If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you oughtta go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.— Star Trek The Next Generation, Q to Picard (Episode: Q Who?)
So this Blog is about science and region, but I want to start with science. One of the best examples of evolution in action is science itself. Many people think scientists are in a grand conspiracy together—thatwe all secretly agree on some cabalistic agenda, including, but not limited to evolution, global warming, the cell theory of organisms (it’s still only a theory we are made of cells, you know, but I find the evidence compelling), etc. They then think we defend its boarders against those who aren’t part of the club. Well, it’s sort of true. Scientists are not likely to let the new kids on the block play with the regulars until the supplicant proves him or herself in the crucible of the playing field–more on that. But conspiracy? Heavens no. Scientists are a bloodthirsty lot. Their currency of exchange is fame and glory. Eternal life in the pages of history. To have your ideas spread are the passion that motivates every scientist I know. Truth is the playing field, the goal of the game though is to get ahead; to become the next Einstein, Darwin or the professor on Gilligan’s Island (The greatest scientist I know). And it is bloody. Reputations are made and broken. Pedestals are erected and smashed. Lives ruined, tenure denied, papers rocketed into the sky only to be shot down with anti-ballistic missiles in the form of data that doesn’t fit your project. It is an ugly world of fierce competition. Only the fittest ideas persist.
Here is a metaphor: The public picture of science is the Dog Party in the children’s book Go Dog Go, up in the tree all toasting one another’s success (as a side note I have read this little treasure more times than any other book ever). The more accurate view of science is to move the dog party to the Roman Coliseum. Now turn them into pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, and German shepherds. Maybe throw in one of those wolf hybrids if you want. Now set them at each others throats. That is science. Scientists are like a great gladiatorial arena of fighting dogs. Each scientist quickly assesses the strength of their opponent then goes for the throat. A quick kill is the surest way to dislodge a weak and insubstantial enemy. This arena is fierce and unrelentingly competitive. The best way to get ahead in the game is to focus your attack on the top dogs and take them down. If you can replace the alpha theory-hypothesis-notion with your own you have the won the contest. So scientists scrutinize each other carefully, try hard to understand what others are saying so they can throttle those ideas if they can. It is not a conspiracy, it’s not a dog party, it is a Hobbesian war of all against all.
Most people don’t understand this. That’s because there are usually a few whiners whose ideas haven’t survived the bloodfest and cry, ‘We didn’t get a fair hearing!’ (which may be true but I’ll address that in a later blog on scientific credentialing). Ideas like Intelligent Design (ID), or ESP try to enter the arena, then fail in the fray and so these little high-pitched barking Chihuahuas take the case to the ever kind and gentle public. The defeated little dogs paint the event like this scientific hegemony has formed a wall that won’t let there ideas in. The truth is it’s a free for all. There are lots of causalities. That wall is the wall of the battles and skirmishes formed by the fighting dogs. If you’re driven out, the easiest and cheapest claim is that ‘The dogs wouldn’t let me in.” True enough. If you aren’t willing to scrap with them, and not tough enough to compete, they aren’t going to give you a ‘bye.’ And they are not kind. These whooped types, with tail between their legs, start appealing to the public who are much more fair-minded, less critical in the judgments and much nicer when it comes to that noble sense of being fair. Science has no sense of fairness. Ideas are tested, fought over, and are kept or discard in competitive contests with reality. The fight has rules, but like in my dog analogy, these are more about the teeth, claws and sinew of the fighting beasts. To be accepted you must survive. There are occasional alliances but they are short lived and easily subverted.
The fact is things like Evolution and Global warming have survived. Evolution has survived some of the bloodiest battles in the history of science (and I don’t mean between creationists and evolutionists, I mean among evolutionists). It’s as solid as anything I know. There are a few yapping toy breeds still barking at it from the outskirts of the battlefield, like ID, but the second they enter the fight, they are bitten bad and they go yelping back to the safety of public opinion’s lap. In the fray itself they are seen as non-combatants. If their ideas didn’t keep slipping away into the security of their masters, those ideas would be killed without mercy.
Questions for thought
If science is a Hobbesian Dog War what is Religion?
(Maybe sort of an Aslan-like lion, wild and untameable, but above the fray?)
Are all dogs allowed in the Arena? Not exactly, but the ones kept out usually choose not to enter the war.
What is the Arena? Who feeds the dogs? Should animal rights activists be involved? Should dogs be allowed to fight at all? What about hamsters? How do they fare or don’t they exist in this metaphorical world? If they don’t, should I care? Who is watching this gladiatorial battle? Does no one give the thumbs up or down? Where is the emperor? Is it me?