Thursday, May 12, 2011

An 'Arab spring'* for science?

We started MT to opine on ways in which various principles other than natural selection are important (or even much more important) in life.  Our book argues that Darwin's insight about single origins, and that life is an historical process of descent with modification molded by natural selection enabled a profound transformation of the life sciences.  But an oversimplified, competition-centered worldview has resulted and been extended to society and even to multiple universes, and we felt that a more balanced treatment of what we actually know was warranted.  Hence this blog.

As it has turned out, we spend many posts criticizing what we believe is weak, superficial, over-sold or over-interpreted science, and the cost it extracts from society and the way it and the associated vested interests redirect science towards those interests and towards superficial self-promotion that feeds media, professional, and bureaucratic interests as much as it does scientific ones.

Of course, we know our view puts us in the minority, the vast minority.  We are not vain nor are we naive enough to think that our grumbles will have any leverage on the way science, now a substantial invested segment of society, is carried out.  This is true even if our every opinion were dead on target.  Like any other System in society, science is entrenched and inertial relative to change.  Among other things, science is a pursuit of the upper middle class, and we need to protect our jobs and our McMansions.  But that means to us that science has become wasteful and costly relative to its payoff to the public, who are daily given doses of promised miracles, while their tax money goes as much to support the system as to new discoveries.  Of course, the same kind of behavior characterizes other segments of society as well.

However, we feel there are real problems with how science is being done, and it is important that they are stated.  If we're wrong, our views will go quietly into the night.  This is likely even if we are right.  But as the Arab spring shows, sometimes views that are right, and could lead to improvement in the state of things, do catch on, and motivate larger and larger numbers of people to insist on something better.

We don't claim we have made major discoveries in the views we express, or that we have deeply penetrating insight that nobody else has.  But the issues we write about are real, we think, and need to be 'out there' in the hope that, when the time is ripe, large numbers of people will insist that things be changed in better directions.  Hey, we can dream.

*The current 'Arab spring' is a very serious expression of popular discontent against the few who are controlling the many.   It seems to us to be a fine expression of public will and we don't mean in any way to make light of that in using it in our post title.  The issues we raise in science are of course utterly trivial by comparison.  It was the idea of a general push for change that led us to refer to it.

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