The Rightful Place Of Science

Since that phrase was uttered in Obama’s Inaugural speech, much has been written about what that rightful place should be.

My personal take is that science should be near the top. It epitomizes (or should, at least) logical thinking. Logical thinking comes in handy no matter the discipline, so science should be teaching us logic in all things. At least the most important things that impact our daily lives.

Science Blogs took the question seriously and many of the contributors there have offered their comments. You’ll find my comments in several of their posts.

It should be pointed out that I am science junkie. I’ve been one since the early 1980s when my son’s closed head injury sent me to the medical library at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. At that point in time, all I wanted to do was understand the reports of his CT scans, and later, his MRIs.

I learned the parts of the brain, from Wernicke’s area to the substantia nigra quite easily. It’s like reading a map in a way. I understood the reports about the significant and diffuse areas of injury that suggested that he might never speak or walk again. Thankfully, he proved those prognoses wrong. He does not walk perfectly or speak/communicate perfectly and his anxiety at realizing he doesn’t isn’t shown on a CT or MRI scan.

Innate curiosity took over from there. How can one learn just a little bit without wondering what came before and what might come afterwards? And how does this relate to seemingly unrelated things?

Thus began my on-again, off-again subscribtion to Scientific American. It’s recently been mostly off-again because of ScienceBlogs and ScienceDaily.

All of this leads to the most important statement I want to make:

SCIENCE IS IMPORTANT TO ME.

Because it is important, I am disgusted with poor science, science which aims primarily at a monetary result, and woo – science which is just junk – and closely related to making money over advancing knowledge. With all this in mind, I am linking the best of the responses (IMHO) of the ScienceBlogger’s answers to the “rightful place” of science (in no particular order):

Pure Pedantry – Science can tell us what is and in some cases what might be, but it cannot tell us what ought to be. Science can make us intelligent, but it cannot make us wise.

Neurotopia 2.0 – Science needs a voice. A voice of reason, a voice of information. So when the government, or your friend down the street is trying to make a decision, it won’t just be gut instinct. It will be feelings, AND science, AND social considerations, AND economics. And based on all of these factors, a decision can be reached. When science is included, I feel that decision is more likely to be beneficial. The place of science may not be at the very top. But it should at least be in the cabinet. And it should definitely be in the classrooms.

Not Exactly Rocket Science – This difference, between “Science: the Details” and “Science: the Principles is crucial to me. Lacking the former deprives you of knowledge; lacking the latter deprives you of the tools with which to acquire knowledge. The details are what most people think of when they think of science, and they view them as the provinces of geeks and boffins. The principles are a way of thinking, whether people think about it or not, and they are everywhere.

Respectful Insolence – The U.S. still has a healthy scientific endeavor, and the government is not the be-all and end-all of science. Unfortunately, the logo and the concept behind the Rightful Place Project seem to imply that it is, particularly given that President Obama’s statements about science were the inspiration for the project.

Let’s get one thing straight right here: “Revitalizing” science, whatever that means, does not depend upon government. It does not depend upon Barack Obama. There is no doubt that the government is very important as a funder of science, particularly biomedical science, and that the President can do a lot to support science in the U.S., but it is Americans doing science who determine how vital the scientific endeavor in this country is, not the government.

Corpus Callosum – What is being asked is this: help define the rightful place of science in our world.  The answer is this: Literature, Science, and the Arts.  The three noble human endeavors.  Each necessary; none sufficient; each overlapping; none mutually exclusive.

Science is one leg of the three-legged table that elevates all mental sustenance out of the mud. 

AND that, my friends, ends this inquiry into the rightful place of science. However, I’d like to submit an afterthought of my own:

Science is not well served by today’s popular media, be it television, internet, or print. Too much hoopla and too much hype. Were we to listen entirely to popular media, we’d think obesity is caused by a virus and we’re all doomed because of miniscule detectable amounts of mercury in high fructose corn syrup.

Where do you think the rightful place of science is? Could it possibly be in the pages of our newspapers, TV stations, and their websites? Nah… real science isn’t that good for scary headlines.

(formatting changed for clarity and links added)

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