AAAS Report #1: Life as Science

Contributed by
Feb 17, 2006

Note: I am now at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. It is a huge gathering of scientists, policy makers, teachers, and press, all here to talk science. I'll be reporting from here as often as I can.

I just attended a session called "Teaching and Learning about Science: Challenges and Opportunities Concerning Evolution". It's mostly about what teachers and scientists can do about the growing anti-science movement (I'll be on a panel tomorrow about this as well). Most of the talks were boiler-plate kinds of things about fighting nonsense, so I won't detail them here. But one man (whose name I missed, dagnappit) made an interesting analogy, one I hadn't heard before. It may be an old idea, but it's new to me.

He said that life itself is an analogue to science. Organisms reflect science: they are, in essence, hypotheses proposed by nature, and are continually tested by their environment. Those organisms that can handle the input from their environment survive, while those that cannot deal with it fail. Those that can adapt, even marginally, to outside influence are able to better cope with whatever comes next. Those that can't, well, don't. Even a well-adapted organism can become extinct if the environment changes too much.

This is a fantastic analogy! In science, we propose an idea to explain something, and then it gets tested. If it cannot explain the observations, it must either be adapted or discarded. A scientist who is too stiff, too resistant to change, will find themselves extinct if the evidence from observation becomes overwhelmingly against them.

Evolution is a fact, both in nature and in science. If more people realized this simple truth, and the beauty inherent in it, then a lot of nonsense would become extinct as well.

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