Where brains are always on the menu! Serving up a heaping portion of the latest neuroscience news, plus a side of social commentary expertly seasoned with action potentials and cognitive functions. Garnished with general thoughts on science, ethics, and evolution. For dessert, enjoy a sickeningly-sweet understanding of human behavior!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Science is not a popularity contest

Here's the a grand example of why science is not determined by consensus.

If you live in Kansas, The TruthTM which your children are taught in school is decided based upon the ideology of the current Board of Elections. This coming year, for example, Intelligent Design could be taught to your children, who would learn that life is supposedly Intelligently Designed, that evolution occurs to some extent, and that the earth is probably 4.55 billion years old (but not all IDers agree on that). The next year, Young Earth Creationists might want to tell your kids that the earth is actually 6,000 years old, and that evolution is impossible because all animals were created in their current forms. Following a backlash to the YEC crowd, a majority of Roman Catholics might be elected and tell your kids that that the earth is 4.55 billion years old again, there is nothing wrong with evolution, but God did put souls in human beings to separate them from other animals. The ensuing backlash to the RCC theistic evolutionists might be the election of members of the Flat Earth Society who instruct your kids that those evil scientists have not only lied to them about the mutability of forms and the age of the earth (it's now back to 6,000 years), but also that the earth is flat, has four corners and a lid. Maybe some year Hindu creationists would get elected and tell your kids that the universe is virtually infinite in age, due to its cyclical nature.

Now how must that fuck kids up when The TruthTM keeps changing without rhyme or reason? Religious ideologues teach kids what to know based upon getting a consensus of people who "believe" the same as they do in a position of power. To them, science is a body of facts to be learned. Don't believe me? Pick up a Bob Jones University or Abeka Life Sciences book for elementary school students.

What is missing from this equation? Teaching kids how science is done. Teaching them how to draw accurate conclusions. Teaching them how to test and revise their knowledge. Teaching them to decide what to do when one set of "facts" conflicts with another set of "facts". Help them understand why scientific knowledge is tenative by nature, and when to reject explanations in favor of newer, better ones. In short, installing Bullshit detectors in your kids' minds.

The great thing about science is how we all can arrive at the same conclusions about the natural world irrespective of ideologically-driven consensus. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, etc. can all determine that the earth is 4.55 billion years old using the same methods (give or take a few million depending on the method employed). We can all determine that evolution occurs via observation and experimentation. We can do these things because science is not merely a body of knowledge, but a method for discerning truth via constant revision based upon weight of evidence. In short, science is the ultimate Bullshit Detector. The only time this cannot be done is when we supplant reason with superstition and demagoguery.


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