That’s the title of Dennis Overbye’s NY Times essay on what it means to restore science to its rightful place.* He begins by sharing how he too wept tears of joy at the words of President Barack Hussein Obama (reference to the NY Times article Scientists Welcome Obama’s Words). Question: If you’re a member of the scientific community, did you likewise become teary eyed (or even weep) at the words of our new President on your own (or with your colleagues)? If so, why? If you’re outside of the scientific community, what was your reaction (and those of your colleagues)?
Does it come from the anticipated ability to properly address:
[i]ssues like stem cells, climate change, sex education and contraceptives, [which] the Bush administration sought to tame and, in some cases, suppress the findings of many of the government’s scientific agencies. Besides discouraging scientific pronouncements that contradicted administration policies, officials insisted on tight control over even routine functions of key agencies. In early 2004, more than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement claiming that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry. — from Scientists Welcome Obama’s Words by Gardiner Harris & William J. Broad in NY Times, January 22, 2009.
Or for the benefits given by the research, findings, applications of science, which is not given highest priority by Overbye.
Or was it for reasons similar to those given by Dennis Overbye, who sees science On a Pedestal with it’s twin democracy, more basic to human progress than religious claims. Watch out China ;-) **
Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.
That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.
Nobody appeared in a cloud of smoke and taught scientists these virtues. This behavior simply evolved because it worked.
It requires no metaphysical commitment to a God or any conception of human origin or nature to join in this game, just the hypothesis that nature can be interrogated and that nature is the final arbiter. Jews, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists and Hindus have all been working side by side building the Large Hadron Collider and its detectors these last few years.
And indeed there is no leader, no grand plan, for this hive. It is in many ways utopian anarchy, a virtual community that lives as much on the Internet and in airport coffee shops as in any one place or time. Or at least it is as utopian as any community largely dependent on government and corporate financing can be.
Arguably science is the most successful human activity of all time. Which is not to say that life within it is always utopian, as several of my colleagues have pointed out in articles about pharmaceutical industry payments to medical researchers. — Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy by Dennis Overbye in NY Times, January 27, 2009.
*In case you’re not familiar with Overbye as a science writer, he’s an alum of M.I.T. (B.S., Physics) with the beginning of a master’s degree in astronomy from U.C.L.A. Overbye has spent most of his career writing about science.
**Keep in mind the definition of science offered in comment 4 of What is the ‘Rightful Place’ of Science? — Science is the careful human study of the observable world. It is one of the ways open to us to learn what God has done. It can be pursued humbly and passionately in service to God.