By James Randi
Visit Randi’s site at www.randi.org
Science is not the mysterious, distant, smoking-test-tube sort of a priesthood that many imagine it to be. Rather, it is simply an organized, formal method of “finding out.” Science works. We’re all much better off for having vaccines, rapid international travel, fast access to information, instant communication; and improved, safer nutrition —all direct results of what scientists have discovered about how our real world works. And have no doubt about it: we’re living in a real world, one that doesn’t really care about our comfort or even our survival. We have to see to these matters, and we’ve gotten to be very good at this.
That’s due to what we call “science.”
There are those who try to disparage efforts by science to discover the secrets of the universe, preferring to depend on mythology like faith healing, charms, incantations/prayers, and various other magical motions. Science looks at the evidence, evaluates it, proposes a likely scenario that can accommodate it —a theory —and then tests that idea for validity.
But science doesn’t really discover many cold, hard, facts. Rather, it discovers statements that appear to explain certain observed phenomena or problems. These statements –s=ut+½ at², for example –are tested endlessly. Should they fail, they are either re-written or scrapped.
You just may have recognized that formula above. It’s a discovery made by Sir Isaac Newton, and expresses the variables of the situation in which a cannonball is dropped from a convenient Leaning Tower in Italy. The formula works quite well, except when the cannonball is replaced by something the size of an electron or a galaxy. Then, it fails.
Does that mean that the eminent scientist Newton was wrong all these years? Did science fail? No. Within the parameters in which Sir Isaac worked, he was right; outside of those limits, quantum physics takes over, and all’s right with the world once more.
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