Thursday, September 27, 2012

Layman vs science - Part 3

          There is a very striking statement of how laypersons view scientists in, the serial "Numbers", which happens to be a detective serial, where the elder brother Don Eppes is in FBI and the younger brother Charles (Charlie) Eppes is a mathematician. Charlie uses Maths to solve crimes and helps Don. The very striking statement is as follows :
            Charlie is an exceptional genius whose mathematical ability is being sought out by non mathematicians too. Even when Charlie's intellect and knowledge are being used in real life because what he knows is actually a part of real life, nobody acknowledges this fact.  Apparently this is evident in situations where Charlie tries to explain some principle which he is going to use/using or some principle which is related to the dynamics of the case itself, his peers seeking his help get bored. Edgerton (another character in the series) , calls Maths as "Voodoo" (but here one is to understand that this Voodoo simply means magic).

          Actually this analogue is very true. Even when people seek methods of science to "get things done", they really don't see it as part of  their lives. Charlie can use Maths to solve cases because, well naively speaking cases also occur in universe and anything in the universe can be characterised using certain parameters if one thinks logically.

          At this point I want to ask a very important question. Non-science people talk of science as monstrous and accuse scientists of being selfish and socially irresponsible! They usually accuse scientists of being unaware of social situations and so incapable of social lives. Well let me point out this. You accuse scientists of being "socially" insensitive. Then using the same argument, scientists can call you "scientifically" insensitive, which you actually are. And as far as I have observed (including my own personal experiences) scientists tend to be more socially sensitive in many matters than the "normal, socially sensitive" layman. Let me concentrate on my second point now. Being scientifically sensitive or aware of basic science is very essential for human existence.

      For example, how will you know that you are not taking poison and a proper medicine if you have no basic knowledge of medicines or the chemicals which they are made of? Some doctors ask you if you have any allergy to certain antibiotics. How will you tell them if you have allergy or not if you don't even know what an antibiotic is or the name of the antibiotic to which you are allergic?

       I'll substantiate my point that everybody needs scientific awareness not only to become an engineer or doctor (to become an MBA graduate later) and increase your "status" in society.  This is from a personal experience I had during a train journey. There was a man who was running a small scale industry of solar water heaters. He was aloud mouthed man with lots of opinions about education in general. He was telling "Oh. Why should you have education at all? You should stop studying after 10th or 12th to have enough knowledge to earn a livelihood. There is no point studying after 12th standard. Nobody is going to gain anything by studying!!! Its just a waste of time and resources." Now personally I wanted to slap that man on the face for preaching bull shit like this in public. But I understood his motive for preaching this bullshit. I even wanted to tell him that he was telling such funda only because of selfishness and he wanted to earn money from his business of solar panels.

         So basically, he sells solar water heaters to homes and institutions. Now the minimum price at which he is selling is 25thousand INR. And all the rest of the prices are above that only. And I am sure none of his buyers know how it works or how a solar panel is manufactured. But the working of a solar cell involves Physics and its manufacturing also requires Physics (material science).
So how will you know that what you are buying for 25K INR is worth 25K INR or he is simply fooling you and extorting money out of you in the name of renewable energy, unless you are aware of the Physics which is involved in its working or making? Again, how will you atleast bother about these if you don't have enough education? What if the production costs goes down because of some innovative technology which enables the manufacturing of solar cells at a lower price? How will know that you are being fooled by this guy who may sell it for higher prices despite the low costs of manufacture, unless you are aware of the science behind it?

       I hope that this example will substantiate my point that you have to be scientifically sensitive and aware of the actual facts. Moreover, unless you are aware of science, you can't know when somebody is lying to you calling neutrino as a neutron or claiming that it is going to be doomsday for you. Also unless you are not scientifically sensitive, you'll write exotic articles about the aspects of neutrino travelling at a speed more than that of light and celebrate it and then become silent when it is found that it was because of a minor technical error in the experimental set up.[ Actually I think that nobody ever bothered to appreciate the fact that a technical error had caused such an excitement and nobody ever bothered even to appreciate the fact that the scientific community ran rigorous checks and pinpointed the error in the experiment.]

        Also not being aware of science takes its tolls when "self appointed experts" mislead the layman (who never bothers to learn even basic science calling it too hard to understand), and make them believe in the "all science is Frankensteinian" theory. Again this happens mostly with Physics and especially Physics only for some reason (because to layman Physics exists only in  "universe-earth". Everybody can somehow relate to chemistry or atleast people make honest efforts to understand it atleast, probably because it has relation to life sciences which exist on earth! I am not talking about Math, because Maths is considered as total fiction and a totally incomprehensible something and hence as something neither good nor bad. But Physics is an exception. Well as a Physicist, I like to call Physics an exception because of my affinity towards it and because  I love it a lot. But not everybody shares my opinion. For people who are educated even till BSc or MSc, or even PhD, who don't even bother to understand or appreciate its principles and its presence everywhere in one's life, , Physics is often accused as some kind of mysterious thing which is always the cause of mass destruction!!!!!!!!!!! I'll elaborate on this in my next post.


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