Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dangerously optimistic scientist?

We are worried it seems that science will one day play with thing we aren’t meant to play with and that a disaster that will destroy the city/region/country/science. There are thousand of science fiction stories use this as a premises, where uncarefull scientist destroy the world with accidental plague, uncontrollable explosion, or some other unforeseen consequence. It as became part of our culture to the point that people distrust any experiment proposed by scientist. The thing is while technology as caused problem when badly misused and cause regional problem for humanity it as nothing to do with science and even then obviously not cause any large scale problem. Yes scientist can make mistake and some mistake could be dangerous but science is rarely someone else in the peer review process before any catastrophe catches the product of single scientist usually a mistake happen. Also scientist do not want to die anymore then anyone else and an experiment reward would have to be astronomically huge for scientist to even think of making an experiment that would have a 1/100th of a percent chance of cause a catastrophe.

Please, trust scientist not to endanger your life, they know what they are doing.


yofed said...

I do believe you. HOWEVER, they don't always know what will happen until after all the data is in. With the A bomb, they knew there would be a big boom, destruction, they must have known about radiation... but they had no clue that the radiation could travel the way it did, no idea that people would be dumb enough to make nuclear reactor without sufficient protection... Most often, you can't tell how dangerous (or benign) a substance or reaction is until you have actually tried it out. Then, you already have a big mess in your hands.

Scientists will say some products are perfectly safe to be marketed... then months, years after, you hear "well, that pill we gave you while pregnant has damaged countless babies... sorry", or "We have to recall those baby bottles, they do leak small amounts of carcinogens in tour baby's milk... sorry". Of course, scientists are not bad people, but they are not semi gods who can predict exactly what will happen before it actually does. They can make educated guesses.

Btw, about sci-fi stories, I read one last year that you might like... ;)

asaathi said...

Actually they knew a lot about how radiation traveled and some of it effect on human (not all of them, in fact most where not known until many years afterward when the long term effect could be seen). I also wonder what nuclear reactor you are talking about, their has been no reactor build with insufisent shielding or cooling. However some system where no design to be use they way they where (Chernobyl) which is why an accident happen. Note tho that the accident was caused by having under trained technician (not that all technician are undertrain but those where) do the work of engineer at a moment where engineer would have refuse to do the work because of the danger.

I think you are attributing too much power to scientist in our society. The pill you are refeering to was designed to reduce nausea which it did admirably. The problem arose when doctors prescribed the pills to pregnant woman, I do not think anyone asked to see a study saying it was safe or not they just precribed it away with the desastrous concequences.

Next, we have the media histeria. The plastic bottle are not going to give your baby cancer. The amounts of milk you'd have to drink out of a bottle that had been heated each time in the worse possible condition would probably kill you before the cancer did anyway. But because of past discovery (and to get more funding, lets be honest), scientist have to report everything they find a potential health risk for a product we use everyday.

It is impossible to test everything in every situation possible (remember that human stupidity like the universe appears to be infinite) so yes their is always a risk. But life is a risk, every single second something could happen to terminate your life, you can't do anything to protect yourself from that fact. Hell a supernovae could go off a few pc from here and in a few years everyone would be dead with no warning whatsoever. Not to mention that sometimes the only way to know something is to try.

Sure it might look stupid to say lets try this even tho we are not 100% sure it won't screw up. But we cannot be 100% it won't screw up and the fraction of a millionth of a % risk is not enough to warrant the lost of knowledge it would incure.

oh you could ask, what good is knowledge if we are all dead or if we destroy the universe? And I would answer, what good is life if you hide from shadows.

God's final message said...

Yes scientists do play dice in some circumstances, but the risk is so small that I think it is well worth it. The amount of knowledge gained by humanity by taking small, calculated risks is astronomical. What if prehistoric men had not smashed rocks together to make tools because they feared hitting their fingers while doing so? What if we had not taken the risk to give penicillin to cure infections caused by bacteria?

Anyway, Doomsday will come, whatever we do. Whether it is in the form of a supernova, a swallowing sun, or a gigantic catastrophe caused by humans. People like to think that doomsday will be caused humans because, this way, they can blame it on someone.

I also think that the best rebus puzzles are found on polystyrene coffee cups, but it is like smashing protons together... only a physicist can appreciate that.

yofed said...

You're tagged!!!