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Ode to Science.

I get up in the morning at 6:30. My electronic clock wakes me. (Science.)

I brush my teeth because I know the fluoride will minimize tooth decay. (Science.) Of course if that fails I can go to a dentist (a scientist) who will use x-rays (science) to diagnose the problem and, drawing on the accumulated observations of generations of scientists, treat me. Using a variety of techniques, products and tools brought to us by science.

With a nice does of novacaine, also brought to me by science.

I take a shower because I enjoy it and because I know that being clean will help keep me healthy. Science. Oooh, a bit of a rash on my face. Best apply some cortisone. Science. And some sunscreen. Science. Nothing much I can do about the giant, bald melon head: a failure of science.

Let me just take a moment here to put on my corrective lenses. Wow, things are so much clearer with science.

I eat two pasteurized eggs (science) and three strips of bacon. (Okay, that last would be me ignoring science.) But I don't worry about the cholesterol (a health risk I know about because of science) because I take Zocor. (Science.) I have the TV on while I cook. (Science in the electricity and the mechanics of the TV itself. And the cable.)

I open my laptop (the product of science) and go to the web (ditto) and check news reports transmitted by satellite. (Science.)

I pack my kid's lunches with a cold pack to keep them fresh (science in the cold pack, in the insulation of the lunch boxes and the production, preparation and preservation of the food, and in my thought-process as I consider their nutritional needs.)

I drive my kids to school in a machine that is so packed with the products of science that I can't even begin to name them all. On the way there I listen to music my iPod transmits to my radio. (Science and science. And rock and roll.) On the way back I listen to Howard Stern on Sirius. (Stupidity and science.)

I work a few hours on my laptop. I send e-mails to my editor. I send and receive telephone calls. (All kinds of science involved.)

If I get sick I call a scientist called a doctor. If she can't cure me with her scientific knowledge she calls other scientists called specialists, radiologists, surgeons, and they all bring centuries of science to bear.

I watch my kids like a scientist: observing, noting, trying to discover patterns, forming and testing hypotheses. (Then I yell and scream and take away their computer and TV time: withdrawal of science.)

At night I gaze up at the stars and I know that they are vast burning spheres because of scientists. I even have a vague notion of how the whole giant system of the universe is put together, from quarks to atoms to molecules all the way up to solar systems and galaxies. (Remember, I said vague.) And everything I know came from science.

Because of science I understand that I am intimately linked to every other life form. Because of science I know how fragile life can be, but also how resilient. Because of science I see the stunning variety of life. How many species of beetle are there? Ask a scientist. Is there a connection between birds and dinosaurs? Ask a scientist. What's the importance of an opposable thumb? How vital to our species was binocular vision? Ask a scientist.

The reason that I, like most of my ancestors going back to the dawn of time don't sit in the dark, roasting diseased rat over a cow-shit fire while mosquitoes inject me with microbes that will cause me to vomit up my intestines and die at the age of 32? Science.

My ancestors -- and yours -- lived their entire lives within five miles of the place where they killed their mothers during childbirth. They cowered in terror at the evil spirits that haunted the woods, and fled from animals more dangerous than themselves. So far I've been in every state and a dozen or so countries and I'm plotting ways to get to still more. The only evil spirits I fear work for the IRS. And the only animal that scares me is a cockroach. And the reason for the difference between the life of my long-gone ancestor and my own life today? Science.

I saw men walk on the moon. Science put them there.

You know how often I've had to worry about polio? Cholera? Typhoid? Tetanus? Measles? Influenza? Yellow fever? Whooping cough? Leprosy? The plague? Rabies? Worms? You know why I don't have to worry about them?

Do you know how many times I've had to worry about famine? So few plagues of locusts nowadays. You know why I don't worry about famine? Ding!Ding!Ding!: Science.

And religion?

The disease-ridden, superstitious, wolf-fearing, sleeping-with-livestock, witch-burning, edge-of-the-earth-avoiding, evil-eye-cursed, rotten-mouthed, stinking, lice-infested, seven-out-of-my-ten-kids-died, illiterate, living in a mud hut, never-seen-the-next-valley villein had religion. You know what he didn't have? Science.

The difference between that life, your life, all our lives here in 21st century US of A and the lives we would have had a thousand years ago? The simple belief that the world should be closely observed, that ideas should not be accepted unless they have been demonstrated to be true, that we should doubt and verify and doubt again. In a word: science.

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“Ode to Science.”

  1. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Spot on, dude. Steven Landsburg wrote this in "More Sex is Safer Sex- the unconventional wisdom of economics" (as quoted by Tigerhawk):

    "Modern humans first emerged about 100,000 years ago. For the next 99,800 years or so, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. There were wars, political intrigue, the invention of agriculture -- but none of that stuff had much effect on the quality of people's lives. Almost everyone lived on the modern equivalent of $400 to $600 a year, just above the subsistence level. True, there were always tiny aristocracies who lived far better, but numerically they were quite insignificant.

    Then -- just a couple of hundred years ago, maybe 10 generations -- people started getting richer. And richer and richer still. Per capita income, at least in the West, began to grow at the unprecedented rate of about three quarters of a percent per year. A couple of decades later, the same thing was happening around the world."

    All as a direct result of scientific development. Sadly, it's mostly invisible now for most Americans- we take it for granted something fierce.

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