Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learn from mistakes

Science Vs Politics series.

There are some things we know, and other things we don’t know. And as a scientist, this really excites me. I love the fact that we have no idea about some things. In fact there are very few things in science that we can be certain about.

It’s actually very simple to find the limit of what we know in science. Simple questions such as, what happened before the big bang? Is there life on other planets? If I’m in a car travelling at the speed of light and I switch my lights on, what happens? These are very simple questions that have no good answer.

A good scientist will say “we don’t know”, then go into an explanation of what we think may be the case. This explanation will be accompanied with lots of hand waving, the true sign that whatever the scientist is saying at the time is being made up! A poor scientist will go straight into the explanation, complete with hand waving.

Science prides itself on being wrong, it is how science works. We make a theory, then when it is wrong, change the theory to fit our new observations. It is really the only way that science progresses. In fact it is the only way that anything progresses. This is where the phrase “we learn from our mistakes” comes from.

A scientist aims to have their results published in scientific journals. To get published the report must go through a process called peer review where other scientists check over the work, comment and make changes. The peers in this case are not always of the opinion, in fact sometimes in direct opposition. It’s all out in the open and an integral part of science.

So why can’t we learn from our political mistakes? How often does a politician make a statement and back it up with facts? How often do you hear a politician say “I was wrong?” How many productive peer discussions are there between the government and the opposition?

I want more scientific logic in our political discussions. This means more actual discussion, and less name calling. It means, if you are wrong, that you have learnt something, and gained a chance to make your policy better, not that you are a liar and an economy destroyer. It means the people that vote for you will understand your policies better.