Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How scientists are stupid

What is it about scientists that they never learn? Isn't the scientific method supposed to be about: theory -> prediction -> observation -> evaluation -> new theory? The so-called falsifiability method?

But here they are in the latest edition of the New Scientist - a special half-century birthday edition - all lining up to tell you all the wonderful things they think are going to happen in their own specialist fields in the next half-century. The leaders in their respective fields wax lyrically about everything from unlimited supplies of transplantable human organs to invisible technology with the potential to create life on other planets, from information sharing between parallel universes to robotic scientists, from artificial life mimicking human consciousness to the death of religion, and whole body replacement.

It all seems strangely reminiscent of the Sixties, when scientists envisaged a future where we would by now have conquered Mars and Venus, be living a life of leisure serviced by robots, and flying around in our own personal hover cars. Instead we are living in a world which is for my money even worse than any of the pessimistic dystopias created by science fiction writers ever since then.

Of course it's not science that is to blame for this necessarily. It's the application of scientific discovery and technology by politicians, society and economists. We are creating the largest amount of species extinction in the shortest amount of time since the asteroid that wiped out all the dinosaurs. We are sitting on a massive population explosion in which most people don't have access to clean water and enough to eat let alone can afford a whole body transplant when they get ill. We cannot eradicate war and the arms trade. We are causing irreparable harm to the planet's climate.

It's astonishing how optimistic the scientists are. Don't they ever poke their heads out of their own research cubicles to look at the world around them? Don't they learn from experience? Isn't that what science is supposed to be about?

None of them even mention climate change, biodiversity loss, the lack of clean water supplies, eradicating war, resource depletion or a hundred other problems affecting the world's poor or the environment.

Are these scientists really any better than the leaders of monotheistic religious cults who themselves never look at the practical effect of preaching that theirs is the one true religion - while claiming it to be morally irreproachable?

Perhaps if scientists ruled the world things might be a little different, but they don't. Instead we keep electing people who don't know much about anything except how to persuade us that they know best and convince us to believe in their vapid promises. We listen to people who appeal to our short-term and narrow interests.

I'm glad that scientists don't rule the world, since they have little idea of the value of the imagination. They are far too specialist to see the big picture.

Perhaps our only possibility of being saved by science is that scientists will one day create a machine that is capable of computing all the possibilities and mapping out for us the best of all possible worlds.

But even if this was possible, I'm sure that nobody would trust it sufficiently to do what it says.

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