Maintain A Healthy Skepticism Of Science

When I was about seven years old I was visiting my grandparents and I came across a science text book in the attic. The book belonged to my uncle who is about ten years older than me. I have no idea when it was published but I found it to be fascinating. My favorite chapter was about the future and it included predictions of what “scientist” expected humans and our environment to be like in the year 2000. Scientist in the 50s, or at least the authors of this science textbook, believed that by 2000 we would solve most of the world’s problems. We would probably go to work in flying cars or slide along on moving sidewalks. They predicted most of our food would be grown in indoor growth labs and we would all have a Dick Tracy watch. For you young folks, Dick Tracy was a futuristic comic strip detective that had a cell phone watch.

I found most of the textbooks predictions to be very exciting, especially the phone watch, but there was one prediction that shook me to the core. The authors of the textbook claimed that by 2000 many men and women would be bald and that eventually we were all going to be bald. Wow, that was terrifying, I did not want to be bald and I sure as heck was not interested in having a bald wife. I began to try to warn all the adults in my life about this impending tragedy but none of them seemed too concerned. Then it hit me, none of them are worried about this because they were all going to be dead. I was going to be the one stuck with a bald wife. This may seem funny now but it was not funny to me. I dreamed about being bald and having a little bald wife and two bald kids for several years.

Something happened in the 1960s and scientist went from what was no doubt and over optimistic belief that we could and would solve any problem faced by man to whiny doomsday prophets. In 1970 we celebrated the first earth day and every school kid in America was bombarded with terrifying predictions about our environment. It was up to us kids; we had to save spaceship earth. The predictions of a coming ice age and mass worldwide starvations were terrifying. Yes kids, when I was in school scientist believed we were headed into an ice age and not global warming. The theory as best I can recall was that human smog would somehow block the sun and cool the earth. The scientist claimed that the previous 20 years were the coldest in recorded history. Again, I tried hard to warn the adults in my life but again they did not seem overly concerned.

This pattern has been repeated over and over in my life. I remember when I would tell my Pappaw, Pappaw did you know scientist have proven that …; he would look at me, grin and say, “I know they think they have.” My Pappaw loved science and history just like me. Pappaw did not have a formal education at least not one like mine but he read every Reader’s Digest cover to cover and read all the condense books they published. It was amazing what he knew about the world but he was always a little skeptical of new science. He would say “well, we will just have to wait and see.”

Society has come to believe and treat science as absolute truth. Anyone who questions and says, as my Pappaw did, let’s wait and see, is painted by society as ignorant or a fool. This is a huge change. In the past even most scientists have embraced the fact that science is as often wrong as it is right. Unfortunately society seems to have begun to almost worship science. I find this trend deeply troubling. It has, after all, not been that long since doctors used bloodletting and since we believed lobotomies might just be the cure we were looking for to mental illness.

As I approach sixty I am now the Pappaw in my family and like my Pappaw before me life has taught me to be skeptical of scientific conclusions. I am convinced we must reject the very notion that science in general is absolute truth. It is anything but absolute truth. Science is in fact an ongoing never-ending process and not a conclusion at all. I am convinced that in time many of the scientific conclusions our kids are being taught as fact today will be proven to be partially or entirely wrong. Why do I think that, because that is the story of human history. Every generation believes they have arrived at scientific truth only to be proven wrong by the next generation. Don’t believe me, well, let’s just wait and see.


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