Thursday, January 29, 2009

Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy

Dennis Overbye had an essay in this week's Science Times, the Tuesday section of the New York Times, commenting on the value of science, indeed, on the values of science. It struck a chord with me.

To be honest, the restoration of science was the least of it, but when Barak Obama proclaimed during his Inaugural Address that he would “restore science to its rightful place,” you could feel a dark cloud lifing like a sigh from the shoulders of the scientific community in this country.

When the new president went on vowing to harness the sun, the wind and the soil, and to “wield technology’s wonders,” I felt the glow of a spring sunrise washing my cheeks, and I could almost imagine I heard the music of swords being hammered into plowshares.

Wow. My first reaction was to worry that scientists were now in the awkward position of being expected to save the world. As they say, be careful what you wish for.

My second reaction was to wonder what the “rightful place” of science in our society really is.

...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.

Click on the title above to read the rest.