Magazine article American Scientist

From the President

Magazine article American Scientist

From the President

Article excerpt

The Core Value of Science

It is commonplace to observe that science has lost its primacy among some people as the public knowledge that society uses for decision-making. The rigorous application of science and technology is accepted as socially useful as long as it is applied to marketable products, innovation, and elaboration of safe ideas. However, the application of more fundamental principles of science, even those that make these applications possible, are suspect to many people of faith or convictions, even though they value the fruits.

The result is not a complete rejection of science but rather an adoption of a contingent way of thinking. For these people, the thought process starts from a place different from where the idea came: The genome is separated from evolutionary biology, the fossil record is experienced as a test of faith, and climate change is redefined as weather instability. Deductive thought process is cut off from premises. Causes are not examined too closely. Explanatory science is reduced to phenomenology.

Science literacy, by itself, will not change this form of contingent thinking, because the fundamental problem is not ignorance. Contingent thinking about science arises from a moral crisis. Our society pits wisdom received from trusted sources, carrying the certainty of moral authority, against difficult, uncertain, tentative, dense, arcane, interpretations of the material world offered by science. Liberal democracies place responsibility on the citizen for deciding what is true, at least for the purpose of the decision. …

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