Remedial Science: basic facts for busy peeps
by Ashleigh Mattern
When was the last time your mind was blown by a fact you learned?
Think of the first time you understood thunder was the sound lighting makes. What a wondrous, exciting feeling to understand a new idea!
The first time I deeply understood that the Earth is this huge rock with a molten core, flying through space at 100,000 kilometres per hour, it blew my fucking mind. What a transformative experience to understand something so much bigger than yourself!
We are constantly bombarded with stories, advice, news, facts, statistics — and are expected to understand it all. It’s no surprise that many people throw up their hands in frustration and choose to just believe what they’re told instead of doing the work to understand. But what if I told you there’s a relatively easy way to navigate the world that can help you feel that wonder and excitement of understanding on a daily basis?
It’s called science.
“Who needs science?” some people say. “Scientists are just bunch of old white dudes in lab coats sitting in their ivory towers making dumb proclamations about made-up shit that doesn’t affect me.”
Wrong. Our world is permeated by science. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the transportation you use, the house you live in — all are affected by science. Science is knowledge, and knowledge is power, so you ignore science at your own peril.
At its most basic form, science is a system of organizing and building on our knowledge of the world around us. Science demands evidence for claims.
“It’s the process that gets closest to truth,” says Brandon Gerbig, events coordinator for Centre for Inquiry Saskatoon. “People go by their gut feelings, or what feels good, or their faith and beliefs, but all those processes have a higher chance of coming through with an untrue result.”
CFI is an educational organization with a mission to promote reason, science, secularism, and freedom of inquiry. There’s also a chapter in Regina.
Gerbig considers himself a skeptic — and no, skepticism is not the same thing as cynicism. Skepticism is science applied to our everyday lives.
“[Science] can enrich your experience of the world,” said Gerbig. “I think that when you analyze something and discover the processes behind it, that thing itself becomes more poetic and beautiful. Knowing the science behind things had enriched my view of life.
“The fact that the human race went from the first airplane to the moon in less than 50 years inspires the hell out of me.”
Unfortunately, science is under attack in Canada. The Harper government has placed strict regulations on how and what scientists can communicate to the public. Science is all about transparency and sharing ideas, so these policies are harmful to the advancement of knowledge.
Organizations like the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network and Intelligent Design Science Canada purposefully spread misinformation to advance their causes. Yes, these groups claim to be telling the truth, but if you take a closer look at their research and viewpoints, it’s clear they’re choosing to believe something rather than truly understand it.
Groups like these dispute science, but the fact is, science works.
Gerbig says we can test science itself by looking at it as one big meta experiment.
“We’ve been using the scientific method for 350 years as a human race, and how has that worked out for us? If you look at the meta experiment behind it, science has been a successful method that keeps us healthy [and] we have technology we never dreamed of. It revolutionized the world around us.
“If you look at science as a process, we reap the benefits of science being successful every day.”
KNOW YOUR LOGICAL FALLACIES
The human brain is hardwired to be stupid. Our minds fall into logical traps all the time that seem to make perfect sense. Luckily, you can win arguments and lose friends by learning your logical fallacies!
Ad hominem: Attacking the character of a person rather than their argument, for example: “Only an idiot would argue that!”
Appeal to popularity: Concluding something must be true because so many people believe it, e.g. “A billion people can’t be wrong!” Unfortunately, they can.
Appeal to tradition: An argument is deemed correct because it correlates with a tradition, e.g. “This is right because we’ve always done it this way!” In fact, nope.
Appeal to authority: An assertion is deemed true because the person asserting it has some authority, e.g. “But Dr. Oz says it’s true, and he’s a doctor!” That might be true, but that hardly makes him an expert on climate change.
There are literally hundreds of logical fallacies; if you want to learn more, Wikipedia has an extensive list. /Ashleigh Mattern
Remedial Science will appear semi-regularly in Prairie Dog. Do you wuv it? Let us know: send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.