Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Io Saturnalia

In this part of the world, Christmas cards look a little odd with all that snow, etc, but they do remind me why Christmas is at this time of the year: it is the end of the Saturnalia. In Roman times, at the winter solstice the God Saturn would see out the old year, and would promise that shortly the world would be reborn, the days would begin lengthening again, spring would come, crops could be sown, and all would be well. In the short dark interval before there was perceptible lengthening, Romans would feast, play tricks and bow down to the Lord of Misrule! The Christians highlighted the day of rebirth, about three days after the solstice, but I sometimes wonder if the politicians have stolen too much of the preceding concept. Proper rule should be based on logic and clear evidence; misrule by definition, on anything else.
Just recently New Zealand seems to have been struck by torrential floods, the effects of which appear to have been magnified as a consequence of theories by "authorities" of where to build and how much forest can be cut from where. As another example, the kiwifruit industry has been hit by a fungal disease that, while it cannot be absolutely proven, appears to have been introduced with imported pollen. The Head of the agricultural authority that approved the importation was reported, as an excuse, as saying there was no scientific evidence published that the fungus could come with pollen. My gripe with that is one of logic: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
My point is, science has a lot to offer the community, but only if the community understands the basis of it. People who make decisions, and the average citizen who must either accept such decisions or protest, must do so on proper grounds. The average citizen most certainly should not be asked to sit down and do piles of calculus, but it would be extremely beneficial if they could at least assess the arguments given as likely to be correct or not, based on an understanding of what a scientific argument should look like. The experts should provide the analysis, but more people should be able to tell whether the analysis looks sound or is just plain lazy. The most important point of all lies in what is not there, how many assumptions are made and whether they look realistic. That is not impossible for the non-specialist to do.
So, how do we bring about such a transformation? We can preach, but I rather feel that will only work with a select few. My personal view is that we can do more. At this time of the year, we give each other gifts, and books are common gifts. While thinking about that, I thought, science fiction might help, then with a little more thought, I had to ask, does it really? Does it convey any scientific method, or is it usually just "magic" and the equivalent of the modern day sorcery tales? For those interested in my thoughts on that, rather than the dreaded "multiple publication", why not a reference! 
Meanwhile, may I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year, that reactions go as planned and discoveries flow in 2012. And, of course, Io Saturnalia!
Posted by Ian Miller on Dec 20, 2011 9:58 PM Europe/London

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