Monday, July 2, 2007

Why good science matters.

The folks at Answers in Genesis are upset, apparently, about a column in USA Today that is critical of their little museum. To be fair, it doesn't single out Answers in Genesis (and they noticed it two years after the fact). It takes a broadside at all anti-intellectual tripe. I quite enjoyed it. My favorite bits:

It's so important that we protect and improve the science education in this country.

I say that because I like technology, and because I want to see more of it stamped (literally or figuratively) "Made in America."

That's why we need to worry about the state of American science education. If we can't give our kids an accurate understanding of the world, we can't expect them to give us better technology. The brains and products and jobs will be elsewhere, because good technology requires good science.
then there are national embarrassments like Cincinnati's Answers in Genesis Museum (to be fair, located just outside the city). Such institutions use fake "science" to convince gullible people of silly things. They show petrified wood (a few thousand years old) next to old bone (millions of years old). The objects look similar, so they'll say "See, dinosaurs were here a few thousand years ago!"

Gullible people believe them. Worse, every kid whose parents take him to places like that can probably be scratched from the list of 'America's Future Scientists."
That's why we develop theories to explain the evidence we have: Evolutionary theories (steady state, punctuated equilibrium, etc.) explain all the evidence we have for evolution; gravitational theories (general relativity, quantum gravity) explain the ton of evidence we have for gravity.

And when we have new information, we say, "Ah, that theory is wrong." And science gets better. That's why we can fit the entire Library of Congress on a few plastic platters, and why my father can come home from open-heart surgery after less than a week. Science learns. Science improves.

(Low-intelligence folks try to twist that, not surprisingly. They say, "Ha ha! Science has been wrong!" as opposed to "Oh, science corrects its mistakes.")

So we question our knowledge, refine it, and change it. And that doesn't mean questioning something for no good reason, it means questioning something because of new facts (not just old ideas rehashed or renamed).

A good indicator: When people have to resort to lies and distortions to promote their point of view — are you listening, Cincinnati? — it probably means they're wrong. A healthy argument is one thing; ignoring data, or trying to put bad research on par with good research, is another.
And finally a warning:
We're no longer a manufacturing economy; a quick count of all the "Made in China" labels in your house will probably confirm that. We're a service economy, and an economy based on intellectual property. If we want to dominate that market — in technology, in software, and in ideas — we need to make sure tomorrow's leaders have the best education they can get.
Thank you, Mr. Kantor.


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