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Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov via last.fm

I like the quote from Isaac Asimov which goes something like:

“The most exhilarating statement in science is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘Hmm, that’s funny’!”

Every researcher knows the feeling. When our experiments or observations produce the result we didn’t expect. That conflicts with our hypothesis – or even better conflicts with current theory.

Because we know this means progress. We have found something we can’t explain and that gives us a chance to discover something new.

Good scientists are not afraid to say “I don’t know!” Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. However, we should not be satisfied with it. So scientists usually add “Let’s find out!”

That’s why it is galling to hear opponents of science claim that we are an arrogant lot. That we claim to know everything. Or that we claim we can, eventually, know everything.

I confronted these sort of arguments recently in a discussion with some religious apologists (see Science and Religion: Theism and Explanatory Idleness). They were criticising scientific arrogance. Claiming that many scientists had a “science of the gaps” approach – assuming everything could eventually be explained by science alone.  I challenged the claim – asking for evidence of any scientist advancing the argument. And was told to google Dawkins!

Ah, the Dawkins who doesn’t exist but has been invented as an apologist voodoo doll (see The Dawkins Delusions).

Mysteries of the universe

Anyway – this brings me to an excellent series of podcasts that are worth subscribing to – Astronomy Cast. In these astronomer Dr Pamela Gray discusses a different topic each week with Fraser Cain. Its always interesting and informative.

Their “mission statement” is usually to tell the listener what we know about astronomy and how we know it. But recently they devoted  six podcasts to things we can’t explain. Things we can’t explain yet, or may never be able to explain. Questions for which our answer is, unashamedly, “we don’t know!” Even - “we may never know!”

I especially liked  Ep. 178: Mysteries of the Universe, Part 1 and recommend it to readers. It really discredits the charges of scientific arrogance and “science of the gaps”.

See also:

Ep. 174: Mysteries of the Solar System, Part 1
Ep. 175: Mysteries of the Solar System, Part 2
Ep. 176: Mysteries of the Milky Way, Part 1
Ep. 177: Mysteries of the Milky Way, Part 2
Ep. 178: Mysteries of the Universe, Part 1
Ep. 179: Mysteries of the Universe, Part 2

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