I’ve been away for the past 2 weeks at a actually fantastic conference — a lot of on that in a very future post — but promptly declined with a dangerous cold once we have a tendency to got home. Sigh. It’s exhausting to blog coherently with a stuffy nose, scratchy throat, and woozy brain. Fortunately, my pal Jim Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and all-around mensch, has come through with a guest blog post, inspired by recent comments on the campaign trail by would-be presidential candidate Rick Perry?.
It’s particularly timely in lightweight of the simply-concluded GOP candidates dialogue, in that the anti-science theme was significantly pronounced. I assume anyone with a real love and respect for science and every one the advantages to society it brings — irrespective of political ideology — should be involved by this ever-a lot of-pronounced streak within the Grand Recent Party. However here — I’ll let Jim make a case for how we have a tendency to recognize what we have a tendency to grasp when it involves science, and why it’s thus necessary for a civilized society to worth fact-primarily based, curiosity-driven scientific inquiry. Take it away, Jim!
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, was recently asked on the campaign trail how old he thought the Earth was. He responded “I’m not certain anyone is aware of extremely utterly understand how recent it's.” Whereas technically true – scientific measurements are frequently being refined, permitting for additional correct determinations of the Earth’s age – it had been an evasive response.
I suppose one cannot fault Gov. Perry for making an attempt to weasel out of an immediate answer – he may be a politician when all. As a scientist, in order to urge a a lot of productive response, I would have phrased the question slightly differently.
I would have asked Gov. Perry: “That do you're thinking that is nearer to the true age of the Earth – four.five billion years or six thousand years?” And I actually have a follow up.
If he responded that the Earth’s age is closer to four.five billion years, I would then raise – why do you think that therefore?
If he cites the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community on this age, then I wonder why he does not notice equally convincing similar agreement among scientists on climate amendment or the idea of evolution. A paper last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that over 97 % of climate scientists surveyed agree that international warming may be a real phenomenon and that man created causes contribute to the present warming. This isn't a sign of collusion – trust me, there's nothing scientists love more than showing that their colleagues are wrong. If all however a little handful of scientists accept as true with a specific conclusion, it's as a result of that's what the evidence indicates. Why agree with a scientifically derived age of the Earth, and ignore the scientific evidence for climate change?
If he replied that six thousand years is closer to the true age of the Earth, I would then ask – what about cell phones?
The scientifically determined age of the Earth is not simply pulled out of a hat. It's based upon measurements of the concentration of unstable uranium and thorium nuclei in rocks and meteors, employing a way the same as Carbon-14 dating. Extracting a time since the rock’s formation from these measurements requires an understanding of quantum mechanics, the sphere of physics that describes the behavior of atoms and nuclei. There has been continual improvement, since the event of the primary atomic bomb in 1945, in our understanding of the mechanics of radioactive decay of nuclei, with a corresponding decrease within the uncertainty of the age of the Earth, derived from such measurements.
Additionally, quantum mechanics, when combined with statistical mechanics, provides the foundation for solid-state and semiconductor physics. Modern quantum mechanics was developed in the mid-1920’s, and therefore the transistor and laser followed approximately a generation later. There would be no laptop hard drives, magnetic resonance imaging, light emitting diodes, cell phones, laptop computers or iPods without quantum mechanics.
It is after all each American’s right to dismiss the conclusions of any body of science they would like. However intellectual consistency would then suggest that one would mis-trust any electronic device that produces use of this science. At least the Amish walk the walk, and don’t simply speak the speak.
Why does it matter whether or not Gov. Perry, or any candidate for elected office, from either party, thinks the Earth is billions or thousands of years recent? As a result of science isn't a assortment of facts, however rather a method for the way we have a tendency to will obtain reliable information about the natural world. I would bet money money that most scientists whose field does in some way involve radioactive dating of meteors don't seem to be familiar with the isotope decay curves from that the age of the Earth is set. But the process, by that proof is obtained and then tested, challenged and ultimately accepted as correct, gives one confidence that when those that devote their research to such topics conclude that the Earth is four.5 billion years old, the result will be trusted.
The scientific process has extended our lifespans, eradicated diseases, fed billions and as noted on an episode of the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory last year, only sixty years when the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, enabled men to steer on the moon. As citizens and voters we have a tendency to ought to discover whether our candidates believe that science is just another opinion, and then on Election Day, we have a tendency to will share our opinion of them.
James Kakalios? is that the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, and the author of The Physics of Superheroes and also the Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics (Gotham, 2010).