Science is integral to maintain the existence of life itself and should be something everyone is interested on the grounds of keeping the human race going. However, what has happened is that science is more and more by the day becoming isolated from society, acting as a completely separate and isolated field that rips away the roots it grew from the people that built it. We see this two distinct, but similar experiences written by David Kirby and Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who both share why sometimes good intentions can result in further harm, and how it is important to let emotion have a part in determining the arc of science.
Kirby writes about how science is generally written with a sense of “wonder and awe” in order to draw the public in and be engaged, but that generally this same wonder ends up holding science back. The show Cosmos for example uses this quite frequently, even somewhat invoking Christian language calling the laws of physics “commandments”; an active wonder meant to have us ponder the universe and discover its mechanisms. However, the show also attempts to divorce spirituality from the sciences, but this presents a problem. While we should not let science be dictated purely by our own personal religious beliefs, replacing that with scientific “wonderism” creates an issue where the same wonder attributed with the Fear of God and helpless wondering leads to that burden being shifted on scientists; they are not omnipotent deities but merely human beings, but end up attracting worship. Human beings who have the capacity for error and uncertainty are not to be placed in this position of can do no wrong, but when they are it can hold science back due to people refusing to change the current standing science, seeing it as “objective” or the unchanging truth.
Prescod-Weinstein shares her experiences in the field of science through a much more personal than abstract lens. In her post she talks about her dream of becoming a scientist growing up, being socioeconomically disadvantaged heavily and picked on in school, being told she would amount to nothing valuable. However, she defied the odds, went to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. and became the first black women to hold a faculty position in theoretical cosmology. It sounds great and everything you could ask for, but at what cost? What Prescod-Weinstein noticed was that the further she went into academia, the more disconnected she felt from her childhood and home, noting that her ability to speak Spanish became only used in professional settings, or her change in clothing to fit in more with those around her. Although being touted as a success story, breaking down the barriers of discrimination against black woman, she felt like a token. When millions of other marginalized people still face economic and cultural discrimination every day, how is one person’s individual success going to impact this, especially when you grew up disadvantaged yourself. At this stage, science becomes something to research for the purposes of serving the American economy, rather than trying to liberate and free the oppressed.
I can relate to this in a way, as for the past year I have accepted that my major, Actuarial Science, is nothing more than a piece of red meat fattening up insurance companies by figuring out how much value can we extract from workers that need healthcare or mechanic work before that time comes. I would have never picked it in 2017 had I known what it really was. I love mathematics and people including my parents told me it was a good field that made a lot of money going in, so I just went with it. Now as I approach my last semester here at Michigan State, I am unsure what to do for the time being. Insurance in theory is not necessarily a bad thing; we have things such as the fire department where we pay in advance and if a house catches fire we can put it out without having to pay up front. It’s simply taken care of. Why can’t we simply apply this to car accidents or hospital bills? Same concept, and I would love to take a position figuring out the expenses of this. The perversion of science to a degree where it exists merely to serve nefarious modes of production rather than people themselves is a huge issue that needs to be dealt with, and people need to be made aware as vividly as possible without relying on spiritual, nonmaterial language suggesting the work of higher powers.
- Bucchi, M. (2008). Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: Theories of public communication of science. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (1 edition, pp. 57–76). Routledge. (PDF in D2L)
- Kirby, D. (2015, January 25). Evangelizing the Cosmos: Science Documentaries and the Dangers of Wonder Overload. http://thescienceandentertainmentlab.com/evangelizing-the-cosmos/
- Prescod-Weinstein, C. (2019, March 23). The right to know and understand the night sky. Medium. https://medium.com/@chanda/the-right-to-know-and-understand-the-night-sky-3a9fb4e04d92