The Miseducation of Science
I've always had something of a natural curiosity about how things worked. When I was a little kid, I dreamed about starting life on another planet. As a teenager, I got into skyscrapers and cities and how they were built and designed. As I got older, I got more interested in the wonders of electronics, and how computers and smartphones did their magic. I guess you could say that I'm a big fan of science. And as a big fan of science, it is both annoying and disheartening how the term is being misused in popular culture today.

Science is basically the acquisition of knowledge through experimentation and research. People ask questions and then attempt to find the answers. Those answers are then scrutinized, leading to more questions, through which there may eventually be more answers. The whole process is then documented so that the cycle of question and answer and question can be continued through successive generations of curious knowledge-seekers. While this research leads to discoveries that are generally accepted as common knowledge, only in the rarest cases (like the laws of gravity) is this knowledge accepted as a certain truth.

This leads to my first and most common example of a misuse of science, which is basically as an "I win" button for any argument. "SHUT UP IT'S SCIENCE!!" Some scientist said this which makes it completely and unequivocally the truth and you can't argue with it unless you want to be a brainless heathen. While this will get you all the cool points in the world on the internet, most true scientists scoff at this type of thinking. Calling any scientific finding the truth means that it can no longer be questioned, and no further knowledge along these lines can be obtained. Basically, it's completely against the spirit of science.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this kind of misuse would be in the field of climate change, where "SHUT UP IT'S SCIENCE!!" is so common that any type of real discussion on the matter is almost impossible. Hell, just writing that last sentence is probably enough to get me branded as a "climate denier" or something. Seriously though, I took a look at the report published late last year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). You'll find a lot of research in there about things like carbon levels, climate models, and all the stuff you'd expect, but the one term you won't see is "FACT!" Instead, you see a lot of "moderately likely" and a bit of "virtually certain". The research models on the effects of carbon on the climate are indeed all over the place--I don't think this winter's polar vortex was in any of them--and there's even the question on how much a significant lowering of carbon in the atmosphere would have on our climate. Would it trigger the type of global cooling that led to an ice age? Speaking of ice age, there is some evidence (at least according to Wikipedia) that there have been periods in Earth's history where the polar ice caps were gone. If man-made climate change is a thing, how does it affect our planet's natural warming and cooling cycles, or does it at all? These kinds of questions can't be answered--or even asked--if we're more concerned with being right than actually acquiring knowledge.

The second misuse is, amusingly enough, almost religious in nature. When people challenge or doubt what has been bandied about in popular culture as scientific fact, they are told that they don't "believe in science". Apparently there have been an increasing number of these non-believers, and so there is now a "war on science". Science can basically be broken down into data and observation, so there isn't really an issue of belief here, unlike, say, the existence of aliens or a higher power. Challenging the conclusions, on the other hand, is more or less how science works. If not for these non-believers, we may have never discovered that the world was round, or that the common cold comes from a virus and not cold weather, or that the sun isn't the center of the universe, or that Pluto is... actually I can't remember if that is or isn't a planet right now, but you get the idea.

The most common case where the war on science is mentioned is actually a pretty poor example for this article, that being the creationism movement. The Bible doesn't exactly qualify as a scientific journal, so the opposition to the theory of evolution is a bit nonsensical. The other two popular cases, those who doubt global warming and those who refuse to use vaccines, actually do have some research to back up their claims. However, instead of addressing this research, their findings are just discredited, and the publishers of it branded as heretics. I don't know, I'm aware of what the popular opinion is, but when I personally get sick more often in the years when I've bothered to get a flu shot, I'd like to be able to talk about this apparent discrepancy without accidentally firing shots in some stupid war of words.

The third and probably most harmful misuse of science is the political one. Scientific research costs money, and all too often that money desires a specific result. This is why we have studies that say nicotine is not addictive, for example. When it comes to policy, those who make it aren't interested in research, they're interested in answers--and science rarely produces concrete answers. Still, this research is funded to come to an amiable conclusion, which is then passed about as "scientific fact" to achieve a certain agenda. With the corrupting influence of party politics involved, it's more important than ever to scrutinize scientific research as opposed to taking it as the indisputable truth.

But as long as winning arguments on Reddit and cable news are a bigger priority than the actual pursuit of knowledge, I'm probably better off believing in aliens.
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