I used to write another blog about science and science-education. It was something of a passion for me, but I ran out of patience for the criticism it received and shuttered it. Yeah, that’s right… there are people who don’t like it when you talk about science. Go figure.
They send hate mail. They write angry comments.
Ugly creatures emerge from the depths of the internet when you give your opinion on topics like these. We can be a sad species at times, particularly when defending cherished ideas.
But then I was watching that Bill Nye debate the other day. (I won’t write which debate because it will probably attract all manner of keyword-searching, rogue-like, anti-science commenters and I’ll feel obliged to defend myself for anything and everything I say here. Not gonna happen.) But, yeah… the debate.
And I was a little stirred. Y’know… passion-wise. And I was trying to figure out a simple way to articulate that stirring and the related frustration I have when I watch those kinds of debates.
See, a debate implies balance. It implies that we’re playing the same game, with the same rules, but with different outcomes based on otherwise equal factors. We argue about which factors have more weight in the debate and we defend those arguments based on the rules. But science can’t be a side in a debate: science is more like the set of rules for a debate, and when you’re debating the rules of the debate… you’re not actually debating anything… you’re… GAH!
But as the little robot, the DadBot3000, here in my illustration is pointing out, there is actually a simple way to get my frustration across.
See… science is about collecting pieces of information that have been measured, observed, correlated, verified, and understood by human minds –what, for the sake of this argument we’ll call facts– and then connecting those facts together with our best interpretation of what fills the gaps between what we know and through we don’t know to try to make a bigger picture of the universe.
On the other hand, so-called “not-science” –and as much as even I like a good story or mystery or bit of folklore, take your pick by what I mean by “not-science”– is about having the picture first and then trying to align those (possibly same) facts to that picture.
You can have your own picture, I don’t care –to each their own, I say– but you can’t call it science or truth or reality, and you particularly can’t expect others to see the same picture as you, unless you start with the dots and fill in the lines as you go.
Get it? Dots first, picture later. Sure, early on the picture that is joined up by all the dots might not be as awesome as the picture we wanted to start with, but it gets better the more minds (science education, nudge-nudge) that are willing, able and available to find and interpret more facts. More dots. And again… dots first, picture later.
And that’s what bugged me about that debate (and many like it.) If you already think you have the picture in your head and you’re not willing to change it, then a true debate –an honest, open, real debate– can never really happen… even as awesome as Bill Nye is at arguing those things.