A new hope…..

A commentary on how science is being combated by the crazy ideas that are allowed to be given media attention an how we might encourage society to get back to understanding scientific method and applying it.

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Picture this, you’re on your home world in Sombrero Galaxy and the opening blurb for the latest Stars Wars movie is rolling: “Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, the planet, known to it’s inhabitant as Earth, was overrun with stupidity, the inhabitants were no longer questioning their politicians and their media sources. The Rebels are increasingly losing their sway on society with celebrity worship slowly encouraging on rebel strongholds in the learning institutions on the planet. People actually believe the planet is flat….”

Sombrero Galaxy @Space_Samuel
Sombrero Galaxy by @space_samuel

If only this was fiction! We live in a funny world, where we seemingly accept the ridiculous as fact and we don’t question what we hear. There’s a greater danger on this world than the potential for us to nuke ourselves back to the stone age, the danger is that we become less informed than the stone age people.

Lately there have been two items in the media that have made me consider, for the first time, that our own stupidity may well be our undoing. The first was the media reports before Christmas about the chap who believed the world was flat and wanted to launch a rocket to prove it. The other item was that 2017 was the second hottest year on record (or the hottest without an “El Nino”. These two combined, lead to the next item of concern and that is the role the media plays in giving the nutters of the world a platform. Slowly but surely we’re growing a world of people who do not question, who just believe what they read on the internet an do not go check things for themselves. If that was only the problem… these people then seem to also disrespect anyone else’s opinion. There’s a merging going on between belief and truth where people believe they can chose which “truth” to believe.

Scientific method was worked out along time ago to make sense of the world through a system that comes up with an idea, tests it, allows the rest of the world to test the idea and, then if it works we know it to be illuminating a truth about the world we live in.

It’s a simple concept, you have an idea about how something works so you come up with a way of testing your idea though experimentation or observation. Then you write it all up and put it out there for other people to pull your idea, experiments and observations apart. They might trash your idea and demonstrate how it might not work, so then you are forced to go back to the drawing board and refine your ideas and devise new experiments, which your peers will test. If your experiment can be replicated and the results are found to be the same then maybe your idea is right and maybe you’ve found a new truth. As time goes past we get better and better at refining the truth.

For example Ernest Rutherford had a theory that atoms were made of a very small charged nuclues that was surrounded by very low mass electrons. He tested this idea by bombarding the gold foil with alpha particles. Some of the particles bounced back and by comparing the amounts that past through and what bounced back he was able to determine just how much of the gold atom was empty space. After his experiment, it was accepted as a truth that atoms were mostly empty space with a tiny charged nucleus surrounded by very tiny electrons. This truth has been refined over the years but the basics still hold true. There’s no option to believe it or not, it’s the truth.

The Egyptians figured out the Earth is round by doing a simple experiment with a stick in the ground and measuring the shadow at the same time of the day in two separate locations – a long way apart. Humans went a bit dull for a while, believing the Earth was flat and was the centre of everything. Fortunately sailors didn’t fall off the edge of the planet and after a few circumnavigations of the globe it became widely accepted as a truth that world was not flat but actually spherical. Ever since we’ve down a huge amount of science and advancement because we understand the world to be spherical – in fact there is no question, the world in not flat – full stop. The scary thing is, there are actually people who really do believe the world is flat and no matter how much evidence is presented to them, they won’t budge.

So here’s what we should do:

Don’t engage with them, don’t try to reason with them, just don’t waste you energy. Focus on moving the world forward, rather than wasting effort on the ludicrous.

The next one is the ongoing issue about climate change. Here are the facts, the world is getting hotter and we are causing it. It’s that simple, there’s no maybe, there’s no “it’s some natural process”, it’s us. Once we all accept this then we can have a proper discussion about how to fix the problem rather than pretending it’s not a problem and will fix itself. Science is not politics or religion, science doesn’t care if you believe it or not, science will still happen regardless of what you believe, regardless of what political ideology you follow.

So what can we do about this mess we are getting ourselves into?

Education is the key, educate our kids to ask questions, not to just blindly accept what they hear but to examine the evidence and seek out the truth. For the adults, read articles on the internet and see what the sources are, check those sources, critique the authors, question their conclusions – be impartial and don’t fall into being a slave to biases. We must pressure the media to do the same, to not just put any old rubbish in front of us to secure advertising revenue but to question the stories, uncover the assumptions, uncover the motivations. We have to destroy this notion of false balance where the media always uncover some nutter to give an opposing view of some truth. The more focus we give the people who have some crack pot idea, that’s gone through no scientific method, the more we damage our future.