Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Scientists do not have to be nerds

In a recent issue of the New Scientist (23 July 2011, p.22) Laurence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, complains that science is under attack from a shortage of funding. It has been estimated that the cumulative cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is something approaching $4 trillion while, Krauss maintains, warlords thrive, political freedom ranks low and ethnic and gender segregation continue.

At the same time, he observes, the US economy is in trouble. Both practical and purely academic projects are in danger and both categories contribute to the quality of life.

He adds that ‘we need to ask what the next generation of bright minds will lose. The remarkable images captured by Hubble have inspired a generation of people to dream about the universe and its myriad possibilities.’

Whether the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, with all the errors of strategy imposed on the military, achieved nothing is an open question (my own answer would be that overall they did achieve something and that they had little choice if civilisation, including  Islamic societies, was to be protected against a destructive minority). However, Krauss is right about the funding threat. For this reason scientists need to make sure that the population as a whole value and respect them, rather than consider them as clever nerds filled with hubris and asserting that all human beings are brought into being by the chance juggling of chemicals produced by a universe which was created by a universe-generating system which spontaneously came into being out of existential nothingness and, just in case you didn’t get the message, that life is totally pointless and meaningless.

People outside of science hear the most inane theories being talked about by those who purport to be logical and it must turn young thinking people away in droves. Fortunately, there are plenty of scientists who do not subscribe to such philosophical materialism, but, less fortunately, they are rarely given prominence in the media.

For instance, there is a theory that ‘our’ universe is one of an infinitely large number of ‘universes’ in which all things are possible and which happens to look miraculous. This is not only unprovable metaphysical speculation but totally outside the realm of logic. A professional philosopher could not possibly take it seriously.  

Why? Because if there were an infinite ensemble of universes there would have to be one in which there were no other ‘universes’. Why spend time and money even talking about such a paradoxical hypothesis? How much effort would you be willing to devote to a book purporting to prove that black is white? And would the writer of such a book be worthy of a research grant?

Hopefully, such inanities will gradually fade into oblivion so that real science can get the recognition and resources it deserves and needs if the West is not to fall to the forces of disorder that Krauss rightly recognises.

So rise up,you non-nerdish scientists, and make yourself heard!

Author, 2077 AD