Science Is Not Your Bitch

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

Like so many other people, I follow I Fucking Love Science on Facebook and Twitter. I’m not a scientist, but I consider myself moderately scientifically literate and a science enthusiast. I know a little bit about a lot of things scientific, but not enough about any one thing to consider myself even remotely an expert. Still, what I do know allows me to keep up with IFLS’s posts, which is great because they always make my day better. Reading her posts are for me, I think, what a daily devotional might be to a Christian: they’re a source of comfort, optimism, and awe. I mean just three weeks ago IFLS let me know that scientists in Germany STOPPED. LIGHT. Using crystals and quantum superposition, folks. How is that not the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard (until, of course, IFLS posts the next most amazing thing ever)? How can you not be humbled by an achievement like that?

If you follow IFLS, you may have seen her post today about the scientists in Hawaii and Turkey who took protein from jellyfish and inserted them into the DNA of cloned rabbits. One in four of the cloned rabbits born to this litter now glows in the dark. If we knew nothing else about why the scientists did this experiment, this feat in itself is freaking amazing. They took protein from one specie. They put it into another species. That second species now expresses exactly the trait it was meant to, and everyone is happy and healthy! Implications, people! All of them!

Even USA Today picked up the story. Here are some of the comments I came across with regards to the USA Today coverage:

  • “Good to know scientists are doing such useful things with their time.”
  • “Who needs a cure for cancer? Sheesh.”
  • “BTW science cancer is still not cured yet.”

And I am baffled. I have happened upon the exact sort of people who are completely unimpressed by the “awesome machinery of nature,” as dearly departed Carl Sagan put it.

I am also baffled by the question about why these scientist—who are studying ways to make hemophilia treatments more effective and efficient for patients, and glow-in-the-dark bunnies are just a cool-card carrying confirmation—have not yet cured cancer. Do diseases need to be cured in a certain order? Are hemophiliacs out of luck until cancer is cured?

I wonder also if these commentators on the goings on of the scientific world are aware that there are, oh, one or two other fields of scientific inquiry besides cancer. There are literally as many areas of expertise as there are experts because a scientist’s work is often her life’s work, regardless of who is giving her a paycheck. Did these people ask NASA about how their cancer research was coming when Curiosity landed on Mars? Was the fact that we hurled a robot from the Earth’s surface at a moving target that is 78.3 million kilometers away at its closest and that it landed in tact lost entirely on these people? Do these same people ask Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson to stop their silly science advocacy and get back in the cancer lab?

Yes, cancer is an important area of research, especially for a world in which medical advancements have given us lifespans long enough to actually get cancer at a higher rate. But it’s not the only conversation going on. Nor should it be. As humans, we have access to as many talents and perspective as there are minds willing to apply them toward as many ends as we can imagine; some of those minds will have no interest in curing cancer—or any other thing these people and those like them think everyone should be working on instead of whatever it is they are doing—because that’s neither their training nor their skill set. It behooves us as a people, as a species. to allow the people who are brilliant at what they do to continue being brilliant in exactly that thing that they do.

It disheartens me when I see people who are confronted with their own ignorance and choose to reinforce it with disaffection instead of treating it with curiosity (an attitude I am not claiming absolute immunity from, btw). It disheartens me when I realize that many of the people and organizations who have this particular affinity for ignorance also hold the checkbooks that fund research like the kind that was done in Hawaii and Turkey.

Then I go back to IFLS, and she has a cookie made of science and a cold, tall glass filled with awesome waiting for me to make me feel better. I find comfort knowing that despite all the odds, all the obstacles, all the naysayers, we are still doing science. We are still pushing back the boundaries of the known world. We are still solving puzzles and finding whole new veins of discovery. We are still trying to be better.

If that doesn’t work, I head to Symphony of Science until I am sufficiently inspired again. Here, you can have a cookie too.

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