Scientist in Chief

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It would be silly to rehash today's inaugural event. If you happen to live under a rock, you can click here or here or here.

But I think it's important to latch onto one line from Obama's inaugural address (in bold, with context):

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Without getting overly political, let's examine the rhetoric here (while getting slightly double entendre with my own): the implication is that science has been made a second-class citizen. It might even be said from this text that we are failing in developing robust research and deployment for many of the technologies that will shape our future. But does science truly have a rightful place?

Make no mistake, I'm a scientist through and through; I believe in logic and empirical evidence and rigorous testing of postulates. I would tend to argue that if science cannot explain something, then it is because we simply haven't done enough science. And it would seem from the text here that President Obama believes something similar. But I find it equally hard to believe that majority of America - and indeed the world - thinks likewise.

What do you think? Is science rightfully endowed as the superior method of explaining the universe? Or is it one of many important lenses through which we observe the world around us. Drop your notes in the comments.

Paolo Amoroso said...

The issue is not much whether science is a superior method of explaining the universe, but that science findings, or the legitimacy of applying science to a problem, are often questioned or ignored in contexts where its method works best.

pattieallbeef said...

As an applied physicist, I think serendipity plays a larger role than it gets credit for. X-rays or a snake dream revealing a double helix structure.
(perhaps synchronicity - Jung)
The list is quite impressive don't you think?

Dreams, intuition, hunches, and Sci Fi fans everywhere.

I love this

And I believe it will be serendipity, a dream, or a hunch that leads to tangible results. To use layman's terms - that's too weird for the rational mind to deal with; imagination, however does not have such limits.

mike fabio said...

pattieallbeef: these are exactly the kind of perspectives I was hoping to hear. Indeed imagination has no limits, and as history has shown (take that particular article you link for example), most great breakthroughs happen when something is said to be impossible.

But as Paolo points out in his comment, we need to always look at context. Serendipity and synchronicity (perhaps even coincidence?) all have this undesirable feature: they happen by chance, yet seem to have appeared for some reason. The rational mind explains this away, since chance is uncontrollable and even the smallest probabilities come true some percent of the time. The imaginative mind, however, may seek some other explanation. I believe science is often most effective when it can bridge that gap, and through observation prove or disprove things that seem to have no explanation.

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