Ratio Scientiae: 100 Posts!Read Now
With this post I celebrate 100 posts in my blog! Back in 2017, I decided I was going to blog about science. I am trained in the ways of science. I can read, understand, and correctly interpret most scientific information, and if I don’t understand it right away, I know where to find material that will help me understand it. Therefore, I could sit and wait for the next interesting scientific article, read it, figure out how to explain it to laypeople, and then blog about it. It is not my intention to belittle this approach. I think it is important to present science to people in a way they can understand it, but the thing is everyone is doing that, and I had other concerns.
As a young man, I was fascinated by science because, unlike other ways of discovering the truth about the behavior of matter and energy in our universe, science actually worked. Not only that, but science is a methodology that can unite people of difference countries, races, ethnicities, and social, political, philosophical, and religious persuasions, making it possible for all to agree on the truthfulness of certain pronouncements about reality. But early on in my career I was even more fascinated by the misconceptions that people harbor about science and the natural world. I met people who would talk to me about clairvoyance, telepathy, demonic possession, or ghosts as if these things were true (they aren’t). I met people engaged in the practice of astrology, homeopathy, and faith healing that would tell me that these things worked and had been validated by science (they don’t and they haven’t).
So while pursuing my science career, I formed a skeptics group and wrote columns for local newspapers where I tried to educate people about what is and isn’t science, how does science work, what are the limits of science, what masquerades as science, and why they should care. This went on for a few years, but these activities fell by the wayside as life and the demands of work and family intervened. Now fast forward a few decades and once again I felt the urge to engage in these activities again. However, things had changed a bit.
The internet has made scientific information, which takes professionals years of training to understand and evaluate, freely available. Anyone can now pick and choose studies or ideas from the scientific literature regardless of their validity, and interpret them as they please to support their views. This has generated disinformation and the so-called “alternative facts.” Additionally, we have seen a resurgence of anti-science like never before. There are individuals, groups, and powerful interests that know that science can prove them wrong, and they fear science because they know science works. Therefore, these entities take it upon themselves to delegitimize science. We have seen the rise of the climate change denial movement, the anti-vaccination movement, various conspiracy theories, along with the latest incarnation of the creationist movement (intelligent design) and even flat Earthers. And many individuals within these movements argue that scientists are dishonest, have sold out to powerful interests, and therefore are not to be trusted.
Because of the above, it is important for scientists to get involved in educating the public about the facts, and to fight back against the delegitimization of science and scientists in order to set the record straight. So to do my share, I started this blog and decided that it would cover several recurrent themes.
One of the most important themes that I often bring up in my discussions of creationism and evolution or religion and science, is the need for science to temper beliefs, the need for beliefs in shaping the morals and ethics of scientists, and the need to keep these two areas separate from each other as per the concept of non-overlapping magisteria (to which I subscribe) proposed by the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. This distinction led me to call my blog “Ratio Scientiae”. In the theology of the Christian philosopher, Saint Augustine, he identified two different but complementary types of reasoning, ratio sapientiae, and ratio scientiae. Ratio sapientiae dealt with knowledge of the divinity, whereas ratio scientiae dealt with knowledge of the physical world. Saint Augustine believed that the physical world displayed certain patterns and regularities that we could discover employing ratio scientiae, and I thought this described very well what would be the philosophy behind my blog.
Other examples of recurrent themes in my blog are:
1) The need to understand how the scientific method works, what scientific theories are, and how the process of science can generate facts as opposed to notions that are tentative and ephemeral.
2) The need to respect scientists and their expertise while recognizing that they are human and make mistakes, but at the same time understanding that the fact that science can be wrong is its strength and the main reason why it can be right.
3) The need for skepticism to avoid having your mind so open that people will fill it with trash, but at the same time the need to be able to give up irrational forms of skepticism and accept the evidence to avoid, for example, falling in the trap of accepting conspiracy theories.
4) The need for science to not work in a vacuum, and accept that our reality is also shaped by beliefs that must be taken into account as part of the solutions to our problems.
At the same time I did not want my blog to be one cryptic boring long hard to read deal. This is why I also often post fun and interesting things both in my blog, and in the “Interesting Stuff” section. According to my metrics, my blog receives about 600 unique visitors per month, each of whom reads an average of 2.5 pages. If you have been one of those, I want to thank you, and hope that what I have written has helped your thinking about some aspect of science and its method or at least entertained you enough for you to think that science is cool and worth your while.
Thank you very much!