Science under the scalpel

Christopher Hook

As I write this column on a late Tuesday night, I am inspired, or rather spurred on, by my cocker spaniel Toby who has, to my knowledge, lay unmoved from his doggie bed since I left the house at 9 a.m. The sight of my lazy and bleary-eyed puppy friend reminds me of his apathy toward the world. Toby doesn’t fret about relationship issues or alternative energy standards or health care bills. My first impulse is, and I think many overworked college students might agree, is to be jealous. Oh, to be unhindered and devote one’s life to simple amusement!

But we are human. We are distinguished from amoeba, jellyfish, lions, tigers and cocker spaniels by our intelligence, which allows us to observe patterns in nature and adjust our lives accordingly. Unlike the tiny rodents scrambling around during winter’s trying months seeking shelter during a blizzard, our intelligence has granted us the gifts of central heating, shingled roofs and hot cocoa to keep us warm and cozy. We have vaccines to prevent smallpox, polio and malaria; defibrillators to revive the unconscious and prosthetic limbs to help soldiers walk again.

Our intelligence has also allowed us to move past basic survival and actually improve our lives. I think about an invention as simple as the wheel in the Stone Age, to the birth of the printing press in the late 15th century, to automobiles in the 20th century and to microchips that have revolutionized the world today. Society has evolved as our intelligence has, opening up new possibilities for humankind that allow us to live longer and better than was possible two generations before.

But historically, there has always been a push back against scientific revolution. In the 1600s, Galileo Galilei was sentenced to house arrest for life by the Catholic Church after submitting his theory that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe. A century later, Isaac Newton refrained from releasing his three laws of motion for 20 years out of fear he would be shamed by the authorities of his time. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin faced enormous resistance upon the transmission of his theory of evolution, which, for some, contradicted the creation story of the Bible.

Criticism of scientific ideas is healthy for the scientific process. In fact, science wouldn’t advance were it not for the scads of scientists who question the norm. Our very own Dr. Owen Lovejoy demonstrated this in his research on the evolutionary chain. His work, which uprooted existing theory of human evolution, embodies Albert Einstein’s idea that “to raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

Today, just like in the world of Galileo, there is push back to progress. Though 99 percent of scientists, including a body of United Nations experts, have concluded that humans are causing the Earth to warm at a faster than natural rate, still 46 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, don’t believe this. More startling statistics: According to Gallup, 48 percent of Americans don’t believe in the theory of evolution, despite it being as widely accepted by scientists today as Newton’s laws are.

I don’t mind that science is being disputed. I do mind, though, that people without knowledge of science are challenging global warming and evolution, both scientifically verified ideas.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard people saying that global warming is clearly not happening because we just experienced one of the coldest winters on record. If they read the science, they would know that global warming increases the severity of all seasons: Summers are hotter, winters are colder. And, evolution, well, it is a very sticky issue. I will just say this: It is irresponsible of people to denounce evolution completely without using science to back up their statements.

In closing, people use science all the time. They put out grass seed in the spring, and a few weeks later, little green sprigs began to show themselves on the lawn. We rely on gravity to keep us on the ground. We construct buildings to withstand natural disasters. We feed our cocker spaniels healthy dog food and give them ringworm shots. We need science to help us live our lives, to progress society. We cannot trust science sometimes, and other times not.

I invite your comments.

Christopher Hook is a junior international relations and French major and a

columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].