September 12, 2011
Science is under siege these days. Some politicians proudly proclaim that evolution is just a theory and that climate change is a conspiracy among scientists. Health gurus advocate homeopathy or “natural” remedies rather than modern medicine. Parents ignore the advice of doctors and experts and refuse to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases. People who are quite happy to reap the benefits of science—new medical treatments, for example, or sci-fi-like technological devices—advocate for schools to teach religion in science class.
And so I think it’s time for the rest of us to speak up. Let’s explain what it is about science that satisfies us, how science improves our world and why it’s better than superstition. To that end, I’m starting a new series here on Surprising Science: Why I Like Science. In coming months, I’ll ask scientists, writers, musicians and others to weigh in on the topic. And I’m also asking you, the readers, why you like science. If you’d like to participate, send a 200- to 500-word essay to WhyILikeScience@gmail.com; I’ll publish the best.
And to start us off, here’s why I like science:
When we are little, we ask “why.” “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do balls fall down and not up?” “Why can’t my fish live outside water?” Good parents root their answers in science. The sky is blue due to the way light is scattered in the atmosphere. Balls fall down because of gravity. Your fish doesn’t have lungs, and gills only work in water.
But science doesn’t just give us answers to the why’s of our childhoods; it gives us the tools we need to keep answering them as we grow up.
Science is the tool I use to understand the world around me. It provides logic and sense and order in what might otherwise seem chaotic. And though the answer to the why’s of my adulthood may sometimes be “we don’t know,” it’s really just “we don’t know yet”—the answer will eventually be found, with science.
And then there’s the act of finding those answers, putting the methods of science into action, that I find more fascinating than any bit of fiction. There are astronomers who use telescopes to peer back in time. Biologists who discover new species in both familiar and faraway places and struggle to figure out how to save others from extinction. Even a non-scientist sitting at a computer can help to solve molecular structures, hunt for planets or decipher ancient Egyptian texts during lunch break. Science is often, simply, fun.
Science is also the light that keeps us out of the dark ages. It may not solve all of our problems, but it usually shows us the path to the solutions. And the more we know, the more questions we find. It’s a never-ending search for answers that will continue for as long as the human race exists. And guaranteed satisfaction for the little girl inside me, the one that still asks “why.”
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.