Central Texas College Understand What is Science Discussion

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Welcome to the Lesson 1 Discussion Board! The first discussion question requires an introduction because it is a central theme for the entire course but don’t panic because this is the only discussion question in the class that is this detailed! First though are the ground rules. You will not be assessed in the discussions on scientific accuracy specifically so the threads are not intended to be a forum to demonstrate facts. Your posts should have science in them and data is fine but don’t spend a lot of time looking up the diameter of Betelgeuse because I already know the answer to that question. I am interested in your position and opinion about scientific matters which necessitates the inclusion of science but opinion is subjective and you are under no obligation to agree with my opinion! There are no wrong answers but science opinion should be supportable with a reason even if the reason is debatable. So while there are no wrong answers there are empty answers so add content that exceeds statements such as “black holes are super crazy”. That’s the purpose of a discussion is to debate stuff! All opinions are encouraged irrespective if you think I will agree with it or not. So off we go…

Science is not a body of knowledge. That is what libraries and databases are for. Science is a formal way of thinking which is used to accumulate such a body of knowledge and the contents of that repository are not considered by science to be “facts” or “unchangeable”. The formal development of scientific thinking is called the Scientific Method and this is a structured and constrained process that guides scientific investigation. There are many iterations of the scientific method but they all have the same basic tenants which are to make an observation of the physical world, develop a guess based on prior data/experience or even intuition about why such an observation appears the way that it does, develop and perform a test that the observer thinks can add insight into that guess, and then tell the results to someone else so they can review them and then develop their own test to either support these results, not support the results, or perhaps come to an entirely different conclusion. Repeat. This is how progress is made. It is required that science make guesses about the physical world but this guess in science is called a hypothesis and is the first step in investigating the nature of a phenomenon and not the last. There is also not a requirement in the Scientific Method that the guess be qualified as “educated” despite how many times it is defined this way. The Scientific Method is the search for education and must be entered into with no predisposition on what the outcome is supposed to be. Science is not in the business of proving anything and the word “proof” is not even a scientific term.

Almost everything we encounter in the modern world is a result of the formal application of the Scientific Method. The digital device you are reading this on right now was produced by centuries of experimentation and the application of the scientific method in physics and chemistry and this includes the engineering advancements resulting from our understanding of those sciences without which using such device would not be possible. Modern medicine and biology are also applications of the Scientific Method and every advancement we see in this area is due to its use.

With all of its advantages however modern science today has found itself in a difficult position where it is stalling popularly due to its own success. The ever increasing gap between science process and modern culture is countering our understanding of just how it is we find ourselves where we are in this modern world it created to begin with. The digital devices that fill our homes, schools, and cars as well as our global and instant communication capabilities are becoming so advanced they appear to work by magic and have become an unmitigated avenue for the propagation of unscientific thought which is undermining its progress and stifling advancement.

Today’s popular understanding of science appears to be suffering a decline and we cannot be complete in our evaluation of science without including this in our assessment. While it is difficult and probably insufficient to isolate a singular cause of this it does look as if this phenomenon is related to the hypermedia landscape of the modern world. Even though it is scientific advancement that has led directly to the systems in place which define this technology, this causal relationship has become separated from their association. As result science itself is largely overlooked and has been replaced with popular opinion in regards to scientific knowledge. Much of this arises from the oversaturation in media where nonscientific ideas spread unhindered and do so in a way that is interpreted as reality by those who do not understand how science works.

If the consequences of the erosion of scientific understanding were more benign in nature then this academic exercise would not be necessary. But when evaluated from a perspective of their impact, this de-evolution of the understanding of science is directly linked to numerous serious illnesses and fatalities of otherwise preventable diseases associated with the anti-vaccine movement. One fraudulent writing by a criminal started this but the application of the scientific method that followed has been largely ignored by celebrities and talk show hosts in modern media which validates this nonsense as legitimate. Even though no finding ever has linked vaccines to autism including the original report because that was entirely fabricated this continues to propagate through social media and humans continue to die as a result.

If the people who are charged in making these decisions do not “believe” in the associated science then we are in a position that may never be overcome until this bias is removed. From global warming, to greenhouse emissions, vaccines, aliens, and astrological type pseudoscience has infiltrated our conversation to such an extent that it takes a significant effort to even evaluate what is real and what is not. The more profound aspects of long term consequences such as anthropogenic climate change are too dim to maintain our attention.

This sounds like a harsh rebuke because it is and this not only Professor Davis’ opinion it is the opinion of science as a whole. If we wish to courageously pursue a discussion on the role of science in modern society then we need to be honest about where we are regarding uncomfortable questions and glossing past them is not going to be done in this course.

What is going on today regarding the de-popularization of science has a direct link to the historical evolution of the science of Astronomy. The Copernican Revolution which spanned the 16th and the 17th centuries was a major turning point in the advancement of scientific process and included some of the most famous scientists to have ever lived such as Newton and Galileo. It represented a shift in approach where it was becoming evident to a few that the physical world could be understood in part through investigation rather than proclamation. Saying so out loud however had serious consequences including persecution, arrest, and in some cases execution.

For our first discussion on the role of science in modern society give some thought into what you think science is and the ways it is portrayed in traditional and social media. Neil deGrass Tyson is an astrophysicist that most are probably familiar with because he has assumed the role of scientific communicator to the masses which was left void with the passing of Carl Sagan. He is much more fluid in his evaluation than I am so I have added a link here to his evaluation of this topic which might be more effective in outlining this problem and assist in its exploration. I look forward to hearing your perspective on the role science currently plays in our society and perhaps you have some perspective that would help to mitigate this conundrum!

Science in America – Neil deGrasse Tyson



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