Jacob Aron is a mathematician turned science writer, and is currently studying science communication at Imperial College London. He blogs daily about science and the media at Just A Theory
Without science, you would not be reading this. Without science, there would be no computers, no internet, and no blogging.
Well, so what you might say. I’m sure you could live without reading this blog post, or indeed any of the other 1.6 million posts made every day (according to Technorati). I’m even sure you could live without computers and the internet in general - after all, only 22% of the world’s population has access to such luxuries. Maybe you’d find it harder to get by without cars, antibiotics and fridges, although these are also unfortunately far from universal worldwide.
But is science only about new inventions, new technology and new medicines? When the Large Hadron Collider was fired up early this year, besides suggesting we were all doomed, many people were asking what the point of it all was. Wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere, it was suggested. Who really wants to know about a bunch of stupid particles anyway?
I’d counter this argument with: who wouldn’t want to know? The human mind is inescapably curious. Everybody wants to learn something, be it particle physics, the saxophone, or a comprehensive knowledge of football. Arguably, it is scientific curiosity that has allowed us to rise to our prominent position on planet Earth.
A caveman asked “What happens if I rub these two sticks together?” Where would we be if the other cavemen had said “Stop mucking around with those sticks! Get back in the cave, and make some spears! We’ve got hunting quotas to meet!” Ok, it’s a silly example, but when modern naysayers berate scientists for “useless” research, they are no different than the cavemen.
Science is important because it satisfies our curiosity about the world we live in. Amazing new technologies often result from science, but that shouldn’t be why we do science. We do science for the same reason Columbus set sail in search of new lands, for the same reason Tenzing and Hillary climbed to the top of Everest: curiosity
Science is important because it helps form the world we live in. Nearly every aspect of human life has been changed by science: health, food, and war to name a few. Science may not always improve the world we live in; it can make it worse, but then so can literature and art. Nevertheless, the influence of science is undeniably important.
Science is important because it teaches us about the world we live in. It is the best way we know of to banish ignorance with knowledge. Without science, we’d still be stuck with a stick in each hand and a blank expression on our faces. And you certainly wouldn’t be reading this blog.