Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Right Tool for the Job

It's almost 4 and I have to get up at 7 to start all over again. Nevertheless, here I am, "Sleepless in 'Zion'." Since I was awake anyway, I decided to read some blogs I've wanted to follow. Now I feel compelled to make a personal assertion in regard to a post I came across. I don't want to be confrontational or direct unkind criticism at an old friend and her numerous supportive friends. It's just that I have a differing viewpoint. Now that I've found voice, I find myself wanting to use it once in a while when it's meaningful to me to do so.


Science Fair projects are a hellish nightmare, more so for conscientious parents than for their little scientists. I've been there and done that, believe me! Sometimes I think it's just asking way too much of us! It's so hard to get through a typical busy evening with homework, chores, dinner, events, and bedtime preparations. There just aren't enough hours in the day for all the planning, research, and preparation that goes into a project like that! If you haven't embarked on a Science Fair project with a child, you have no idea what I'm talking about. It really is agonizing and you just have to experience it to understand. I haven't boycotted the fair, myself, but I've been tempted--believe me! It's been a few years since I was a "good mommy" and undertaken a project with one of my kids. If any of them had the burning desire to do one, I would support and help in any way I could, really. But I can't even start my own homework until they've gone to bed most nights. I confess, I just don't want to do it anymore.


One might say, "Cammie, Cammie, Cammie! Quit 'controlling' your child and just let her do it her way. It's her Science Fair, not yours!" But one of the problems is that Science Fair projects DO have to follow the scientific method. To be quite honest, young children have a difficult time wrapping their brilliant, creative, energetic young minds around the method and staying on track. After all, there are a lot of exciting possibilities for exploring the world of nature and technology around us that are more fun and don't require a step-process and a four-dollar poster board! It takes discipline and patience (i.e. parental guidance) and a whole lot of graph paper, electrical wire, and glue stick to stay on track and do the damned thing correctly. If the project does not follow the scientific method, it doesn't qualify to place in the judging. This can be so disheartening for a child who didn't, for whatever reason, follow the method. That right there just feels so unfair! There are fewer things as upsetting to a parent as a child with a broken heart! But there is a very important purpose for the scientific method.


In non-scientific terms, let me explain why I understand the scientific method to be so important. We live in a culture in which the majority of friends, family, church members, coworkers, acquaintances, and even strangers we come in contact with will accept "because I believe" as a sufficient answer for any number of assertions. Normally that's just fine and, in our local culture especially, faith is a valued personal attribute. But suppose your doctor wanted to bleed you to get rid of the bad humors causing your bronchitis, diabetes, or cancer? If your doctor suggests such a treatment, you're probably going to leave her office rather quickly, then file a malpractice report. The questions you're unlikely to take the time to ask include: What are humors? Why are they making me sick? How does bleeding me cure my illness? And especially, what are the side effects of bleeding? Very few otherwise faithful people today are willing to take a doctor's word on his faith that bleeding will cure these or any serious illnesses. Does this sound like an absurd scenario? Actually, it was a rather common scenario a hundred years ago. Most of us understand now that bleeding is unnecessary and dangerous. Many people wealthy enough to afford the treatment back then died of blood loss instead of the infections and diseases we now treat rather easily with antibiotics and other conventional medicines and treatments. There are no such things in the body as humors, but doctors and their patients once believed there were. Bleeding was hypothesized as the best medical treatment, but that's where the scientific method ended.


The scientific method is the only method whereby that which is true in the physical world can be proven qualitatively and quantitatively. Scientific method cannot prove anything of a metaphysical nature such as the existence of God, the power of priesthood, or the truth of gospel. It's simply not the right tool for the job of validating metaphysical truth. The nature of the metaphysical world and our physical world are believed by many to have significant connections, but it's not the purpose of science to make those connections or to measure the validity of that which is a matter of faith. That's okay. That doesn't make science bad; science has it's own time and place and purposes, even if they are temporal. One of those purposes is to cure the sick and injured, and to improve the quality of lives. Without the scientific method, we would still be bleeding to death otherwise healthy patients with head colds. 


Another purpose of the scientific method is to aid agricultural experts in producing the variety, quantity, and quality of foods we need to live, grow, and be healthy. One of Stalin's friends, a "scientist," believed in a particular agricultural method. Stalin chose to accept this man's hypothesis when all credible scientists warned him that correct scientific method produced a different result and that his friend's agricultural "wisdom" was faulty. Stalin made it illegal to practice any other agricultural methods or even speak of them. Some scientists were sent to prison in Siberia and even died because they were so convinced of the error that they felt it would be unethical or immoral not to speak up. Because the state-sanctioned agricultural method was based on belief and not scientific method, the Soviet Union had a terrible famine in which citizens died by the thousands. Real human beings just like you and I suffered and died because faith was applied in lieu of science when the tool required to validate physical truth was the scientific method.


Understanding and applying the scientific method correctly is important to medical professionals and agricultural experts, among others, as well as to the scientists who develop new treatments, products, and technologies for those experts. But it's also important to consumers and patients in order to make better informed choices, as our choices evolve and expand daily. Perhaps Kindergarten or even 4th grade isn't the appropriate time to really learn and apply the scientific method. Maybe high school is a more appropriate time for understanding it, putting together complex research projects, then making that cognitive leap to applying it in our personal lives. Of course even teenagers need and/or want a little help with their school projects, but at least they're better able to work with a little more independence and focus than a seven-year-old. I find that I have to let some things go in order to make other things possible. One of those things is letting real and/or imagined implications or accusations that I'm a "bad mommy" go, along with unnecessary priorities and unrealistic expectations, in order to pursue my degree and be an example to my children of the love of learning and the value of higher education. That's why I have a personal aversion to the Science Fair!

1 comment:

Sharla said...

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