Hi everyone! So last week in class we all got the chance to read samples of essays on the nature of science before we begin to write our own papers. When I first read the details of the assignment, I was nervous to say the least. Science has never been one of my favorite subjects, and I had basically no motivation to explore the field beyond my biology and chemistry classrooms. So how in the world was I supposed to write a 1200 word essay on my personal nature of science!?
However, when I sat down to read the sample essays Professor Myers posted, I was shocked. I was actually interested in what these students were writing about. It hit me that my little bubble of stereotypical science was not what the field actually is. Science is cooking, illness, Artic ice caps, and so much more that what we are exposed to in chem lab. The subject that I dreaded for so long was becoming more intruiging.
With this first paper ahead of me, I feel more confident that I will actually enjoy and benefit from taking this UW, in ways other than getting to sleep in on Friday mornings. And although I can pretty much guarentee I will not be signing up for multitudes of science classes after this semester, I can already tell I am going to walk away from this class with a greater knowledge of the science I experience in my life everyday.
I miss the days when we were all scientists. As children, discovery and invention applied to contexts of everyday life, from the arrangement of building blocks in the playroom to the study of dirt and pebbles of the backyard. During long summer afternoons at the beach, I can fondly recall my tireless endeavors to plot the best canal system through the sand. When the first snow of the season fell in November, I would contemplate the most effective way to mold a proper snowman. When all else failed and there was nothing left to do outside, I would pass time in the kitchen, mixing various sauces and condiments from the refrigerator in hopes of producing some sort of massive explosion. And although my sand sculptures often crumbled, my snowmen melted, and my food concoctions failed to produce anything but a predictably wretched odor, I was content with my role as a master of science.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but at some point during my maturation, science converted from a physical to a far more conceptual entity. As a college freshman and intended biology major, I devote far less time to experimentation than I did as a kindergarten student. Although currently enrolled in multiple science courses, class time is wholly dedicated to the memorization of uninspired lectures, and lab periods are regularly consumed by note taking. It often feels as though my ability to actually do science has been overshadowed by the precedent to learn about science. As do my classmates, I spend far more time researching the efforts of others rather than forming my own basis of knowledge through trial and error. In the context of collegiate study, this is obviously necessary and appropriate. After all, the administration most likely wouldn’t appreciate hoards of students converting university property into personal lab spaces. Not to mention, the material presented in our textbooks is essential to a complete understanding of the subject as a whole. Whether practical or not, however, the manner in which science is taught to college freshman simply isn’t as fun as we once imagined.
As we now discuss the rhetorical nature of science during class, I once again find myself nostalgic for a simpler time. While it certainly is interesting to consider many of the more abstract implications of defining science, such discussions also sadly serve to remind me that I am no longer a wide-eyed child. The world of discovery has its boundaries. Ethics, proper methodology, and observational acuity define the limited landscape in which experimentation is meaningful. While each and every GW science student has experienced this transition at some point in his or her life, we rarely take the necessary moment to appreciate its magnitude. Growing up is both a gift and a curse. While we can learn to appreciate the complexity of the surrounding world, many of our most innocent assumptions are lost forever. Science is no longer whatever I want it to be. There are rules, and these rules will forever govern my experiences as a student and a professional. Every once in a while, though, it can’t hurt to take a step back into the past… a past where all I needed to be a scientist was a set of beakers and the hope of making something explode.
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.