Why science matters

November 15, 2017


In the United Kingdom on the evening of Oct. 14, 2009, conservative member of Parliament for Bosworth David Tredinnick stood in the House of Commons to an open debate in the chamber for a health threat that worried him.

“At certain phases of the moon, there are more accidents,” he claimed and questioned the health minister of Britain, if he had overlooked the threat. “Surgeons will not operate because blood clotting is not effective, and the police have to put more people on the streets.”

Tredinnick’s debate in the Commons outraged the British scientific community, but he is not the first MP to argue without any scientific evidence. It is almost routine for the leaders to claim that fails basic understanding of science.

At a gathering, ask if anybody has read, to any depth, the work of Shakespeare. Then ask if anyone understands again, to any depth, the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

I guarantee, it is almost none. So, why is there such a hatred toward science? Why do people not value science to the same level as Shakespeare? Disliking science is okay in our culture, but why? Is it because the scientists lack the ability to communicate properly with the public?

Scientific evidence is an intellectual honesty that cannot stay covered by the Westminster or Washington. The American people have no proper figure on how much NASA actually costs. Or, the economic benefits of the Large Hadron Collider, but they do not hesitate to question the necessity to send a rover on Mars.

Scientific credentials weaken in politics. The 2010 survey found that there are 55 U.S. senators with law degrees and none with a Ph.D. in the natural sciences except Chris Coons of Delaware, who has an undergraduate degree in science.

Of the 650 MPs of the UK, only four hold PhD degrees. “Science is more than a body of knowledge, it’s a way of thinking,” according to Carl Sagan, a famous American astronomer.  There should be more politicians with the science background, for we want unbiased, evidence-based leadership.

It is true that one cannot study prions by a controlled experiment in a lab, but neither can one recreate the Big Bang nor rerun human evolution. Politics asks tough questions, but science is a great tool for answering them.

Former British prime minster David Cameron took 18 months after becoming the prime minister to make a speech about science. Obama made little of science on the campaign trial. John McCain did not even reply to a science debate at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Politicians simply do not take science seriously.

Homeopathic research is still funded through the government. Astrology manages to get a column (horoscope) in the newspaper. Psychics are still prevalent in the western societies.

Does the society not care about the science anymore? Is wearing green, on a certain day, going to change my behavior? Are sugar pills capable of curing cancer? I beg to differ.

Americans love to take their wisdom teeth, quickly as possible, despite being hurtful. Jonathan Shepard, the professor of maxillofacial surgery at Cardiff University, after reading thousands of prophylactic operations, concluded that there was no evidence for removing impacted teeth in the absence of symptoms led to better outcomes — in fact, it raises the risks of infection and nerve damaging than doing any good.

The UK health system, then defunded any such practices that are unnecessary. This was the moment when an evidence-based medicine was taken into consideration. This is how policy and science should work: science testing hypotheses and policy makers making laws built upon those evidences.


[Idea based on Mark Henderson’s The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters?]

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