An Appeal For Science

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Hello again after a long absence from On The Fence Voters!  I was hoping I’d return in March and here I am!  Nothing like waiting until the end though.  I barely squeaked this one out. I’m now one month and five days into my retirement, which clearly hasn’t been the magic bullet I thought it would be for allowing me to contribute more quickly. At least not yet.  I expect to be more productive once I catch up with all the surprising new demands which come along with no longer working for a living.  

Enough of that however. I’ll get started with a little personal story which will have relevance at the end. 

I’ve had a very clear memory from when I was only four years old, undoubtedly because what I remember was so meaningful to me it was impossible to forget. Some parts were not as clear, but my mother helped fill in the gaps with her own recollections.  We talked about it over lunch and coffee one day and had an enjoyable time piecing it all together. It made me happy that she also remembered it, as it obviously meant something to her as well. My mother, who passed away only two years ago, was as much a close friend as she was my mom, while also being my greatest teacher ever.  

It was around Christmas in 1965 and I was sitting on our living room floor in my pajamas. I was surrounded by scattered sections of plastic train track and many other toys I’d been playing with, but just in front of me were the broken remains of a toy locomotive which Santa Clause had left for me under our tree.  I’d been fascinated with the little train engine from the moment I held it in my hands. I instantly noticed it was heavier than the plastic train cars it came with, so I knew it had something inside which made it different.  It could pull the rest of the train around an oval track on our floor and I wanted to know what made it able to do that. I spent far more time examining the train engine than actually playing with the train. 

It had a little lever which when moved to one side would cause the train to come to life with sound and motion. The wheels would spin furiously and if I turned it upside down, I could see other little things spinning around as well. I could see tiny flashes of blue light down inside and it made a faint odor I could smell if I held the train up close to my nose.  When I moved the lever back the other way again, the train fell silent and the blue flashes and funny smell would go away. I remember moving the lever back and forth again and again, trying to figure out what was happening inside.  To me there was nothing interesting about a toy train endlessly circling a plastic track on our floor.  The only appeal to me was in finding out what was making the engine run, and the moment I thought of my dad’s hammer in the basement, the little toy was doomed. 

One morning, not long after Christmas, I gave it everything I had with the only tool in my dad’s workshop I knew how to use. Only shadows of this memory remain, I can barely recall doing this. It probably took only two or three good swings. I remember picking up the mangled parts though, one by one, to closely examine them.  My mother heard the booms I’d made against the floor and came running from wherever she’d been in the house. I remember looking up at her, suddenly standing over me with a shocked expression on her face.  She immediately picked up the hammer and removed it from the room, then returned and sat down beside me on the floor.  

Instead of being angry, she seemed joyful as she picked up the broken train parts and put them in a little pile.  She then explained as best she could how the little parts worked (which was amazing in itself, because as she famously demonstrated many times during my growing-up years, she was in no way mechanically inclined.)  She showed me the battery which had flown out and explained that it had ‘electricity’ inside it which made the train go, and which (I know now) gave it the ozone smell I’d noticed and the blue sparks I’d seen whenever the train was running. During our lunch together, my mother told me how she’d noticed my intense fascination with the train and therefore understood why I smashed it open.  She knew I wanted to understand it, so she taught me about it as best she could, even if she was completely outside of her element. My mom was awesome in so many ways like this! 

She found something small in the carpeting which I’d missed seeing and which lead to the moment I’d remember my entire life. She held up two shiny blocks of metal, each a bit smaller than a sugar cube. With a grin, she told me to hold out my hands.  She gave me the metal blocks then told me to bring them slowly together until they touched.  I did as she asked and without warning they jumped from my fingers and stuck to each other with a ‘click’ before falling to the floor.  I gasped in astonishment and looked up at her with my mouth wide open.  My mother, now laughing, told me to pick them up and pull them apart.  It felt as if they were glued together until they suddenly popped free from each other and left me holding one in each hand again.  “These are magnets”, she explained.  “They came out of your train when you smashed it with the hammer!  They helped make your train go!”   She then flipped the magnets around in my fingers and told me to try again. This time they pushed away from each other. I was stunned. They were the most amazing things I’d ever seen in my four years of life. I was absolutely astounded. To me they were magic.   

In nearly 56 years, I’ve never lost my fascination for magnets and the invisible force surrounding them. The difference today is that I know they’re not magic at all. I know they behave as they do because of the orderly arrangement of their atoms. Science taught me that it’s simply electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental forces of the universe.  It’s a force so common we take it for granted every day.  We experience it whenever we flip some kind of switch to turn some kind of electrical thing on, or whenever we play with a couple of little magnets in our hands.   

Learning that magnets were not magic did not spoil my curiosity about them, but rather gave me a much deeper appreciation for them. I understood the explanations behind electromagnetism and why they were valid, and because I could accept them as true, they helped me move forward to understand more complicated things.  It’s the way science works. Small truths build upon each other to uncover even greater truths, and when they all fit together, they make sense and confirm each other… and then offer even more pathways to even greater levels of understanding. Science is beautiful in this respect.  

As I grew up, the only answers which ever satisfied me were the ones I found in science books. The day my mother introduced me to electromagnetism (or more simply, magnetism) was a very big deal.  At the age of four, I became a Science Kid and I never looked back.   

At this point you may be wondering something.  If On The Fence Voters is a blog about politics in the USA, why am I writing an essay about a smashed toy, my mother, some magnets and science?   

Well, for one thing it’s a great way to reintroduce myself after a long absence from this blog.  My first encounter with magnets is a happy memory I enjoy sharing, so I thought I’d invite you into my world to know me on a personal level, which is the type of relationship I prefer to have with anyone who reads what I write.  For another thing, it’s to tell you how I want to approach On The Fence Voters now that I’ve returned.  Along with a variety of other topics, I want to write about science and I want to make it interesting for you. There are reasons for this. 

I’ve noticed that people who take interest in science are not as easily fooled by misinformation and lies. I believe it’s because once they’ve understood that science is built upon critical thinking, supporting evidence and proof, they tend to apply those same standards to all the claims and arguments they then face in life. It just comes naturally through understanding. In a political context, this couldn’t be more important. It means they’re less likely to be duped by false information and are more likely to elect the most intelligent and best qualified leaders.  

The number one prerequisite for solving our problems is to understand exactly what they are, and that’s not happening very often in our present age.  All we do is politicize them. An increased knowledge of science can only help in this regard, and that’s why I feel science discussions in this political blog are both appropriate and justified.  My hope is that if I write about science in interesting ways, you’ll begin to see how science arrives at its conclusions and then understand why it can and must be trusted. If you already understand and value science, my hope then is that I can give you something additional to say the next time you talk with a person who’s casting science in a negative light.  

I need to mention that I have no academic credentials to teach science, but that’s fine because formally ‘teaching’ science is not my objective. I want to bring science to you in order to increase your understanding and interest, in the same way a person could explain the game of Baseball to me so that I could understand and enjoy it more. (I honestly don’t know much more about Baseball than players throwing and hitting balls with bats, then running like heck once they do.) A person could explain Baseball to me without being a baseball player, just as I can explain some aspects of science to you without being a professor or a physicist.  My challenge will be to make it both interesting and factual, and it’s in the area of ‘facts’ where I will spend much of my time reading to make sure my essays are correct.   

It will be so challenging that I’m wondering what I’m about to get myself into.  I definitely view this project with some trepidation and I find myself taking deep and nervous breaths when I think about it. In no time at all, I expect to be writing about things way above my education level. I do know where to look for answers though and I feel I can be competent in explaining things… and hopefully in an interesting style. 

I know this is a ‘tough sell’.  I realize I’m asking you to believe that reading about and becoming interested in science will somehow change how we believe in things and that’s such an oversimplification.  Keep in mind that I know it’s far more complicated than this. There are so many factors involved that it’s dizzying to try to comprehend them all. At its core though, I think the idea is a good one. It’s fundamental.  We must first understand the problems we need to solve, and science, properly conducted, is all about understanding.  The root causes for our wacky politics are the wacky things we allow ourselves to believe.

I can’t sugarcoat what’s happening these days. Thanks to the explosive rise and addictive nature of social media platforms, people are simply believing wrong things at an accelerating rate and are forming flawed opinions. These people then elect flawed leaders who casually deny scientific evidence before them, often in favor of religious convictions. Flawed leaders then write flawed policy. Citizens and leaders alike ignore good science and instead believe garbage. We have anti-vaxxers. We have anti-maskers. We have climate change deniers.  We have conspiracy theorists. And all of this garbage – including racism and hatred which only divides us further — is spread on social media with a few mouse clicks while scientific explanations stagnate not far from their starting points.  

Science has little chance to compete for our attention because it requires actual thought and is therefore considered ‘harder’, and is therefore not nearly as often ‘Liked’, ‘Shared’ or ‘Retweeted’. On social media, no points are ever awarded for reasoned arguments. Social media favors compulsive and emotional reactions to sensationalistic stories and quickly propels them through the ether. Because it’s so simple to mindlessly ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ whatever falsehoods flow across our news feeds, they’re practically guaranteed to be sent forward to the next hundred users, or to the next ten thousand…  or even to the next hundred million.  When falsehoods become the only information reaching the masses, a transformation occurs. The falsehoods become real and reality becomes ‘Fake News’.  

Then people vote. Etcetera. 

Science is all that stands between us and a newly emerging Dark Age.  It’s the only thing trying to tackle the enormous problems facing our world today, and yet it’s misunderstood, maligned and ridiculed. Without science, we have nothing but the fantasy that God and prayers will somehow fix things for us.  This is utterly unrealistic. If we’re keeping score (and we should be) we can easily see that God and prayers have put zero points on the board and I’d challenge anyone to prove otherwise.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the religious folks among us. People do have a right to their beliefs but they also need to understand that time is running out for our world and we cannot wait for divine assistance. We need to come together now to fix things for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is very unlikely to happen in the USA, when even the prospect of wearing masks to protect against airborne contagions has become a deeply divisive issue.   

Finally, note that I’ve written this for rational people. Irrational people may read this if they want to but I truly doubt they’ll get my message.  As we all have plainly observed over at least the last five years, there are many in our country who are definitely not rational. There are citizens and politicians alike who are fully aware of the garbage and lies they are spreading, yet who do so purposely because they are motivated by hatred and racism, by overzealous religious convictions or by excessively and needlessly high feelings of patriotism. They view even the slightest levels of governance as threats to personal liberties and constitutional rights.  It’s a foregone conclusion that reading about and understanding science will not help them.  I don’t think anything can help them but personal epiphanies which seem unlikely to happen at this point in their lives.  I shake my head at all of this. As I see it, It boils down to one thing: 

We have to want to be better than we’ve been.    

I admire science because it elevates us as a species.  All of us represent Homo Sapiens, the only species on earth which can analyze complex problems and take methodical steps to solve them, and that’s almost entirely because of science. Science will tell us what we need to know, but when nobody believes it, or worse yet, when enough people choose not to believe it, science might as well be dust in the wind. This is where we’re headed. We must reverse course. It has to start somewhere, and for me, this little blog is as good enough a place as any to begin.  It’s what I want to do, even though I envision difficulty.  I also envision happiness and satisfaction when I end up with something that works out!  

Keep an open mind. Bear with me. Indulge me. Humor me. All those things.  I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants because I’m a retired truck driver, not a scientist. When it comes to anything but the basics of science, I’ll be like my mother who was way outside her element, but still doing her best to explain how a little battery-powered toy works, all because she recognized a need to do so. I know some basics of science and I’ll do my best to tell you why they work, because I now recognize a need to do so.  Our world is in peril in many ways and too many in our country have become science deniers. That simply has to change if we’re to have any hope in coming to our own rescue.

28 comments

  1. So so so good to see you back on On the Fence Voters! I have missed you, and I know Jeff has, too! I love the story of you and your mom and the magnets! Now as for science … I have the utmost respect for science and scientists, but I am a science misfit … the only course I ever failed in 12 years of primary/secondary school, 4 years of undergrad school, and 3 years of grad school, was biology! In part, that was due to my refusal to show up for class on days that a critter was to be dissected. However, as I say, I respect and trust science far more than the conspiracy theorists and politicians who tell us to ignore the scientists. I’ll be looking forward to your posts and will share them as I can! Congrats on your retirement and Welcome Back!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jill!

      It’s great to be back! Jeff is amazing for his faith and patience!

      Thanks for helping him in all the ways you have!

      I have much to write about… the challenge is there. The funny thing is, I’ve always wanted to write about science… so it looks like I may be getting my wish!

      I’m sure you are no ‘science misfit’!😄 Take care for now Jill!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeff is, indeed, pretty amazing! I’m grateful for his posts and permission to re-blog them, for many of my readers now follow him too … it’s been a win/win for us both.

        Oh yes, I am a science misfit … Physics was the only science class that I almost understood and actually enjoyed, but I think that was a product of a professor who was so enthusiastic you couldn’t help being interested!

        Looking forward to seeing more posts from you, my friend! How is your wife doing? Oh, and about that retirement thing … I have worked harder since I’ve been retired than I ever worked when I was actually getting paid! 🤣 So don’t think you’ll be rocking on the front porch with a glass of wine and a good book!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Good Morning Jill! Sorry a bit late in this reply!

      Hey I’m glad you enjoyed the physics class at least, because of your enthusiastic professor! That can make all the difference. My trouble classes were accounting and economics. My professors were human tranquilizers and I never watched a clock as much since math class in the 5th grade before recess. They took attendance every day so I couldn’t skip class even though they taught right from the book using the same examples. It was awful… I fought to stay awake as they droned on with their lectures.

      Anyway, my wife Jen is fine (thanks for asking!) and we’re putting her down as a ‘Cancer Survivor’!

      Yeah, retirement is, um… different than I thought it would be. Still feeling it out. I know I’m not going back, but it still feels a lot like being on vacation, with the same ‘deadline anxieties’ I can’t seem to shake. There are things to do around here and I know Jen expects me to do them. I’ve been a pretty good boy so far, no snide remarks about what I’ve done all day, but I can’t believe how fast the days come to an end! Still trying to find that balance! I find myself really wanting to go the nearby Antique Mall for some pretty glass to photograph! (Not until a couple weeks after my second Covid shot, and only if the variances in the virus are not giving us problems!) But I yearn for that place.. I’ve been away since the pandemic began, and I think I’ll feel ‘Retired’ when I join the other Old Folks browsing the old junk! 😉

      Take Care Jill!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had a law professor who was like that … he read straight from the textbook for the entire 90 minute class and I fell asleep in that class more often than not! The funny thing is, though, that a few years later he represented me, pro bono, in my divorce case!

        I’m so happy to hear that Jen is still cancer-free! I was almost afraid to ask, but I’m glad I did.

        It will take you a year, at least, to settle in on retirement, to figure out how you really want to spend those extra hours. I stumbled around for a couple of years before deciding that writing is what I most want to do, and now my blog occupies fully half (or more) of my 24-hour day, but it makes me feel useful, y’know?

        Like you, I long for some things that have been missing this past year … a Saturday afternoon meal out and trip to Barnes & Noble, lunch out with friends. Overall, I haven’t minded the life of a hermit, but sometimes it makes me sad, sometimes I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see life return to ‘normal’.

        I’ve rambled long enough … take care of yourself, my friend, and remember to do something that makes you happy every day!

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    3. Hi Jill! I feel that we’ll get where we need to be with this pandemic, but due to people’s attitudes it will take much longer than it should. The vaccines will make the difference, even if slowly. The more people get the vaccine, the less the virus will gain a foothold. The less people get the virus, the sooner we can return to normacly.

      What worries me though is that people will attribute falling infection rates as further ‘proof’ that the virus was never a problem to begin with (a confirmation bias) while giving no credit all to masks, social distancing and vaccines. Then once people start feeling good about the pandemic, the first thing they’ll do is get careless and then we might see surges in cases again.

      I would think that with the vaccines rolled out, the surges should become smaller and smaller. The variants will play a part too, but I think they’ll have vaccines against those as well. In a nutshell, I imagine we’ll be masking for a while to come. We’re better than we started though!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Some days I wonder, my friend. It seems that people will fight just for the sake of fighting, and if it puts even their own children at risk, they will persist in fighting. Sigh. Forgive me … tonight is a ‘rabbit hole’ night when I’m not sure I even serve a useful purpose on this earth. Hugs.

        Liked by 1 person

    4. I know what you mean Jill. For so many, it’s all about the fight and the side they’ve chosen, and nothing about logic or common sense. It takes great courage to break with the pack and think for one’s self. Unfortunately, few people seem to have that kind of courage anymore.

      Even though I’ve not been able to contribute much in the last two years, I’ve still continually wondered what point there was in writing blogs when our only readers are folks who already agree with our opinions. I only recently found an answer I can believe. In putting our opinions out in public, we bolster the arguments of those who already agree with us in the hope that they can more effectively swing the opinions of others they talk to… who do not agree with us.

      Jeff and I hoped to get folks on the right, but we only seem to get folks on the left. I was frustrated with that at first until I realized that our (Ha, Jeff’s!) arguments were still probably affecting opinions in a positive direction. We’re all part of a voice which needs to be louder, and writing blogs is one way to amplify it.

      You amplify it at least three times a day Jill, so yeah, you’re doing okay!! You’re out there making a difference in this world!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly! For some, it is the fight that matters … gotta argue with anything those bleeding-heart liberals want, just on principle.

        I tried a few times to get discussions started with people of opposing views, people on the ‘right’, but the effort fizzled out after one or two posts. It seems nobody wants to engage in civil discourse, but prefer knock-down, drag-out fights.

        Thank you so much for your kind words, my friend. I try, but sometimes I do feel my efforts are wasted. However, I like the way you put it … perhaps we never know who we inspire to take the fight to the next level.

        Like

  2. Wow, Greg, retired truck driver. Most truck drivers don’t–I assume–take formal writing courses. I’d also assume you did not have formal writing instructions beyond high school. But, my goodness, you are a natural. Not too surprising, though. I learned early on in my writing career that–more than anything else, include formal training–good writing is the product of clear thinking. And you, sir, are a clear thinker with a keen grasp of writing basics, particularly storytelling. On the Fence Voters will really benefit from your retirement and your return to the keyboard.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi Jerry! Man, you are too kind!😊 Thanks very much! No, I haven’t had any writing classes beyond English 102. If I have any ability, it certainly doesn’t include getting content out quickly!!🥴 I appreciate what you said very much!! Take care Sir!

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  4. I love science, so I look forward to your new direction, as I’m burnt out on politics. Actually, I’m burnt out of the stupidity of people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I truly am too Mary. I’ve had it with politics, and I’ve DEFINITELY had it with the ignorant stuff people believe!

      I’m glad you love science! I view science as a kind of mental art form, a beautiful sculpture composed entirely of what we know to be true.(Still working on that analogy!) Thanks for what you said. I hope I can make it interesting for you!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It would be a wonderful world if more people applied the scientific method to other elements of life. In fact, you don’t even need to apply the entire method – just little things like not seeing conspiracies everywhere, being a little more analytical, and showing greater common sense could shift society for the better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more and very well put!!

      I point to the principle known as ‘Occam’s Razor’, which basically suggests that when two hypotheses compete, the simpler one is much more likely to be correct. People need to explore Occam’s Razor a little bit before falling for ridiculous conspiracy theories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Occam’s Razor is a great principle, at least in theory – strangely, I’ve seen a flat earther use it to argue in favour of *their* position (never mind the extra mechanism of a vast conspiracy across decades involving millions of people). I don’t think they actually understand the concept!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s interesting, I’d sure like to read that! That a Flat-Earther can argue his claim using Occam’s Razor only shows that Occam’s Razor is not fool-proof. I think of O.R. as only one tool in the bag for seeing things clearly. Sometimes it’s the obvious tool of choice — did a vast conspiracy exist to steal the election from Donald Trump, with an elaborate network of players working together in secrecy to re-program voting macines, dump ballots in a river etc., or did Donald Trump simply have fewer people voting for him? (I choose the latter.) Sometimes, it might be dead-wrong. It’s only a starting point, that’s another way I view O.R.

      Hey if you ever can find that Flat Earther article, please send it my way. I’d love to read it and look for logical missteps!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wrote a book after I retired. The research and reading and writing filled my days quite nicely. Based on your blog writing, I kinda’ think this could be something you might enjoy … 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you may be right! 😉 There’s still a ton of things to do around here though. Still… the problems I faced in the working world are no longer mine to deal with. I have to admit that’s kind of nice! I’ll eventually catch up on things around here which will give me more time to spend with OTFV! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We are the generation of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, crystal radio kits and other electronic diy projects. We pulled tubes out of our radios and TV’s and tested them at the local drug store. How many people knew that Radio Shack referred to the pre-internet hobby of ham and shortwave radios? We set the points and timing on our cars. Now everything is available on YouTube, but emphasis is on the quick fix, not on the underlying theories.

    Like

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