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Is Science The New Latin?!

High Resolution Latin Text with planetSo the Pope (@Pontifex) is tweeting in Latin. And apparently without any hint of self-mocking irony. It hardly feels like a progressive move.

One of the big problems of Christianity in the Middle Ages was that most copies of the Bible were written in Latin. Although Biblical texts underpinned the prevailing belief system, only a tiny elite of educated people was able to read those texts. If you can’t access the source of your knowledge of the world, you can’t question it and you become enslaved by your beliefs instead of liberated by them.

This situation was transformed when the Bible was first translated into English (and other vernacular languages) and then printed and distributed throughout Europe. This revolution enabled ordinary folk to study and understand the original texts themselves. It was the gateway to the Enlightenment.

We have the same kind of problem now. In the modern era, science has replaced religion as the pivotal belief system of the age. It’s critical to our lives, and it informs nearly every debate, and yet still only a small elite truly has access to the source material underpinning modern science.

Scientific discoveries aren’t written in Latin, but they may as well be. They are written in highly academic jargon and are found mostly in specialist publications out of reach of the public. Most scientists aren’t natural communicators. The few who are, like Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan can become like High Priests, interpreting science for an ignorant populace. The idea that only a small number of authoritative sources can be trusted for knowledge was exactly what the Enlightenment sought to overcome.

There is a real danger here of scientific idolatry. And idolatry can lead to witch-hunts, superstition and the suppression of free thought. In this environment, creationism and denialism thrive.

As with Christianity before it, science needs to be brought out into the open where it can be understood directly by the general public. That’s why everyone who understands science has a duty to help communicate it to others. To educate, inform and empower them. To explain scientific thinking and scientific limitations.

One day perhaps everyone will have the knowledge to understand the scientific explanation of the world for themselves, and not simply have it interpreted for them by others. Then we will have entered a new Age of Enlightenment.


About the Author:


Steve Morris is dangerously enthusiastic about science and is currently teaching his 9 year old son nuclear physics. He writes about science & technology at S21 and on his blog.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Rev.Lee.Harvey.Roswelld Thomas Watts

    Equating evolution and the AGW hypothesis, as if they were equally established, is the mark of a cultist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.morris.5815 Steve Morris

    Hi Thomas, I didn’t mention global warming in my article. Denialism is a much broader phenomenon.

  • Duane Sharrock

    The challenge here is to help the general public understand
    concepts that defy personal experience. Too many machines come between what is
    being studies and what a person can actually see. According to a some lectures
    I am listening to, it took Einstein 20 years to understand the quantum world,
    and in the end, he still had problems with accepting concepts like
    entanglement, even when his own investigations “uncovered” this
    concept. Technology is a way to approach that understanding, but technology is
    just “what works”. It isn’t PROOF of causation, of underlying systems
    of causation (ie, metaphysics). Then there is the math involved in some of
    these concepts. It just seems clear to me that in the pursuit of STEM
    competence, engineering and technology is concrete so easier accept because the
    thing works. Creating the technology with engineering is acceptable even though
    few people will connect particular engineers to particular technologies.
    Intead, they connect organizations to the tech development–which is another
    disconnect. Coding for software is another area that is quickly approaching the
    magical. People may learn coding basics, but the concepts involved in adaptive
    systems, expert systems, and the various flavors of artificial intelligence
    seem to involve so many academic disciplines and so much collaboration that
    this too may be beyond the general public’s understanding.

    What can educators do to facilitate the understanding of the
    maths and sciences and philosophy that will help students participate in these

  • Brent Allsop

    Great article on what is most important in most all fields: Communication. This is especially true in moral and theoretical scientific fields.

    What could solve most all of the problems you mention is the ability to have anyone select the experts they personally most trust, and then enable everyone to know, concisely and quantitatively, the current, and more important, emerging consensus within that expert crowd. The fact that we can’t yet do this, is the only reason BS like creationism still survives. Even most religious fundamentalists, at least the half way smart and trusted ones, are not creationists. Today, if you try to tell a creationist this, they will not believe you, because there is no undeniable measurable and repeatable evidence for such they can trust. But if you could demonstrably prove to them, what all their personally selected trusted experts believe, they would finally be forced to reconsider any primitive BS they still believe.

    We simply need an open survey consensus building wiki like system, for which trusted experts, whether religious fundamentalists or not, can definitively declare, in a concise and quantitative way, what they currently believe. Only then can the crowd’s morals and theoretical beliefs finally get dug out of the primitive biblical morality mud we are stick in now.

    Since it’s a wiki system, experts and scientists don’t need to author camp statements. Anyone, including even high school students, make significant contributions to make it understandable to all – the experts supporting camps just approving what changes can or can’t be made to only the camps they support. This kind of system is what is required to finally amplify the moral wisdom of the crowd, and finally make it pleasurable to talk about ‘religious’ and other moral subjects in mixed company.

    At Canonizer.com, there is a proof of concept example on critically important to the singularity subject of “Qualia” and consciousness. Before Canonizer.com, if you mentioned this topic in most Extropian forums, or anywhere else including brain science conferences, you’d just about get beat up – people hated you so much for starting all that up again. The majority mistaken noisy crowd always won the day. But now, because of Canonizer.com things have changed, completely. Now, when someone brings this subject up, everyone just points to the camp they are in, nobody ever repeating any of the best arguments. Finally, the experts can be heard above the crowd, (the clueless majority that once dominated conversations, rarely participates) and you can definitively see and track the surprising amount of emerging expert consensus. Something nobody could ever get from the now more than 20K peer reviewed journals or anything else coming out of the ivory tower.

    All that and so much more is the goal of the open survey, consensus building, wiki system at Canonizer.com. We simply need to know, concisely and quantitatively, what the experts believe, so everyone, especially primitive fundamentalists, can finally hear the experts above all the primitive morally mistaken bleating noise of the crowd. But of course, like any wiki system, it’s all up to how much people put into the system, before it reaches enough critical mass to start convincing the primitive fundamentalists and deathists.

  • http://profiles.google.com/externalmonologue Matthew Fuller

    Thanks for writing this article.

    I have thought about starting a podcast that directly addresses debate and communication within the sciences. It is really needed. Also, there needs to be greater awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories so the public can be more informed and make better decisions. No, I do not mean climate change or evolution (although I would cover it!) but instead nutrition, psychology, and many other areas of so called “soft” social sciences. It’s the social sciences that set the largest proportion of American policy – economics is highly mathematical but also extremely political.

  • http://profiles.google.com/externalmonologue Matthew Fuller

    This is exactly what I am looking for. Maybe if I do create a podcast focused on scientific communication I could also point out canonizer as a place to put forth the ideas ‘on paper’ so to speak, then have a conversation on my podcast to sort through differences in perspective and known evidence.

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