I consider myself to be a passionate supporter of science. I dismay when science comes under attack from people such as alt med pushers, global warming denialists and creationists. That is why I was so heartened to read this blog post by everyone’s favourite physicist, Professor Brian Cox, entitled “Why Quantum Theory Is So Misunderstood”.
I’m not going to talk about quantum theory too much, as I don’t really understand it (hopefully Richard Feynman would be proud), but what really impressed me about this article is Cox’s almost ruthless attitude to those that would take ‘quantum theory’ and besmirch it’s good name by using it to justify almost any new-age piece of nonsense. Deepak Chopra, I’m thinking of you!
Although countless woo-mongers misappropriate quantum physics to sell tomes of drivel, I agree with Cox that this should not deter people from making science a part of popular culture. I think that any ideas along the lines of “it’s too complicated for the great unwashed” are deeply patronising, and you only have to look at the popularity of the “Wonders” series to see that there is a demand for science programmes.
Having said that, I’m of the opinion that the scientific method itself is often poorly communicated, leaving many people without a solid grounding in what science actually is (hence why I give talks on the scientific method). Therefore, it’s too easy for people like global warming denialists to muddy the waters by claiming that there is a “debate” on climate change. Antivaccinationists find it too simple to ensnare people with distorted statistics and scare stories about the perils of vaccination, and creationists all too often exploit a lack of understanding of terms such as “theory”. After all, evolution is “only a theory”. I think we need to have more confidence in teaching science and treat it as something to be embraced, not feared.
Finally, it’s refreshing to see such an eminent scientist be so unequivocal about the role and achievements of science:
Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face.
If you doubt that sentiment think about what, we humanity has achieved through science. Smallpox, a disease that once scourged the planet, was defeated with the use of vaccines, not homeopathy. Modern telecommunication methods make the world that much smaller, and they were developed with science, not with wishful thinking. The application of science allowed us to leave this planet entirely, we did not put men on the surface of the Moon through prayer.
So let’s stand up for science like Professor Brian Cox does!
Tony Ryan - Coffee Loving Skeptic
Good post. Cox is a great advocate for science and role model for sceptics. There’s no need to be anything other than robust and direct when dealing with people who misrepresent scientific truths, be it Quantum theory, evolution, or climate change. Facts are facts, and should not be allowed to get hijacked by woo merchants.
The phases of the Moon are caused by the Earth’s shadow:
Brian Cox wrote, “I apparently said in a radio interview that the phases of the Moon are caused by the Earth’s shadow, which is clearly bollocks! Unless I was talking about a lunar eclipse, I can’t understand what I must have been thinking. Probably the end of a long day.”  Steve C wrote, “Here’s a fact for you: Brian Cox believes that the phases of the Moon are caused by the shadow of the Earth falling on the surface of the Moon. This was broadcast on BBC Radio Wales on 19th January 2012. I have the recording if anyone wants it, and I have been trying to ‘undo’ this damage in conversation with people for weeks since. For me, any suggestion of scientific credibility he held prior to this collapsed in on itself instantly.”  Trailer for a radio programme on BBC Radio Wales this morning. It’s a phone-in item for programme guest Prof. Brian Cox. Little kid (sounded 5 or 6 years old) asks: Why is the moon sometime round and sometimes looks like a banana. Prof Cox: “That’s the shadow of the earth.”
I encounter people who is just overwhelmingly blocked by their religious belief, it is just so irritating!. No logic, no rational explanation..makes me sigh..
Let us stand up for Science!