Science Says

A physicist at École Centrale Paris posted a detailed photo of a distant world that had supposedly been captured through the world’s most powerful space telescope. After the image got thousands of likes and oohs and aahs, he admitted the image was not a celestial body but a slice of chorizo sausage. He claims he perpetrated this hoax to make a point about fake news and how easily things were misinterpreted. He wanted people to proceed with caution and to be wary of studies and experts that support a particular point of view.

It seems to me that if he really wanted people to be wary, it would have made more sense to simply tell people to be wary, but where’s the fun in that? This fellow seems to like practical jokes — apparently, he’d posted the same photo online four years ago, claiming it was the blood moon as seen in Spain. (It makes sense in a whimsical sort of way since a slice of chorizo is a full-moon shaped, blood-colored product from Spain.)

Whether this particular usage of the photo was an actual hoax that he tried to backtrack from, a joke, or a timely warning as he claims, what I found interesting was not that people fell for his trickery (because truly, there’s no way we ordinary folk can tell if a photo is of a distant world or is simply a piece of pork) but that people want to believe in something bigger than they are. Even more, they want to be awed.

According to the dictionary, science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” More simply, science is “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena,” and “the discovery of general laws or truths that can be tested systematically.”

Despite science being a discipline of shared knowledge that is changed or refined as more observations are made and more experiments are done, many people look to “Science” (with a capital “S”) as an immutable authority, a secular replacement for religion as something both to believe in and to be awed about. Even worse, “Science Says” is often used as an excuse, a not-to-be-argued-with dogmatism, or a justification of one’s beliefs or actions, when in fact, “Science” says nothing. It has no voice. Scientists say things, and as shown above, what scientists say may not be the truth.

We certainly don’t need to turn our attention to scientists for something to believe in or something to “awe” over. We can go outside, look around, and see what we can see. After all, that’s how science as a discipline started, with people simply looking. Admittedly, we won’t see a piece of photo-shopped sausage, but we might see something even more intriguing.

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Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Questioning the Science

A couple of days ago, I saw a comment by a bestselling author who was rather scathing about people who question “the science.” It kind of took me aback because it seemed so . . . ignorant. Science is all about questioning. If it weren’t for questions, there would be no science. It’s the search for answers to those questions that create what we call “science.” Although some questions seem to have been answered, such as why an apple falls (though “gravity” itself still inspires questions) and if the sun is the center of the universe, there are others that haven’t been answered and perhaps never will be, such as what the universe is made of, how life began, what makes us human, what is consciousness, and a whole slew of other questions that make people try to reach beyond what they know.

According to Nasa Space Place, “Science consists of observing the world by watching, listening, observing, and recording. Science is curiosity in thoughtful action about the world and how it behaves.” It also says, “Science is not just a tidy package of knowledge. Science is not just a step-by-step approach to discovery. Science is more like a mystery inviting anyone who is interested to become a detective and join in the fun.”

Nowadays, though, “science” has reached the level of dogma, something that is incontrovertibly true, and anyone who dares question that dogma is branded a heretic. Of course, the word “heretic” isn’t used because it smacks of religion, and science isn’t religion, it’s . . . science. Or so they want you to believe. You’re not allowed to do your own thinking because . . . science. You’re not allowed to question the doctrine they’re foisting on you because . . . science.

But nothing is incontrovertibly true, not even truth (whatever that might be).

Supposedly, there are whole rooms full mysteries in the dark corners of the Smithsonian that don’t fit current theories about evolution, prehistory, whatever. Science only gives us the best possible explanation for observable phenomenon, and science can be manipulated to fit the scientist’s bias and, more probably, to fit the bias of the government or corporation funding the science.

Getting on a soapbox wasn’t my point in writing this piece, however. What prompted this essay is that yesterday, the day after I read that author’s comment, I saw her latest offering among the new books at the library. By habit, I reached out for it, because she was an author I sometimes read, but I couldn’t touch it. She’s nothing special and rather predictable, but that’s not why I could not force myself to pick up the book. It was the memory of her scathing remark about the stupidity of people who question the science.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.