The End of Science

The End of Science:


An acute, but subtle and unrecognizable problem in society today is a slow move away from the idea that we live in a "rational" world, to an idea that the world can act arbitrarily. This can largely be attributed to the following:

These issues are extremely relevant to environmental debate. If we all act arbitrarily and just "make-up" the relevant physics, then no convergence can be achieved.

If a newspaper headline says that 1 billion salmon are killed a day by Bonneville dam - most people will just believe that. In other words, a) number mean nothing to us and b) we have lost our desire to question authority and ask to see the data which means anyone can sell the public anything, these days.

There is an increasing tendency for everyone to act in their own self-interest. Again, if this is done in an arbitrary way it exacerbates the problem.

Some notable recent quotes that illustrates the problem:

So how did we get to this sorry state where the scientific process is neither valued nor understood even though we live in a highly technical world?

Below is one answer:

It was on our national interest to maintain a strong defense so lots of money was poured into research infrastructure. Most scientists completely underestimated how much of basic funding for research was dependent on winning and participating in the Cold War.

So clearly, in order to invest in basic research we must redefine out national priority and make Scientific Literacy a National Priority. The current situation is serious. An uninformed public (example below:)

is both dangerous and largely useless. At a time when the public participation process in environmental decisions is increasingly important, we need a well-informed public so the process can really work.

Without an informed public we see the perpetuation a myth and the polarization of environmental issues. The value of scientific literacy and environmental management lies in its ability for bring about convergence. There is nothing like good data to illuminate a problem and no data or bad data to make a problem worse.

We have moved far away from the time that historical continuity and scientific progress were understood as being part of the making of human history:

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" (Isaac Newton - 1676)

Now we measure ourselves by the kind of entertainment we produce, not the kind of scientific exploration that we are capable of:


And so we arrive at the basic problem of planetary management. Currently there are

Jan 1, 1998

Jan 1, 1999

people on the planet. These people need energy and resources. Sustainable growth may be a myth but managing resources in an intelligent, responsible and long term way is not a myth. But to do that requires an understanding of basic scientific principles and methods of data acquisition and analysis.

Overarching principles for this course.

You should never believe what anyone says. You should always require that they back up their assertions with real data - not here-say or mythology.

Science is a process whereby aspects of a problem are discovered. It is a process without answers but a process that points to the kinds of questions which should be asked. It is this process, as applied to particular environmental problems, that we will study during this term.

Previous Lecture Next Lecture Course Page