What is science?

As a physicist, I routinely receive (and try to answer) questions from friends, acquaintances, students, and other members of the general public that are indicative of a pandemic of confusion about science: Questions such as "why should we wear masks?"; questions pertaining to reading and interpreting COVID data, and of course questions pertaining to hydroxychlorquine's effectiveness.

These questions (and many more) provoke deeper questions:

  • What does science stand for;
  • what does it try to accomplish, and what are its limits?  

Endless poorly-designed Youtube videos also regularly sent to me which purport to "scientifically" "prove" or "disprove" something (e.g. lower oxygen levels when wearing mask and other nonsensical points) force me ask: "who taught this person physics?" or "have they ever taken a science course?" Such questions are merely symptomatic of widespread scientific illiteracy among the general public despite the fact that we live in a world dominated by science. And sadly, many people who don't know better take these claims seriously and try to heed them (e.g. inhaling Lysol or using hair dryers to kill the virus in vivo) with dangerous, life-threatening consequences.

Despite, this desperate dearth of information and understanding of critical science-related issues in the general public, scientists (including doctors) are being censored. This is killing science which thrives on healthy debate and discussion to understand phenomena, weigh evidence and find solutions. Similar to public debate, you have the "right" to be "wrong" in scientific discussions. This is how scientists work out problems by not being afraid to try different approaches some of which may end up wrong. But we all learn from their missteps and ultimately find a solution as a result.

Unfortunately, as we hear less and less from real scientists/doctors but instead from nonscientists/college dropouts such as Bill Gates in the media, we are witnessing a tragic era in human history where we have ubiquitous unchecked and erroneous information propagating/circulating at the speed of light all over the world and no one believes or trusts anyone (including scientists) anymore. This has led to massive confusion amidst our leaders and the public during the most recent pandemic resulting in the unnecessary loss of lives, exacerbation of human suffering, and prolonging of the current crisis.

As a consequence of this misunderstanding of science and its critical role in our society, political leaders have dramatically curtailed scientific funding here in the US. These cuts come at a critical time where we need to rally and support scientists to solve the many pending and ongoing crises in the world such as climate change, pandemics, poisoning of our ecosphere and dwindling of our natural resources (e.g. fresh water) all of which threaten not only our way of life but much of life on this planet.

To better understand science, we must first recognize that we exist in a universe dominated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics: error has been literally inextricably built into our universe. Quantum mechanics is based on this uncertainty: statistics/probability at the atomic and subatomic level.  Though many expect that scientific theories are "exact," there is in fact no such thing just as there is no such thing as a zero-dimensional point in our 4-dimensional universe.  It is an abstract mathematical construct from geometry. All we can do is to try to reduce uncertainty/error but it will completely never go away.

Theories are only as good as the accuracy and precision of the measurements conducted to verify them. Scientific hypotheses are often hotly debated and require many years, decades and even centuries to fully "settle." Only through many experiments reproduced in many different laboratories can hypotheses/theories be tested and accepted, improving our understand of this amazing world that we live.

Science (natural philosophy) at its core is empirical - data driven. More data typically results in better statistics (less uncertainty) so that trends can be observed (e.g. does a specific drug actually work). In the medical world, this means that the more patients who come down with an illness, the more that doctors learn about what works and what doesn't work. It is easy to develop theories for everything. The hard part is testing them in the real world. In that spirit, scientists have, are and will often be wrong about their hypotheses in a universe of far too many variables which they usually have little ability to control.

In the case of medicine, there are many factors/variables that must be considered when doctors develop strategies for treating patients: weight, age, race, gender, blood type, use of other medications (that may interact with proposed medications and exacerbate certain conditions), general state of health, among many others. Thus, what may help one patient may hurt another or do nothing for a third. This is why it is absolutely critical for doctors to share their various experiences in treating patients to compare data and modify approaches (based on this shared information).

Unlike in "purer" scientific fields such as physics and chemistry where experiments can be designed, improved with high precision, accuracy and forethought, doctors have a more challenging task trying to help suffering patients in real time and "in the field" where time is critical, patients may suddenly die, and each patient may have different reactions to drugs/therapies. They must problem solve using the scientific method "on the fly."

Though scientists try their best to minimize variables and interpolate their data with minimum uncertainty as much as humanly possible, there is always error in their data and often, mistakes are made either in the garnering or interpretation of data. This is how science grows as more experiments are conducted and, with improvements in technology (e.g. the MRI, X-ray, gamma-rays, fiber optics, PET scans, etc.), we can do more accurate and more deeply probing experiments to seek the underlying causes of natural phenomena (such as illness). As part of this growing process, scientists try to regularly publish their results and actively debate these results. Just because a study has been peer-reviewed doesn't imply that it is flawless. It just means that another expert or experts examined the study and didn't find any blatantly egregious errors either in the data collection or interpretation of the data.

Dissemination and discussion of scientific results is absolutely critical for science to thrive. As creatures of this universe, everything can be subject to differing interpretations - even science has its limitations - as we continue to barely scratch the surface of reality. Only scientific inquiry can methodically (though often slowly) resolve which of the interpretations is the closest to reality. [Notice that I didn't outright say "right" - only the interpretations that are closest to reality.]  Does that mean that we should not listen to scientists that we disagree with in favor of nonscientists such as Bill Gates who have an admitted financial interest in this tragedy?     

Absolutely not! This is why censoring scientists is absolutely wrong. Let them speak out and discuss their opinions. The more the better. Science is our best hope to reduce our uncertainty (not completely abolish it) without which, we would still be in the Dark Ages. It is best suited to resolve critical problems associated with our existence in the natural world because science (natural philosophy) is predicated on studying the natural world as an unbiased observer and interpreting it; developing theories about how this world works. The key problem today is that science is not always being used for the public good but rather to enrich a small group of human "elites" at the expense of everyone else. This effort to control science and corral scientists into a "mainstream" group think is very dangerous.

Most of the greatest scientific discoveries were discovered by accident - not through prepared inquiry - but through prepared minds ready to think "outside of the box" and accept the serendipitous nature of reality. "Outliers" such as Ludwig Boltzmann founded entire fields of science (in his case statistical mechanics) but were not initially believed by "mainstream" scientists. Gregor Mendel's work on pea plants establishing the field of genetics was not widely known until decades later after his death when it was rediscovered. Copernicus made sure to have his work demonstrating that the Earth goes around the Sun published after his death for fear of reprisals. Galileo was imprisoned and denounced as a heretic for similarly promoting Copernicus' theory. Both scientists had to fight the erroneous "Earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe" perspective which had been with humanity since Aristotle (and other ancient Greek scholars such as Plato) championed it almost 2000 years earlier despite the fact that there were other schools of thought that the Earth rotated around the Sun. This demonstrates that even in science, well respected personalities can override logic and decide which perspective is "right" even when they are so obviously wrong.

One of my former professors (Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne from Caltech) made various bets with Stephen Hawking pertaining to black holes which ran for decades indicating that long standing issues may take decades to resolve.

As scientists who are scholars of Nature, we should welcome - not punish - dissent in both public and scientific spheres of discourse.     

"Mainstream" science as espoused by politically-appointed scientists and scientist-directors/administrators is not necessarily always the "correct" science. Dr. Fauci has on a number of occasions changed his opinions on various medical issues (e.g. in the mask controversy). This typically happens as we collect more data and bring more science to bear to understand and develop science-based strategies to ameliorate this crisis. In this case, however, thousands of people are tragically dying from this horrible virus every day because of the lack of inaction and proper funding for research into a solution beyond passively and financially supporting large globalist pharmaceutical corporations to find the solution on our behalf. Vaccine or not, the solutions to defeat the coronavirus and future pandemics will likely emanate from unconventional treatments and out-of-the-box ideas which should be actively debated - not censored. We do all humanity a disservice by censoring scientists and killing scientific funding to help them find the answers.

Humanity is in deep crisis. We have never before had such an ability to destroy so much of life on this planet due to our tremendous advances in science. As Nikola Tesla once said:

"Science is useless unless it is in the service of all humanity."

Whether it is artificial intelligence, intelligence gathering (Big Brother), 5G microwave technology, climate change, over exploitation of natural resources, poisoning of our ecosphere, GMO's, and overpopulation, etc., we all need to re-evaluate where we are going as a species and how to use science to benefit the entire planet - not just exorbitantly wealthy "elites" who are instead using science as a means of control, further wealth accrual, and modern day feudalism.

More than ever, we need scientists and the public jointly engaged in this discussion.

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Author`s name Michael Pravica