Friday, April 20, 2012

PROVIDENTIAL science versus PROVISIONAL science

Michael Marshall
Traditionally the popular face of science has always been badly out of sync with the public face of science.

Surprisingly, popular science (science talk for non-scientists or  junior-level scientists) does not primarily come from quickie 800 word news columns from the conventional media's science popularizers.

Instead that science talk originates from the big fat hardcover books ,written by many of science's most respected practitioners.

Unfortunately, in the past, the accurate science in these books -- usually written by major prize-winners well into their dotage --- always tends to be mixed with a great deal of overly-optimistic blue sky imaginings.

Most of the book could never get accepted as articles by any peer-reviewed journal --- but other scientists have generally been reluctant to say as much --- because these are the past or current heroes of their own profession.

Most of these other scientists realize these books are simply crass tools to 'sell science' to a skeptical taxpayer and to tired businessman.

It is Whig Science - triumph piled on top of triumph, ever upward and onward- 'people, can't you just smell the sizzle from them there steaks??'

As all scientists benefit if the general public continues to regard science as well worth the money we spend on it, scientists generally bury their scruples and keep their doubts to themselves.

As a result , the con continues.

And very effectively too, because we readers are disabused from holding doubts about the optimistically windy parts, by the honored name on the cover ---- and by the silence from other scientists.

In turn, those books are read -- and absorbed into their efforts --  by science journalists and the editors of undergraduate textbooks, and by high school science teachers.

Thus it is the only science that most of us non-scientists ever learn.

As such, this science is resolutely old-school 19th century newtonian in tenor, and is portrayed as the one human activity we could rely upon to give reliable, exact answers.

Its Laws of Nature are conveyed as if  Providential and carved as a concise formula onto tablets of stone for all eternity, by whatever or whoever is the atheist equivalent of the Jehovah of Moses.

That was then, this is now.

Thankfully ,the popular face of the newer science is increasingly being cast in the style of the public face of both the old and the science.

 Science, in its public face, (scientists talking to other scientists on their same peer-level) has always been cautious and tentative.

Which is a 'Good-Thing', because that is the reality of reality and so should be the reality of science.

This cautious style can be seen in the style of any article found in science's peer-reviewed  journals.

Here the Laws of Nature are more properly represented as Provisional as yesterday's promises from a politician.

Newer science practitioners are much more willing to reveal the uncertain and tentative public face of science in the popular works they write for the general public and this can only be a good thing.

However there is hundreds of years of the old-school Blue Sky popular science still out there to fight against and this is what leading, more than anything else, to today's 'war between the sciences'.

Many of us can't get our heads around the blunt - but finally honest - messages we are getting from today's working scientist , because we have grown up with 70 or more years of windy optimism from POP Science.

That's where the DENIERS are coming from: they have been lied to for so many decades by science that they can't tell now when it is finally telling the truth.....

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