Friday, June 29, 2007

A Culture of Science

I've got a lot of reasons to promote a culture that embraces science. My father suffers from a terminal disease for which the treatment is still experimental. I like breathing and eating fish, so I'd like cleaner transportation and more responsible fishing practices. I'd like my kids to live in a better world. I'd like my great-grand children to live on another world. Some of my reasons are personal, others a bit farther reaching.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one thinking about the place of science in our larger culture. Discussion of a "two culture" split as originally proposed by CP Snow, can be found on sites like Serendip, like this one. It's all well and good to discuss the cultural divide between scientists and non-scientists, but I prefer a more engaged approach. When Alexander the Great defeated Persia, he not only allowed a lot of local autonomy, he encouraged his soldiers to marry the locals. Seems that newborn grandchildren have a way of quelling rebellious notions. No, I didn't change subjects.

If science is ever going to be embraced by culture, it has to be a cultural element in and of itself. Very little of any culture is defined by what happens in a lab or at an academic conference. (OK, maybe some of the culture is defined by what happens at the after-hours hotel party at a conference, but that's not the point) In order the thrive in our culture, science has to be a part of our culture.

Culture is expressed in the ways we interact. In restaurants, at company picnics, community fairs, and family birthday parties, we express our culture. Even the television shows we watch or the blogs we write in; active or passive, it's all about communicating culture. So what I find really encouraging is seeing science in things like the poetry and art of The Evolutionist's Prayer,
or the music of Emerald Rose in We Come From Monkeys.
I'm not forgetting the hazard of culture contaminating the objectivity of science. It's a concern that already colors research. I recently read an article about the problem with circumcised scientists researching the benefits of circumcision. But I'd rather risk the possibility of culture having a bit of influence in science than risk the theory of "intelligent design" having to much influence in public schools.