Of Science and Truthiness

lifeonmarsMars, you remember Mars right? Fourth planet from the sun, little bro of earth, last best hope for mankind should we trash this place to unlivability? Yeah, that’s the one, red in color.

Red, uhuh, and what caused that? I always figured that God spilt his strawberry kool-aid while poking Jupiter in the “eye.” Failing that, an all out planet paint war game where in the red team won?

Nah. Actually scientists always thought that the rocks were largely iron and that when the planet had a lots of water on it, that it rusted the dang old place, making it the original junk yard.  But, science always trumps itself in revising old theories. The new one is that it wasn’t water at all. They think it was just the usual mix of oxides in the rocks that wore away over gazillions of years through erosion. Yep, good old fashioned erosion.

We owe this new idea to those famous pesky land rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity” that just wouldn’t say quit and collected enough evidence that there were chemicals present in Martian soil that wouldn’t be there had water covered the land. So the red dust came after water had retreated off the landscape.

That’s what I love about science. It’s one of the only truly honest and honorable forms of human endeavor. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of personal pet theories on just about anything to go around, and plenty of in-fighting for research grants and publication space. But in fairly short order, good ideas win out over bad. Every now and then somebody holds out a different theory and never lets go, and perhaps once in a huge while on some obscure issue, the minority point is eventually proven true. But it doesn’t happen often, and never on huge issues.

Certainly not on ones that increasing transcend disciplines. This is I suspect a fairly recent phenomenon, this cross disciplining. Archaeologists look to chemists and biologists and geologists and others to come in and work in the same general field. Of course, it wouldn’t work if each of these came to wildly different conclusions, they must fairly clearly support one another, or something would be declared quite radically wrong with some number of the theories.

So, in the end, the conclusions reached today are a good deal more reliable than ones in the past that relied solely on a single disciplines standards and theories. Of course the Genome project did hugely support the evolutionary biologists in their ongoing work. According to some scientists, they thought that it would put to rest any question about the efficacy of the theory. Not so, one can never under estimate the power of a personal need for results to be something other than they really are.

Scientists, it seems to me, are pretty much like other humans. They want recognition, and they want funding for their research, and they want to add to the volume of human knowledge. They would never knowingly or even suspiciously engage in work they knew to be false or suspect, because it would mean their lives would be meaningless, of no  purpose or result.

This is not to say that some pseudo scientists don’t try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes for the short term. But their motives are to secure a windfall quickly and then disappear from the scene when the jig is up.

Real scientists live for that elusive once in a life time discovery. Their research is designed for only that purpose–to make a singularly significant advancement, one that from that moment on directs the rest of the discipline’s energies to  a new set of parameters. This is no different than the doctor who strives to create a new and better treatment for a specific disease, nor the lawyer who writes a brief from a novel point of view, attempting to revision a concept of law.

In other words, scientists don’t waste time on nonsense, and things they know or suspect to be fallacious. In that they are more truthful and honest than most of us. Charlatans may hold sway for a short time, but evidence accumulates and the misleaders, the out right frauds are discovered, ferreted out, and dismissed in utter disdain.

The same cannot be said for politicians surely. They are more than willing to ignore the truth totally in pursuit of personal aims of re-election and power. Preachers and religious proponents have shown themselves more than willing to obscure the truth, fan the flames of untruth, and otherwise distort reality in pursuit of lining their own pockets, their churches, or their personal theology. They can often function in a world of “doing it for the people’s good.”

Perhaps because of the stringent controls in science, the need of replication, and “showing your work” such shenanigans are not prevalent, except in those fringe areas where in fact result is assumed and means are manufactured. And that is where the fringe loses its power. Their fantastical theories cannot hold up for long because they cannot either show the work or replicate by means of experiment their claims.

Science is our most trustworthy ally in discerning truth, simply because truth must prove itself in an objective way. Science doesn’t start with a conclusion and then seek proof to sustain itself. That is the province of the charlatan. Science starts with a hypothesis, and then designs methods by which to TEST the hypothesis. If tests fail to confirm the hypothesis, a new one is constructed. Plain and simple.

Ironically, we have no trouble trusting science when it comes to our expectations at the light switch, the ignition switch, the power button of the computer, the efficacy of medicine to cure our ailments, or any of a thousand other instances of science which are accepted in every day life.

Only when science butts heads with somebody’s personal theology of how things are “supposed to be” do we find the phenomenon of disbelief and argument that science is engaged in a conspiracy of deception. It continues to astound the scientific community, and it continues to astound the rational mind of most thinking humans. Such is life, and so perhaps I’m right, that God spilt his strawberry kool-aid on Mars. I mean it could be true, right?

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5 comments on “Of Science and Truthiness

  1. okjimm says:

    OK. as long as we are talking ‘truthiness’….. your picture of Mars looks more like the orange on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. And, just like Mars, it has been there a long time. So…. and be honest… is that really a picture of Mars or did you just take a photo of strange fruit from the bottom shelf?

  2. All that red is the spilt blood of the heathen. Duh.

  3. Sherry says:

    Yeah okay you got me Jimm…it’s an orange, and a blood orange actually, and it’s shriveled and I confess. Everyone knows mars has identifiable green men (no women–they reproduce by sporing).

  4. Sherry says:

    Randal…okay, that’s a theory

  5. Anthony Kalnoky says:

    Sherry, Randall thinks he has proof its Fact!

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