Science and Me

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

I grew up thinking some people are born with science and math competence, but many are not. I long ago concluded I am stuck in the “not” group. Not surprisingly, I performed badly in the two science courses my high school forced me to take.

When I went to college I honored my mother’s fervent wish by declaring a pre-med major. That didn’t last long. In my freshman year I got a D in inorganic chemistry, a “gentleman’s D” that should have been an F. I switched my major to American Studies. I instantly felt relief because history and literature classes were fun and almost easy for me. I regretted being such a dunce in science classes, but it seemed obvious that I was never meant to be a scientist.

Life has ways of challenging our prejudices. As an outdoorsman and outdoor journalist I was a passionate advocate for intelligent management of the planet and all things that live on it. And guess what? I couldn’t fight for sound wildlife management without considering the science used to defend different management programs. When thoughtful people began dreading climate change, I realized that ignorance about science was a luxury our society cannot afford.

Writing about wolf management obliged me to confront tricky science issues. The state of Alaska has long been enthusiastic about lethal wolf management. Alaska’s game managers claim scientific research proves that killing wolves will boost populations of caribou and moose. Many wolf biologists disagreed. I was forced to consider whether Alaska’s wolf studies were sound science or just excuses to kill wolves.

At about the same time, I met wolf researcher Dave Mech, the most dedicated scientist I’ve known personally. Dave helped me see the dangers of sloppy science. After working with him I realized (to my astonishment) that I respect the scientific method. It is an intellectual discipline that makes it possible to test ideas about the world we live in.

My personal odyssey of coming to admire science has been boosted enormously by the way so many politicians have decided that science is their enemy. The current occupant of the White House hates science. He dismisses the wisdom of genuine experts, favoring the whims of his “gut.” As recently as 1990 many Republican politicians supported science research, but that seems like a distant memory now. I’m convinced that the anti-science culture so prevalent today is anti-intellectualism in a form that threatens all the values I hold dear.

I once would have cheerfully admitted to “hating science.” No more. I dream of a time when science and its rigorous style of problem solving is respected again. If we are to make America great again, that would be a smart place to start.

Does science touch on your life now? Do you have feelings about science?

21 thoughts on “Science and Me”

  1. My sense of pure science is that its a process that seeks understanding by collecting evidence and drawing logical conjectures supported by that evidence. Science in its purest form is agnostic about where the evidence will lead and pure science doesn’t presume to “prove” anything but only to reach the most logical conclusion based on the evidence so far. That’s not to say that the findings and working theories aren’t substantial and well founded. It’s just that pure science is always open to new information that alters the way we understand the workings of the universe. Pure scientists are as happy to be wrong as right.

    Of course, it’s not hard to point to scientists and would-be scientists who have staked a position on some scientific “truth” as an immutable fact. Scientific careers are sometimes built around presumed “truths” like that and the possibility of those “truths” being changed or negated by new information can be threatening.

    Non scientists frequently have mistaken notions about what science does and what it intends. The fact that scientists can’t prove something false doesn’t make it true and vice versa. A scientific theory isn’t just a notion that some egghead dreamed up but an avenue to follow with experimentation and computation—the conclusion, ever subject to change, being the best explanation that supports the findings. Calling something a theory doesn’t make it any less manifest. Science is not subject to opinion. It makes no difference whether one believes in a theory or not. Gravitation, for example, is a theory.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Looking at the header picture, I don’t think actual scientists would be comfortable with those claims of truth. “Truth” is a product of binary black-or-white thinking that is incompatible with the scientific method. There is a segment of the population that seems to need absolutes and if science can’t provide them will make up their own “truths” unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I adore science. All of it. Science Friday is Must-Listen-To radio. My loathing of the current leadership of this country has deepened with the thoughtless criticism of the New Green Deal. Obviously, it represents a wish list for progress that can only be achieved through scientific research. We have already left behind Flintstone “technology”. Let’s get on to the Jetsons.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I think of how uneasy people are with science I often think of the Wisconsin researcher in the 1950s who studied the deer population. Although wolves had just about been wiped out in Wisconsin, hunters remained convinced that wolves were ruining their sport by killing too many deer. The researcher worked for years to study that. He eventually amassed overwhelming proof that wolves were no problem at all. Deer suffered from overpopulation which then caused them to damage their habitat by overbrowsing favored vegetation. Damaged habitat led to periodic dieoffs in deer herds during a particularly difficult winter.

    In other words, the research showed deer were dying because their populations got out of balance with their habitat. And the few wolves still around were not part of the problem at all.

    The sad part of this story is that the researcher basically hid his work from public view. I assume he didn’t want to attract the outrage that would surely follow from publicizing his work. He shelved the research, hoping later generations would find it and possibly put sensible management in place. This research was the culmination of his career. And he just walked away from it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love science. Always have, always will. Especially chemistry & physics. I’m also a fan of algebra and geometry. I use physics and geometry every time I step onto a golf course (with a bit of meteorology thrown in on most days).

    The balance of the natural world fascinates me. Mankind’s laughable attempts to “manage” the environment usually illustrate, by our erroneous presumptions and actions, that nature is far more complex than we want to believe. But it can manage itself just fine without our interference.

    The best illustration of that was the belief that all fire is bad and should be eliminated and prevented at all costs. For protecting man-made things like houses, buildings, and people, yes of course. For protecting the wilderness? Hah! If nature-caused fires aren’t allowed to follow their natural course, then the stupid man-made fires (ignorant or willful) only make things worse.

    I too bemoan the powers that be pretending they give a damn about the natural world and the environment but really only care about profit. If we readjusted our laws so that every business had to compete on a level playing field and the actual cost of cleaning up pollution, waste, and the air and water were included in the cost of goods and services, humans might be able to survive for a few more millennia. At the rate we’re going, the year 2100 doesn’t look too promising for sustaining life as we know it.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am a latecomer to science. Like you Steve, I wasn’t much good at science in school and it wasn’t that interesting to me. I took biology in summer school so that it would be over with fast. This resulted in me being the teacher’s pet since everyone else was in summer school because they flunked it the year before. My dad started getting Scientific American when I was in college and I found myself flipping through the magazines when I was at home. And then he started sending them to me in little batches when he was finished with them. When my father died, my mother had the remainder of his two-year subscription transferred to me. It’s fascinating to me all the things there are in the world and ways of looking at them. And I still subscribe to Scientific American to this day.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I am a biology and social sciences person. I had a minor in biology and could have had a major had I not been afraid of taking chemistry. I needed to have a nearly perfect GPA to get into grad school, and I was worried that a B in chemistry would count against me. I loved dissecting things. We dissected squid and then cooked them and ate them. That was fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As someone who was spooked by science and then later learned to like it, the spookiest subjects are physics and chemistry. I’ve always considered biology an appealing sort of science, far more comprehensible than chemistry and physics.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The great joy of being teacher’s pet that summer I took biology in summer school was that he dissected the frog for me while I sat out in the hall trying not to throw up from the formaldehyde smell. I got an A.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Science touches on my life a lot now. I won’t go into lots of detail here, but since I have a long-term disease that requires big guns to deal with it, then medical science affects me a lot – and will affect me even more in the future – even if I don’t understand it very well compared to a doctor.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Science enters into my life with concrete. Concrete ain’t just sand and water. It’s science in the most practical way. All of it affects flooring. Curing, content…a good flooring contractor keeps up on that.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Common people should have an understanding of basic science as they should be able to evaluate the claims of politicians whose manifestos are being increasingly stuffed with subjects like climate change.

    Like

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