Yes, Virginia, There is Still Science

by Jeremy Whitlock

Originally published in the the Bulletin of the Canadian Nuclear Society, Vol.36, No.1, March 2015

(with apologies to Francis P. Church, 1839–1906)



I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no more Science. They say, "If you see it on the internet, it's so."

Please tell me the truth: is there still Science?

      – Virginia, New York City



Your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the disheartenment of a disheartened age. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by little minds with the power to decide what is, and what is not.

All minds are little, Virginia: in this great universe of ours, we are a mere insect – an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us.

Yes, Virginia, there is still Science. It exists as certainly as wonderment and delight and curiosity exist. Science is not a deliverable. It is not a goal, nor a milestone, nor a Key Performance Indicator.

Science is an outlook – an enquiry of Nature, and a challenge to be as patient as possible in listening to the answer.

Science is as playful as a child pushing over a rock with a stick, and as courageous as a result that isn't expected.

Science is neither fettered nor directed, and transcends all attempts to do so.

Lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians may define glorious and encompassing structures that suit their respective needs, and these structures may indeed limit discourse, but they can never limit enquiry.

This does not mean that Science is without process, Virginia. Quite the contrary, Science without process is aimless observation.

Today information may flow in increasing volumes and directions, and empower citizen rapporteurs by the millions with increasing reach and immediacy – but devoid of a testable proposition there can be no enhancement of knowledge.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Science! There would be no exploration, no innovation. We would define our endpoints before we started, and draw great satisfaction from plain-sight milestones along the way, like stepping stones across safe waters on a sunny day.

Our success would be applauded for its mediocrity, and we would be supremely unlikely to find new waters and unfamiliar stones.

No more Science? There might as well be no more light. It has been Science that has led us around every unknown corner, and revealed every sublime new land.

Once there, it may be that Science has taken a back seat to other pressing and prominent practicalities, but the torchlight to innovation and betterment has invariably been Science – and respect thereof by authorities keenly aware of the order in which such things usually happen.

Science informs Policy – not the other way around, in a sustainable society.

Where your friends may have told you differently, you can be sure that there is rot to be reckoned with – if not now, then surely before long. History has taught us this much, although the lesson is often relearned.

Science does not covet "consensus", nor does it label those who question its findings as "deniers" – tread carefully where you see this, Virginia, for this is as clear a signature as any of the rot setting in.

No more Science? Thank all that matters, it lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia – nay ten times ten thousand years from now – it will continue to shine its light wherever an honest answer is sought, and free the minds of those who seek.


Discussion welcome.

©2024 Jeremy Whitlock

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