I remember when I was young we were taught that the universe was shrinking, that we would never be able to map the human genome, and that the world would end due to global cooling. There was also a real fear that due to population explosion, we would run out of food by 2000. Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
We also heard from Ecologist Kenneth Watt who declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’ Additionally, Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.
What spurred this post was the book I’m reading, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. The book explores what happens to our brains when we do anything over period of time – regardless of age. Our brains are plastic – they change with what do. When I was young we were taught, our brains were hardwired and that like the saying went, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Turns out that’s wrong – you can. Our brains aren’t hard anything – and incredibly malleable.
What’s my point? Be skeptical of what you are told. Today we know the universe is expanding, we have mapped the human genome, we are warned about global warming, and our brains are plastic. Settled science is a misnomer – there is no such thing. Science is about discovery – challenging the norms. I wrote earlier about Carl Sagan’s BS detector. One of the foundations of his BS detector was that any good theory can be tested, replicated, and observed. Period.
I grew up believing a good scientist (and thinker) always challenges the status quo – and consensus is not science. What I suggest to the gentle reader is keep Carl Sagan’s words in mind when someone tells you something is settled. If that doesn’t work – think about the words of Captain America (actually the graphic novel writer, J. Michael Straczynski), “When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — No, you move!”