While I’m not one for putting much heed to New Year’s resolution, I will reiterate one of the primary purposes for blogging about science: a concerted effort to convey science to every citizen. Towards that, Carl Sagan has four excellent reasons for such an agenda in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (which I’m currently reading). I expect that all of the science blogging community would strongly support all four points, and perhaps yet more reasons.
On pages 37-38:
- Despite plentiful opportunities for misuse, science can be the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations. It makes national economies and the global civilization run. Many nations understand this. It is why so many graduate students in science and engineering at American universities – still the best in the world – are from other countries. The corollary, one that the United States sometimes fails to grasp, is that abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness.
- Science alerts us to the perils introduced by our world-altering technologies, especially to the global environment on which our lives depend. Science provides an essential early warning system.
- Science teaches us about the deepest issues of origins, natures, and fates – of our species, of life, of our planet, of the Universe. For the first time in human history we are able to secure a real understanding of some of these matters. Every culture on Earth has addressed such issues and valued their importance. All of us feel goosebumps when we approach these grand questions. In the long run, the greatest gift of science may be in teaching us, in ways no other human endeavor has been able, something about our cosmic context, about where, when, and who we are.
- The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable. Science and democracy began – in their civilized incarnations – in the same time and place, Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it (although too many have been systematically prevented from doing so). Science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty. Science is a way to call the bluff on those who only pretend to knowledge. It is a bulwark against mysticism, against superstition, against religion misapplied to where it has no business being. If we’re true to its values, it can tell us when we’re being lied to. It provides a mid-course correction to our mistakes. The more widespread its language, rules, and methods, the better chance we have of preserving what Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues had in mind.
To that I would add simpler emphases on the awe-inspiring nature of knowledge gained, of beauty honored, and of grandness appreciated. Elsewhere, Sagan describes the elation and humility that these things do indeed foster. And what is a better way of enjoying such awe and elation, than sharing it, as on a blog?
Happy New Year!
P.S. Read Chris Mooney’s article, Science 2006 for the status of science in today’s society, and what’s being done about it.