“Save the Science!” (Or: Is science itself an endangered species?)

“Save the Science!” (Or: Is science itself an endangered species?)

Ok, so I’ve got a very simple “science experiment” for you.  Just three simple steps.

Step 1:  Watch this video:

Very cool, huh?

Breath-taking graphics.  Intriguing plotline.  Compelling, authoritative voice–with enthusiasm and accent to boot.  Heart strings are pulled.  The underdog–or, the under-wolf, in this case–wins.

So much for step 1.  Ready for step 2?

Step 2:  Skim this article from The New York Times, entitled, “Is the Wolf a Real American Hero?”

Step 3:  Read one of the comments from the article, which I have cut and pasted immediately below:

“I was aware before this well constructed article that the ‘wolf-elk-aspen’ cascade did not hold up.  I think it DOES matter “whether it’s true or not”; I was appalled at the recent uninformed revival of the myth.

“There is a creature under attack here, that we very desperately need to understand and defend, for the well-being of our own species.

“I like wolves just fine–but ‘Science’ – is currently far more endangered. This story makes an excellent teaching tool–with many lessons all young scientists, and all citizens, need to know. A) Projecting your pre-existing beliefs onto data is not likely to reveal valid findings. B) Confirming findings with additional studies is critical to understanding. And more.

“I would love to see Yale Forestry adopt a new t-shirt. ‘Save The Science!’ Perhaps on a background of wolf, elk, beaver, and aspen. That could kick off a lot of useful conversations.”

…..

So there you go.  I don’t know about you, but I completely bought into the video.  And I sent the link to my extended family, all of whom live in Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park.  My brother-in-law very kindly pointed me to The New York Times article.

3 thoughts on ““Save the Science!” (Or: Is science itself an endangered species?)

  1. This is just how the frontlines of science works and I don’t think most people see that. There are a lot of things we think make sense and fit a model, but then we learn that may not be completely true. It takes an incredible amount of work before something reaches dogma status and goes in a textbook. I like wolves. They are cool and probably are making a big difference, maybe just not in certain measured parameters.

    1. “It takes an incredible amount of work before something reaches dogma status and goes in a textbook.”

      I totally agree about the “incredible amount of work” part. And I think I understand what you mean (and don’t mean) by “dogma.” But I think people–including many scientists and engineers–do not fully grasp either how provisional are its conclusions and how susceptible these conclusions are to social, political and economic manipulation. When scientists–or those who would use their conclusions–either claim more than they know or claim what they know with greater certainty than they actually have, the long-term effect is a decline in the authority that non-scientists give to the sciences.

  2. Thanks for sharing! This is still in our textbooks. One of the take-aways I try to give my students is that we all have biases and that science should be a continual pursuit of truth (as opposed to finding the “correct” answer and being done with it.) I will make this video and article a part of my curriculum for next semester. 🙂

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