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Friday, 15 April 2016

Overwhelming Theory

Facts are more important than theories
Something is happening with our science magazines.  National Geographic, Scientific American, Science, and the like are moving away from facts and focusing on theories.

As our understanding of God's amazing world advances, what matters most are the new findings, the new facts. The theories which attempt to tie these facts together are interesting, but very much secondary - why? Because they are in constant flux.

Theories now dominate
But this is not how science magazines now see things. Today's science magazines rush to theory and hardly present the facts at all - facts which are of primary importance - and which readers would really like to know about!

Example 1: Almost Human, National Geographic
Recently National Geographic published an article about some research on apes in some jungle and entitled it "Almost Human." No-one in their right mind  would have called the behaviour described in the article as "Almost Human." The researchers found a few apes using sticks to poke around trees and labelled all of this as tool behaviour. Did they find an ape making a metal chisel, sharpening it, and then carving out a Michelangelo David? That would be tool use and that would warrant the title "Almost Human." No, they found - the few paltry facts -  a few dumb apes doing dumb ape stuff (no offence meant to apes, that's their design limit, compared to the vast glory of man made in the image of the Glorious Creator).

In this example the very few true facts were completely overwhelmed by the doubtful theory of evolution. What would have been far more honest - and interesting - is a chart comparing the behaviour of humans to the behaviour of the apes they found in the forest. Then readers could have made proper judgements instead of being bullied into foolish and misleading theory-laden headings "Almost Human."

Example 2: Birth of the Solar system, Scientific American, May 2016
This May's Scientific American is all about the remarkable uniqueness of our solar system. But I had to really work hard to wheedle out the paltry details of this fact whihc is scattered about, one sentence here, another there. It turns out that as we discover hundreds and thousands of new planetary systems going around other stars, guess what? Ours is radically unique. In most other planetary systems, you find massive "hot Jupiters" close in to the star (not like our Jupiter and Saturn who are far away) or / and some massive earths (not like our puny earth). It would have been wonderful to have charts showing the differences between our solar system and these new ones. But no, it is really hard to gather the facts out of the article.

What dominates the article, then? Theory. Astronomers have had to tear up the old models of how the solar system formed and come up with totally new ones, and it is these new multi-part theories that dominate the charts and diagrams of the article. The theories are interesting, but they are also most likely, just like their predecessors, to quickly pass.  I want to know the new findings, the new facts - which will last - much more than I want to know the new theories, which though interesting I mentally register with a pinch of salt.

A lesson for science students: go for the facts, be sceptical about the theories
Science students who don't study the philosophy of science or the history of science can so easily be taken in by the stories (passing theories) of modern science. And unfortunately, the science magazines don't help here. What science students need to learn well is the data, the new findings, the new figures and facts. Yes, by all means read the theories, but know this: those theories will change with the seasons, unlike the facts.

Love facts, question all theories - that is good science folks.

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