Sciencism? September 16, 2014Posted by Sobek in News.
I need a new word. This is something that’s been bugging me for a long while now. I need a word that means something like “a believer in the importance and efficacy of science.” Normally you can throw the suffix “-ist” on the end of a word, like “humanist,” “jihadist” or “pacifist,” but I try to do that here, I end up with “scientist,” which means something else, or “sciencist,” which sounds horrible.
I’ve wondered about this for a while now, but mores in the past few days as people have been piling on Neal deGrasse Tyson for his, um, let’s call them ethical lapses. Like falsely attributing the million dollar space pen to NASA, or egregiously misquoting George W. Bush to make him look dumb (you need to misquote him to do that?), or just flat-out making crap up.
Thing is, I’m no scientist. So while I would like to call myself a Science-ist – that is, one who believes in the nature of science and the good results it can produce – I certainly can’t pretend I am a scientist, which is one who does science. Stuff like collecting data, analyzing it, proposing hypotheses, testing hypotheses. You know, stuff that scientists do. Not just looking at cool pictures of galaxies and pretending that makes me smart. (Um, NSFW language at that link)
It seems to me that Neal deGrasse Tyson is a scientist. Heck, I don’t actually know, because I don’t read technical astronomy papers, but I assume he’s published something somewhere, actually done some science in his life. But that doesn’t appear to be his current day job. His current job, near as I can tell, is carnival barker. He’s a salesman, or an advertiser. That’s not science. Inspiring others to want to learn more may be laudable, but it’s not science. Making crap up isn’t science, either, but I’ll let the serial stalkers at the Federalist worry about that.
Ace has an idea that he expressed today: “I have a theory. Call it the HuffPo Rule. If your “Science” gets linked by HuffPo, then it’s not science, because HuffPo readers are not scientists and are not interested in science. If they take self-congratulatory delight in it, it can’t be science.”
Well yeah. I’m not a scientist, either. I watched a series of astronomy lectures by Tyson, and was generally entertained and informed. But the fact is, if an idiot like me can follow along with your astronomy lecture, then it’s not science. It’s edutainment (ugh, need a new word for that, too), and it’s fortunately dumbed-down enough that I can follow, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with being a scientist. Give me enough time and inclination and I, too, could prepare a presentation about what other people have discovered about the stars and the cosmos, but until I start doing science, I’m not a scientist, and my presentation will not be science.
One final thought about science and faith. I accept an awful lot of things on faith, and that includes a lot of science stuff. The reality is that I don’t have time, and neither do any of you, to accept most of modern science by anything other than faith. Consider a few examples: I trust that my microwave works, and I guess I have some idea that it makes little bits of energy at a certain wavelength jiggle little bits of matter and that makes my food hot, but I have not tested or observed any of that stuff, beyond the part where my microwave works. I trust that there are photons in the universe, but not because I’ve seen them. I assume, probably correctly, that I could do some experiments and determine that there are photons, but I haven’t and I don’t plan on doing so, because I don’t have the time. I assume the continents drift, but I can’t see them doing it, and I’ve never compared the rocks in Brazil with the rocks in Cameroon to verify that. I trust that cells are powered by mitochondria and that sodium and chlorine combine to make salt – even though that makes no sense whatsoever. I assume all kinds of things every day, never experimenting on or testing them to even the slightest degree, and that’s because I lack the time, inclination, education or all three to do so. And because of how advanced Western science has become, no human alive can do so. We all walk by faith, and live by the unseen, in every moment. So when I see an airplane fly, I think, “that sure is neat that science can do that!” because I am a Science-ist – I believe in the power of science to do the things science can do – without ever becoming a scientist – the kind of person who experiments with airfoils and jet turbines and materials and fuels and drag and lift. Now that’s an adulterated use of the word “faith,” but I mean it to generally refer to the trust in the unseen that I’ve been discussing here.