It’s not about science …


Lots of people are marching for science today, all over the world. A good cause!

But it’s worth mentioning that the core issue is not about science at all. It is about whether we can observe the world around us, form accurate models of understanding based on those obersations, use those models to make accurate predictions about the world, and ultimately use those predictions to understand the impact of possible courses of action, with the goal of picking the right courses of action to make the world a better place.

You may call that science, but it is much more basic than that. For example, if I’m hungry and I’d like not to be (“make the world a better place”, at least for me, for a while), it’s really useful to first have observed the world around me (“there is a refrigerator in my kitchen”), have a good model what a refrigerator does and does not do (“if I put food into it, it always stays there, and remains edible for a few days”), use this to make a prediction (“given that I put half a sandwich in there earlier today, it stands to reasons that it still is there and I could get and eat it”) which will lead to a satisfactory outcome, which is that I’m not going to hungry any more.

This loop of observation, modeling, and predictions is so basic that all humans do it, all the time. All higher animals do it, too. Without, none of use would survive for more than a few days. That is all that science does: observe, create models/theories, and apply them to improve the world in some fashion (well, the latter is more engineering than science). It likes to do that using a lot of math, but the math itself is not central to what science does.

Nobody right in their mind would, as a matter of principle, deny that there was a way of knowing whether or not something was in the fridge, or be certain that the fridge didn’t eat the sandwich itself. Or simply make up a theory about the fridge that clearly conflicts with observations and believe it — like that the fridge performs magic to make sandwiches appear when you circle around the graveyard three times during a full moon. If you did that, evolution would quickly make sure that you won’t pass that view of the world on to your offspring, because you’d be dead before you could have offspring.

So now: if there are so many people these days, in influential places, who deny science, who deny that observation, modeling and prediction is the way to systematically improve everybody’s lot, what does that tell you?

It tells me two things:

  • either they are a brief evolutionary oddity, and they will die out really quickly
  • or they are simply lying to credulous others in the hope to get them to die out really quickly.

Where have I heard this before? Ah, yes, let’s take away healthcare from millions of people. And take away help from the poor. All of which have the effect of …

That’s what this is all about.