I have an interesting relationship with science that spans 20 years.
My love for science began when I was a young boy. Imagine, me and my family are on an exciting tour of the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park when we stumble across a large sign that reads “Alpengeist.” I had never been on a roller coaster this big before, but having my brother and my dad with me provided a great boost in confidence. I was going on this ride.
They say you never forget your first time, well, this was no different. Picture me flying through the sky at a top speed of 67 mph in pure adrenaline filled ecstasy. The wind rushing over my face, hair, legs, arms, my entire body. It is safe to say my soul was set on fire.
I remember that experience to this day. That moment inspired me to learn more about roller coasters. Soon I have learned all about centrifugal and centripetal force (one of them is an “imaginary force” although perhaps the jury is still out on that one). My science fair project for my 9th year of school was about seeing which marble would go down the tube the fastest based on mass, and factoring in the material of the tube. Would the marbles make it through the loop? I also changed the size of the loop. I was obsessed. “Roller Coasters” is all I would talk about.
Science was fun to me. It was playful, intriguing, and it required some understanding of mathematics, another subject I enjoyed. However, my decision to attend one of the best high schools in the country completely changed our relationship.
For three out of the four years I was required to study chemistry and physics. As in, I had a class for each of them. Throw in 4 years of mathematics, 1 year of physiological control systems, and 2 years of biology and my goodness what was I thinking?!
Science became boring to me. It was all about numbers, formulas, trials, placebos, and while these are most certainly vital to gaining a proper understanding of how to measure observations, it still does not teach in the “art” of observation.
Yes, the art of observation. What do I mean by that? I think back to the classic story of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree and an apple falling from a tree. He questioned it and reached a conclusion that there must be some invisible force that exists called Gravity.
Newton discovered one of the most monumental laws of nature by simply observing what was around him.
I wonder how science is taught these days? Is it still centered around a heavy focus on numbers, mathematics, trials, hypothesis? Perhaps it has been modified, with a more balanced approach. I wonder if there is more emphasis on how to interpret numbers rather than just how to collect them?
Today I have been hearing a lot of catch phrases around me, one of them being “trust the science.” (“Trust in science” might be a better way of saying it because it emphasizes trusting in the process as opposed to the numbers). I feel it is not unreasonable to question that sentiment. If science is indeed a process, then is there not a chance that things will change? Maybe someone would want to know what the process was? There are many experiments that have occurred throughout history that demonstrate an improper scientific process. One of them I learned about recently. It was a study on chimps and how their brain cells would react to a massive amount of marijuana. The scientists wanted to see whether or not smoking pot would kill brain cells.
The weed ingestion was administered to the chimps through a gas mask, the equivalent of 30 joints a day. The scientists claimed the THC did kill brain cells because the chimps died. Upon further review, when the methodology was released years later, scientists realized that it was carbon monoxide and suffocation that killed the brain cells. The gas mask was preventing smoke from escaping. So, the initial conclusion was completely wrong.
Is a process ever so complicated that only a select few people have the ability to understand it? My Uncle Charlie was an expert at breaking science down to its simplest form. If you wanted to learn something he would be glad to explain it to you, but he wanted to make sure you really were interested, because he believed in teaching things thoroughly. My Uncle Charlie wanted you to be able to derive things from the fundamentals.
Science to me is rooted in observation and it can be easy to get caught up in the data and forget what you are actually observing. Some of the things I am observing are fear, confusion, paranoia, anger, and resentment. America could use some therapy.
Remember that roller coaster from before? It is set in an Alpine mountain ski resort. The name Alpengeist is German for “Ghost of the Alps” and the ride is themed as a runaway ski lift. The ghost has taken over the lift! In this instance, there is magic and wonder existing in the same space as science. I believe the two can work together more often than not!
I am confused as to how science became such a polarizing topic. It may be due to the lack of understanding of the scientific process. It may be that the scientific process is being rushed and things change too fast right now. I don’t have the answers, and that’s ok.
Is it ok to say you don’t know something? Some conclusions take a long time to reach. It can feel overwhelming when you feel you have to make a decision so quickly. Why rush it if it is a big deal?
So, how is my relationship with science right now? My love for roller coasters is alive and well and I am in awe of nature and the natural laws of this planet. At the same time, I find myself a bit concerned about the merger that seems to be taking place between science, politics, and technology. These are powerful forces, and when the relationship goes unchecked, there can be some unfathomable consequences.