Saturday, August 19, 2017

Absolute Zero

When I was a kid, science was cool.

It was the time of the space race - the first man in space, the first to orbit the earth,  and of course the moon landings.  I know now that politics, not so much the pure thirst for knowledge, was behind the cultural push for science studies,    but that didn't matter much.  Science was cool.

I will never forget my *eureka* moment  sitting in class in grade 5, grade FIVE, not even High School, when the teacher explained evolution to us. It made such perfect sense - survival of the fittest. It was slightly depressing that imperfect creatures were doomed to death but the whole concept was so elegant, so all-encompassing,  and explained so much.

When it came time to choose a college path, there seemed to be three main options. Business was not one of them. Bachelors of Commerce existed but not really on my radar.  Business was regarded still as a self-taught, working your way up thing. There were Arts, Science and Engineering.  Very few females went into Engineering. One of my friends did, and I hardly ever saw her again. Way too much work. I was not, at the time, an Arts person.  I would sit in English class in High School and squirm. While I loved to read, I did not love the classroom discussions and assignments. Who was I, at 15, to know anything about life, symbolism,  what the author meant to say, and why  the colour of the curtains  was important? I would listen to my classmates expound upon their ideas and thought I could never keep up.  So I took  refuge in absolutes - math and science.

In math, 1 + 1 is always 2. There is no debate. Nobody has an opinion. It is either right or wrong. This was very comforting to my teenage self. While it seems a bit boring to me now, it was what I needed then.  Science, at least at that level, was similar. Structured.  Every Science course began with a discussion of the "Scientific Method". I would find this redundant and unnecessary. It was just common sense, you look for proof. You look for  results that can be replicated.  Everything neat and tidy.

So I got my Bachelor of Science, which served me well and taught me how to think logically, which is why the current anti-science sentiment is so baffling and disturbing to me. People seem to think they can choose what to believe pretty much at random, and as long as they believe it, it's as valid as the next person's belief.

Science is not a belief system. It is not a religion. It is not beset by conspiracies that push dangerous vaccines or contrails. And, it appears, it is no longer cool.

But why? What happened? I think that science has become, as Al Gore puts it, "inconvenient"
During the Cold War, governments needed science in order to keep up with the Russians technologically  and thus prevent Communism from sweeping over the world and destroying the free market system. Now that the Cold War is over, the threats to the free markets lie in regulation and in movements that go counter to the interests of corporations, the most obvious of which is the move to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Canada's previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, cut funding for scientific research and tried to keep scientists from speaking to the press without government supervision. Now in the US, scientific agencies are run by known opponents of their mission, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

Science is definitely no longer cool and some governments are trying to make it no longer relevant nor functional.  I can only hope that the pendulum will swing back science's way, before it's too late. After all, how else will we find the next planet to inhabit when this one is destroyed?

No comments: