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Science, Time and Confusion!

After reading both The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and “Perspectives on the nature of science,” I was left feeling unsettled. First in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks we read about the different scientists changing their theories about HeLa multiple times throughout the book. Later, the article “Perspectives on the nature of science” described this phenomenon in more general terms by basically saying that, contrary to popular belief, scientists really don’t know everything. It was surprising for me to realize that the scientific ‘facts’ that we know and trust today could be proven to be false in a matter of days, weeks, months or years. And then those theory revisions could later be proven false. It is a never-ending cycle, which is causes discomfort.

I found the relationship between scientific theories and time to be interesting, especially in regards to technology. In a lot of instances only time will reveal whether or not a scientific theory or idea will be falsified. For example, the theory of cell phones causing cancer. This issue has a personal connection to me because I know someone who recently passed away from brain cancer. This person was used his cell phone often, and his tumor was found close to his ear where he held his cell phone. Since this has happened, I have been skeptical of cell phone use. The theory that it might cause cancer is so new that it is difficult to prove or disprove, similarly to how the fact that cigarettes cause cancer took a long time to be proven by scientists.

This raises the questions: how trustworthy of modern technology should we be? And also, how trustworthy of scientists should we be? The readings and class discussions have awakened me to my naivety in trusting everything I hear from scientists just because they have the label “scientists.” Then I had the thought: if you can’t trust scientists who can you trust? Now I’ve ended up in a cynical spiral of losing faith in all of humanity. I’ve finally concluded that it is important to know yourself enough to filter what you believe and what you do not. I think (and hope) that this skill will improve over time and with life experience. And here we are again at yet another example of time changing things… Great.

  1. September 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Woah. Everyone is scrambling to put up their posts today. I thought the suggested deadline for posts is Friday, and the suggested deadline for comments is Sunday?

  2. September 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I don’t really find it disturbing that science constantly updates itself due to competition between scientists, or due to the curiosity of the human mind. It is actually quite intriguing that something we thought we know turns out to be false. Instead, something else is the case. This allows us to know more about the world and how things work, or don’t work.

    And scientists/ doctors are people too. Perhaps they are more trustworthy than politicians, since their master is knowledge, rather than being able to win votes. According to Religulous, a documentary regarding religion and science, a scientist spent fifteen years trying to proving, and promoting a theory. However, one day, another scientist proved him that his theory was false, the two scientists shook hands.

    Although you can not believe everything that a scientist says, you can often trust their motives. Their main goal is to discover the truth.

    I am not speaking of the scientists who attempt to prove racial supremacy for the sake of their own gain. Though they can come up with insightful theories and discover wonders of nature, their motives are different from those who are on a constant search, solely for knowledge. Therefore, they are irrelevant in my comment.

  3. September 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    When first finding out one theory, that was once believed, was proven wrong, it is somewhat unsettling. Of course one does not like finding out his or her beliefs are wrong but it is also how one learns and furthers his or her knowledge on a particular subject. He or she must except being wrong and continue through the learning process. We are all human and make mistakes and fall for false statements.

  4. September 18, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I feel exactly the same! I’m starting to question different popular claims that scientists have made. I can’t help but think about how when Airborne, the homeopathic cold treatment, came out a few years ago, it was hailed as the best thing to take when one was sick. It seemed like everyone took it and it became a cure-all to the cold. My grandmother uses it religiously. However, a recent study actually disproved its effectiveness, but does that mean that it really doesn’t work, or is that study somehow influenced by traditional drug companies or some other company working against them? As you can probably see, I’m just really confused and second your hope that life experience will clear some of this up.

  5. September 19, 2011 at 1:54 am

    I know exactly how you are feeling with this! Reading about how often things believed to be true are proven false often leaves me with a sense that I can’t trust anything that I am told by society. I encountered a very similar fact in reading for my Journalism course, which said that what we believe to be news is what news is according to a reporter. The reporter has the ability to portray an event in whichever way they like, influencing what the reader believes to be the truth. It is particularly concerning in regards to science, which is an area that I feel have very little understanding of. The idea that our perception of truth can be influenced by those who are human and fallible is nerve-wracking.

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