A career for tossers?

A few weeks ago I was involved in a bit of a kerfuffle with the boy scientists from The Bad Science forum. One of the more intelligent and articulate commenters eventually asked why science gets such a bad press?

Well it could be something to do with the way, when their certainties are challenged they tend to respond, You’re not a scientist, you don’t understand scientific methods.” Such a response puts “scientists” in the same category as those religionists whose response to any challenge is, “Anything is possible for God.”

Or it could be because we see so many stories like the two below.

Researchers at Herriot Watt University and Strathclyde University claim to have proved older people have difficulty using new technology because physiological deterioration in connections between cells in the frontal lobes of the brain causes them to be easily confused by unfamiliar things.

Typically the “scientists” involved in this study forgot to look at the most obvious thing. So we oldies can watch movies or play games on our mobile phones. Are we bovvered? Many of us who have been rounded out by leading full and interesting lives can think of a hundred better things to do than watch a movie on a three inch by two inch screen.

I cannot take pictures or record video clips with my mobile phone. Is my brain going or is the case simply that my excellent digital camera and state of the art camcorder perform those tasks far better than the phone ever could. So I cannot do those things simply because I am never likely to want to.

Similarly neither I nor my wife ever learned to set the VCR to record a week in advance. Are we sliding into dementia or are we simply not the type of people to get withdrawal symptoms if we miss an episode of a favourite program. They will be repeated in a few months anyway.

It is not a question of neurological degeneration because everybody is different in that respect, it is a question of how interested we are. QED. And that is how to do the science, just think things through and a lot of time, effort and expence can be saved.

The second story has slightly more sinister connotations. Scientists (again – its never philosophers or artists or historians causing trouble) at the University of Kentucky, Louisville – now keep in mind this is in Kentucky, think fried chicken, bluegrass and red necks – claim to have found a link between eye colour and intelligence.

Blue eyed people, amazingly, are found to be more intelligent, ambitious and focused. Brown eyed people can run faster.

Nobody thought to mention in the context of this study that brown eyed people tend to have darker skin and curlier hair than blue eyed people.

My entirely unscientific observations on this issue, made throughout a long career in management consultancy is that if you tell people they are intelligent, thoughtful and capable of more than they have ever given themselves credit for, they tend to aim higher and as a result grow in confidence and status. This approach works regardless of eye colour.

So let’s throw this one back at the boy scientists who have been trying to give me a hard time (and actually themselves being on the receiving end of a harder time.) What is it exactly that us alleged non scientists don’t understand? That ageism and racism are OK so long as they are backed up by properly conducted scientific studies?

I’ll bear that in mind when advising young friends on whether they should follow me into a science related career. (Clue: proper scientists tend not to refer to themselves as “scientists” but by the specific discipline. I am (was) a systems analyst, later an Information Technology Consultant. 

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One Response to “A career for tossers?”

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