This was my first science article ever published. Originally published in the Iowa State Daily on February 13, 2014, it was a Letter to the Editor, rebuttal, that scored me a writing position with the paper. The Opinion Editor liked the piece so much that she offered me a position as a science opinion columnist. And now I am sharing it with you. As you will read, my style and voice have changed since its publication, but this was my first and that’s why it’s special. – Matt
By Matt Johnson
In a recent article entitled, “Science must be questioned,” the author questions science’s predictive ability and states, “we can never genuinely know what happened in the past, because we were not there to see it for ourselves”; therefore, science is a “waste of time” and thus ought to be de-funded.
This line of thinking is utterly nonsensical and disturbing, and illustrates the author’s lack of scientific understanding. I suspect this rhetoric derives from an intentional ignorance concerning biological evolution. But I digress.
The fact is, learning about our biological, geological and astronomical past is not a waste time. Not only does the knowledge obtained help us better understand our place in the universe, but it also allows our society to benefit from the great scientific discoveries of the past 400 years and is what drives the engines of our economy.
To illustrate my point, astronomy is a science that studies the past. How can this be? Good question. It is because of our understanding of light, which has been studied experimentally and quantitatively determined by various scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Michelson, Edward Morley and Albert Einstein.
Through the process of scientific discovery, humans have determined that it takes one year for light to travel 5.9 trillion miles. This indicates the speed of light is constant, which means that light does not speed up nor does it slow down. It stays the same, constant, from one point to another. For example, it takes light roughly 4.3 lightyears to travel from our closest, neighbor star system, Alpha Centauri to our home planet of Earth. Because of light, we are able to view Alpha Centauri as it was 4.3 years ago.
Since the speed of light was discovered through scientific rigor to be a constant, an important fact, astronomers can make predictions of stellar phenomena, and utilize physical and mathematical models to show the distance of a star, a galaxy, or a cluster of galaxies, which can be millions or even billions of light years away. Hence, the author claims that “we can never genuinely know what happened in the past,” but we indeed do. Furthermore, our civilization has been built on such discoveries.
From this understanding of light, engineers have built telescopes, microscopes, mirrors, lasers, cameras (Your cell phone has one, correct?) and have developed machines for such medical disciplines as ophthalmology and optometry, just to name a few.
This one little example demonstrates that quite a bit is known about our cosmological history and that the consequences of such discoveries are the technological applications that you and I benefit from every day. As you can clearly see, all of this hubbub over the past few centuries has been well worth the time and energy, and contrary to the author of the original piece, has not been a “waste of time.”
Mr. Maxwell is correct in his assertion, “Science must be questioned,” and it has, by scores of scientists for more than 400 years. Science is a malleable process of inquisitive thought, constantly questioning, observing, experimenting, testing and refining, all the while getting closer and closer to the truth. That, my dear sir, is science, and as a consequence, well, take a selfie with your cell phone and post it to Facebook, and take solace in the fact that you just benefited from science.
**Remember, there is nothing more American than discourse. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated!