives? Have we so alienated ourselves through our complex mental and social structures that we no longer appreciate our connection to the rest of life on the planet? How do we advance our societies in ways that are sustainable and focus on the long-term?

Science can be a great tool for good, but in the wrong hands can wreak horrible devistation.
« Last edit by ny126 on Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:53 pm. »
Member
Registered: Aug 2012
Posts: 2
Wow that was an epic amount of spam for one post (above).

I think the most important reason for the need for science is the development of critical thinking.
For far too many people the effort of carefully rationing out truth from either direct observations (or even more importantly) from second and third hand statements is too much. Society (and government) would be much better served if more of the people were capable of discerning between true statements, errors of omission, and outright lies.

Scientific study demands the student be capable of sustaining the effort of actually TESTING statements or assertions, and then either reject them or not based on trial observations made.
It is not always necessary to try "every statement" being made, but society would be better served if leaders FEARED that more of their statements would be subjected to scrutiny.

A society that neglects scientific study and more importantly the development of critical thinking of its members is doomed to be duped by an endless stream of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen... pretty much the way we are today and have been since the mid-70s... best I can tell.
Administrator
Registered: Aug 2007
Posts: 200
Yeah, sorry for the spam, I've been very busy lately so I can't check the forum often. I cleaned this post up a little bit. Most of the spammers were actually real people, rather than bots. I even exchanged a couple of emails with some guy who couldn't bypass the simple question in the registration page, so I registered him manually, only to see that he spammed after a couple of days...
Member
Registered: Jul 2016
Posts: 2
Location: 1146 W. 35th ST Los Angeles 90007
Life is impossible without science.
Yes, it is also sad that students are losing interest in science.
Hope to see more creativity in classes and media also play a role to instill love for science.

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