“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.”
– Louis Pasteur
Most people have a bit of fear about flying, particularly when they don’t fly much. But more flights builds confidence. Confidence that the pilots are competent, that the statistics are in their favor, that accidents are rarely accidents. I certainly experience some intense emotions when inside a giant aircraft, barreling toward takeoff. I think it’s the intensity of the situation. Flying clearly isn’t a natural action, just as moving at 300 miles per hour isn’t natural. It’s similar to my feelings when rumbling down the highway, particularly when riding next to a giant 18-wheeler. Enough scary movies and an active imagination are hard to fight. Specifically, I feel the greatest anxiety when I’m not driving. Not having control is hard, and knowing how to drive seems to encourage skepticism in others’ skills. I can’t fly a plane, but I can surely drive a car. So, sitting in the back seat, a small vehicle compared to the truck, fearing a brief slip of the giant auto’s tire, I’m comforted by the only thing I know to be true…science.
Along the way, life has taught me about friction. The finicky touch needed for tabletop shuffleboard and the effectiveness of my bike’s brake pads. Chevy Chase’s classic sleigh ride and my own experience on sleds. I learned about friction well before I was taught about friction, before I learned about thescience. But it wasn’t until I learned how the world works that I felt a sense of control. Beneath science are rules and truths, formulas and laws, that explain the phenomena that are such a critical part of life. That oiling up a sled alters the coefficient of friction. That a fat surfer grips his board more than a skinny surfer because of a greater downward force. So, when I look to the right and think about the truck on the snow, about my fear that it’s going to slip, the way I’ve slipped so many times before, I immediately think about its mass. I think about the gigantic normal force that leads to a huge frictional force. And, while this is a simplified example, it’s based on truth and laws. Situations in the world can be counted on and relied upon, whether it’s the friction of a two ton truck or the lift of a two ton airplane.
For many, however, a lack of scientific knowledge lets the imagination run wild. False claims and wild ideas aren’t necessarily lies, rather they’re guesses about the state of the world and how things work. But we know so much more, we needn’t be naive and foolish. Centuries of men and women have uncovered themysteries and secrets that allow us to live so comfortably. Science lessons that seem elementary, from the structure of the solar system to the anatomy of thebody, are the result of centuries of toil, skepticism, and often persecution. Anyone who has known a scientist can appreciate the painstaking efforts it takes to lift the curtain.
While science and knowledge often run counter to politics and profit, it’s important to remember how foolish many truths, truths which are now the centerpiece of our lives, seemed when they were first discovered. The Earth was flat, alchemy was real, and life came from innate objects. Countless hours, days, and years have been spent discovering how things work. To continue on without learning these truths for ourselves is lazy, foolish, and most of all, disrespectful. Never in history has so much information been so accessible.
But I, like many others, don’t encourage knowledge with an agenda. I have opinions and goals, I support ideas and actions, but most of all I seek an honest discussion. Truth isn’t the goal, it’s the basis for discussion. Science tells me that we’re all more similar than we are different. In order to create the policies that will drive us toward the best collective outcome, we must have open conversations with all the facts on the table and all parties involved. Decisions have effects that alter our lives and it’s these effects that should be debated, not science, not truth. We’ve been given a roadmap more accurate than any in history, and to neglect such a gift isn’t less than perfect, but distracting. Distracted from the argument, distracted from the choices, distracted from thetruth. Rather than guess, we can, no we must, learn.