Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is truth a myth?

Does anyone really understand what science is? My trusty Webster's Dictionary (sorry, Oxfordians) defines science as knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematized and brought under general principles.

In my studies, it was stressed that science goes much beyond mere description of phenomena but seeks to explain, ultimately formulating a set of laws governing the observed phenomena. In simpler terms, the event must be observable, measurable and repeatable in a wide range of locations and circumstances. Science, therefore, puts great emphasis on describing experiments that are intended to verify some great truth.

Thermodynamics, aeronautics, electromagnetism, nuclear physics, all developed over time by someone following the scientific method, are so much part of our lives today, so embodied in the devices we take for granted that we no longer think of them as being important building blocks of our lifestyle.

But that is not the real message here. Science is based on truth. Our society today does not respect truth. Image is more important. Truth depends on evidence. Without evidence anything goes. We are shooting ourselves and society in the foot when we stop teaching people how to recognize the truth.

I have discovered a quotation ascribed to John F. Kennedy, who said, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth -persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Belief in myth allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

It has been my observation in recent years to observe various special interest groups choose myth as a position for advocating what is almost always a Not in My Backyard agenda. Such myth is almost invariably validated by the statement "I read on the Internet that (insert peril) is true." Some of this is pure entertainment and keeps certain people off the streets, but it is undesirable and truly unfortunate when drivel results in negative results for the community or lost opportunities for individuals. How about a few examples?:

-- Organic food is "better" for you. Research in England, quoted in the newpaper, indicates no increased benefit. Don't like the answer? Slam the report, ignore the methodology.

-- Windmills are "bad" for you. I have not examined all the evidence, but from the outside, it reminds me of the crt/computer terminal scare of a few years ago.

-- All pesticides are "bad." Evidence shows that table salt is more lethal than the most popular weed killer used in Canada. It all boils down to the dose. Salt is 5,000 times more dangerous.

-- Nuclear power is " evil." This depends on your attitude toward creation, but science has unlocked the miracle of nuclear activity. And it truly is a miracle of some creative process. Man's use of it is entirely another matter. But who can deny the benefits of nuclear medicine?

These examples are technical. Myths are promoted in the social and political spheres as well. The turbulent politics in the USA have the aura of myth about them. There have been examples in history where myths have been created to justify racial atrocities. I do not want to go there.

No comments:

Post a Comment