La Satira News Service
Jake Fleming may share his last name with a famous bacteriologist, but he says that’s about as far as it goes. “I know science has a lot to offer,” says the 27-year-old lab technician, “but there are a lot of controversial aspects that really put people off. Look at the debates over geology and taxonomy–not to mention quantum physics. Does it really matter if there’s such a thing as a Higgs boson?”
Mr. Fleming considers himself part of a growing body of public thought that embraces a generally scientific point of view but rejects the notion that the goal of science is to seek for a single “right” answer.
He’s not alone. Mr. Fleming and those like him, who refer to themselves as “Scientific but not Rigorous” (SBNR) are a growing demographic, thanks to the popularity of literature promoting the philosophy, celebrity endorsement, and the whole science-fiction genre. Online forums and pages on social media websites have allowed adherents to meet and discuss the implications of the philosophy on their lives.
Dr. Agnes Tick, who runs the Center for People-Friendly Science, a think-tank dedicated to advancing the movement, counts off a litany of ills generated by hard-core science. “Lots of great things have come from science, but what about the people who have had careers destroyed simply because they advanced a theory that turned out to be not generally accepted? What about the college and high-school students who were unable to follow their dreams because they couldn’t handle the math? And look at all the times science has created a public panic over something that turned out to be a non-issue. How can this be for the public good?”
Instead, the Center for People-Friendly Science recommends a softer approach in which the general notion of science is preserved without the arcane and sometimes contradicting theories, the rancor generated by competing studies, and the heavy emphasis on math and logic. “We’re looking for a more democratic, more accessible approach to science,” said Dr. Tick. “If most people happen to believe something is true, then there’s probably a good reason for it. But of course it doesn’t matter too much what you believe, so long as you act accordingly.”
Dr. Tick also takes issue with the accessibility of science to the general public. “How many people have access to raw scientific data,” she asked, “and how many people would know what to do with it if they did? Come to that, how many people can understand scientific publications? People will appreciate science more if it’s brought down to their level, and if it’s something they know they don’t have to be afraid of.”
Still, the SBNR philosophy is not without its critics. Eugene Brake, Dean of the College of Genetic Studies at the University of Punxsutawney, says that science would be difficult to conduct seriously without a certain degree of rigor. “The notion that you can find the correct answer based on what you feel ought to be true is intuitively absurd,” said Dr. Brake. “What if two people ‘feel’ differently about the law of gravity? If they jump off a bridge, they’re still going to fall at an acceleration of 32 feet per second, squared, whatever they believe. The purpose of science is to find answers, and that’s not always easy.”
Regarding the question of accessibility, Dr. Brake acknowledged the difficulty. “I suppose it comes down to a question of what you want,” he said. “If it’s a question you think is vitally important, you’ll do everything you can to find the answer to it.”
Back in the lab, Mr. Fleming acknowledged that if he could probably become a more rigorous student of scientist if he wanted to. “But I think the science I have is enough for pretty much anything I’m likely to run into. Anyway, it would be very disappointing to go through a lot of effort and find that I didn’t care much for the answer.”
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