Quickie Post — March for Science

Statue of Liberty Girls

Hanging with some new girlfriends, February 2017

I write a column for our local paper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, that runs every two weeks.  It serves as good exercise for me in working on moving many concepts in this blog down to a wider audience.  The piece below is a good example of this — one I didn’t really want to write at the beginning, but was glad that I did when I finished it.  It illustrates a solid appeal for a good empathetic ladder — science, when processed correctly, balancing ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ helps develop the multi-solution mind.

Note that this doesn’t always apply to all sciences, all the time.  Social structure still matters as far as perspective and knowledge creation.  Which means that there’s no substitute for developed mindfulness and reflection, and realizing what v-Meme you operate under.  Yet every scientist with developed reflective practice knows that every piece of knowledge they generate has some set of system boundaries, and recognizing that and contextualizing that information is as important for validity as it is for any other thought we have.  We believed in Newtonian physics as truth until quantum mechanics came along.

One of the purposes of this blog has been to give a theoretical reach to the social sciences that they haven’t had.  Physics has a great tool for rigorous metacognitive speculation and prediction.  We call it ‘Math’.  That helps physicists be a little more empathetic.  My hope is that some critical group of social scientists will also recognize the need, of course, and adopt or modify the principles I’ve laid out here, instead of being captured by their social structure.  That would cut down on the constant, arbitrary psychological philosophizing that occurs with every new experiment some academic does.  While there are some promising signs of this occasionally (shout-out to the Bowen Systems folks!) I’m not holding my breath.

At any rate — here’s my piece on the upcoming March for Science.  Feel free to borrow any messages you want without attribution.  Science is important — and all of us that are committed to it have to be in it to win it.  As I’ve stated over and over, science isn’t the answer to everything.  But without it as part of our scaffolding toolkit, we’re pretty much screwed.

Here’s the piece.

March for Science on April 22

Chuck Pezeshki, Reality-Based Lefty  April 14, 2017

On April 22, a week from now on Saturday, there will be a March for Science – an event that will happen both in communities around the U.S., as well as a large event in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall.  The event in Pullman will start at Pine Street Plaza, outside the Taco del Mar, at 1:00 PM, and proceed to Reaney Park, where there will be speeches and activities that discuss the relevance science has in our lives on the Palouse.

But the reality of the influence of science across our entire modern society goes much deeper. Because the core of science is what is called the Scientific Method – and the short version of that is that various tools are used to collect and measure all sorts of phenomena in our world, and then propose models that explain things that humans otherwise would resort to magical interpretations.

The challenge in today’s society is that as science has gotten more sophisticated, many of the discoveries have gotten stranger.  Not too many people have difficulty in accepting that the Earth is round, and that gravity pulls toward the center of the Earth – though if you go up on any college campus, and ask folks why people don’t fall off the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll find more than one student who looks at you confused.  Basic scientific literacy is definitely a core problem.

But science itself reveals things that bend the minds of many.  Take quantum mechanics, for example.  The idea of relative perspective is fundamentally built into the fabric of our universe.  Look at things as a wave, and they’re a wave.  Look at them as a particle, and they’re a particle.  And therein lies the rub.  The core of modern science rests on foundations of accepting ambiguity as being essential to truth. That’s where things for many people start falling apart.

Why? It takes some intellectual horsepower to hold duality and uncertainty in one’s mind. And with the bombardment of media and politician’s speech asserting what is called ‘dichotomous thinking’ – a right/wrong, Left/Right interpretation to every event, science, with its careful, methodical processes, subject to many opinions and reviews, is suffering.

What’s to be done? Scientists have to get out in front of the public more. One of the key things for the public to understand is that science is done everywhere – not just in a laboratory.  And the other thing that will help is for scientists to translate their work, which often consists of calculations and data, into personal experience that everyone can relate to. In my own world as an engineering scientist, I have no problem believing in global warming.  And not just because I can read the papers and look at the charts.  I have friends who work on the Greenland ice cap, and Antarctica.  I get to hear their stories about glacial recession, or uncanny heat waves over frozen snow fields.  I work with people that observe chimpanzees, and orangutans.  They can tell me how much like humans they actually are, as well as how they differ.

But most importantly, by connecting with these people, they tell me when, with evidence, my assumptions about the world and the various things in it, are wrong.  And by doing so, they keep my intellect developing.  Because believing in the scientific method forces me to change my mind.  That critical thing, linked to what is called ‘neuroplasticity’, keeps my brain alive, and keeps me learning.

Make no mistake that the current administration wants to gut science.  They want to do that because then they get to control the end result – the truth – as well as your ability to take in information and make up your own mind.  That’s beyond dangerous.

So turn out for the march.  It’s a small thing.  There are activities for the kids guaranteed.  And you might walk away with your mind changed about something!

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