Saturday, May 30, 2015

Science doesn't answer all the questions...because it is not supposed to.

Very often I hear people criticizing science by saying that it doesn't solve all the problems or answer all the questions. Very often this point is raised during the discussions where science and religion are discussed together and pitched against each other. Science vs religion is very common and popular debate subject, many times even during casual discussions science is pitched against religion and people try to evaluate both disciplines based on their own perceptions, knowledge, likes and dislikes. I want to discuss specifically about science and its impact on our society, specially about the pointless accusations which try to project as if science is some useless thing which has not solved any major problems for humankind or it is some incapable branch of academia which claims to know everything but doesn't answer all the questions. Some people say these things in a tone as if religion does solve all the problems or have all the answers (logical answers). First of all one should understand that science doesn't claim that it can answer all the questions or solve all the problems. People who think like this are either ignorant or are purposely saying this to mislead people or just say this to malign science. In science knowledge generation and problem solving is a continuous and never ending process. Secondly science is not just a academic discipline or a subject of school curriculum, it is a way of rational thinking. It is a logical and systematic way of handling any question or problem. Any person can be a scientifically oriented person, they don't need any formal education or degree to be called scientific or scientist. I have seen many so called uneducated people making brilliant discoveries using their own logical and rational thinking, they are all scientists according to me. One can definitely become a scientist by profession by having proper training and education but this is not the only way to learn and practice science. I think myself as a very lucky person that I came across many people from different disciplines who instilled a scientific way of thinking before even I chose research as my profession.

I clearly remember one lecture from my college days where one of our chemistry professors who was also a very good poet asked question to our class, what is science? Many students tried to answer this question and finally all of us agreed that 'anything which we study systematically is science'. Now what we mean 'systematically' here, it means by using verifiable and reproducible methods. If things are not reproducible or if data is not verifiable then it doesn't have any scientific significance. The evidence can be direct or indirect but it has to be there and onus is always on the claimant to prove their claim. The biggest quality of science which attracted me towards it is that it only believes in data, it doesn't care who produced that data or who proposed it or who carried out the experiments. If the data is not verifiable or reproducible it is not accepted no matter who was the person to submit that data. My experiment or Einstein's experiment are judged with same skepticism and open mindedness by scientific community, we both can be proven right or wrong by any person who can produce the data to prove our experiments wrong. It doesn't really matter that Einstein is Nobel laureate his theories are open for challenge like any other scientist's theories. This is another interesting point, there is no any absolute authority who is unquestionable in science, each and everything is open for debate and any one can raise any question about anything. This is very reliable method to proceed forward and generate knowledge, this prevents getting stuck in particular mindset or avoids knowledge getting stagnated. This is also one of the reasons why science has managed to solve so many problems and answer many questions which were considered as mysteries just few decades back. Let it be a problem related with water purification or about vaccination or about some disease management or related with transport or even about clothing or entertainment, scientific communities all over the world are busy tirelessly in solving many problems from many diverse areas. They will continue to do so as long as they stick to well established attitude of skepticism and verifiable data generation. Asking questions and challenging status quo is integral part of scientific thinking. So whenever some one makes above mentioned statement, my counter will be, who claims to solve all the problems or have all the answers? and if it was not science then which discipline helped to solve many, many problems which humans face in day to day life? But please keep on questioning science, throw new challenges towards scientists all over the world, constructive criticism will make it only better and stronger. 

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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