The Immoveable Object and The Irresistible Force

Io, one of the moons of Jupiter

Io, one of the moons of Jupiter

If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.

Robert A. Heinlein – The Notebook of Lazarus Long

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I’ve had my nose rubbed in science a lot lately, probably because it’s been on my mind.

I know you’ve had patterns like that happen to you, too. You’re thinking about buying a red wrap-around dress and suddenly you’re seeing them everywhere; on-line, on people in the street, on TV. Your mother gives you a magazine that has an article about this seasons red wrap-arounds, your favorite clothing store has a sale on dresses, and you get a bonus in your pay packet and guess how much the red wrap-around at the store costs?

There’s all sorts of names for the phenomenon, including synchronicity, the Flux, coincidence, The Force, and more.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about hard science a lot lately – the generalized field of science, rather than a specific discipline like chemistry or physics or biology, and the really specialized areas that branch off from there.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that Mark and I are working our way through the TV series Cosmos, which is a great, light overview of the universe. But the series also gently indoctrinates the viewer on the scientific process.

Science as a discipline and profession trains you into looking at the world in a very different way.

It’s like the fashion model, the engineer and the doctor looking at a box: the model says the green color of the box is too dark and doesn’t match the lid, the engineer points out the box is not squared true and therefore doesn’t have the same strength a properly constructed box would, the doctor points out that the walls of the box are full of unhealthy mold. All of them, however, would be happy to guess at what’s inside the box and all three would have different opinions because of their very subjective mindset.

A scientist looking at the same box, no matter whether he’s a physicist, chemist or biologist, would automatically think: “I need to look inside before I can give an opinion about the contents.”

Scientists work from hard evidence and proof. They eschew subjective opinion. Their theories are offered to the scientific community at large, where their experiments are reconstructed by others to ensure the same results arise. All testing is done with a neutral base line sample (a “control”).

Theories and opinions are aired in peer-reviewed publications, where others in the field can weigh in with their opinion.

The science community is a collegial one, where information and people rub shoulders together. Interestingly, the Internet, where information and people also intermingle in a global soup, was invented by scientists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, who wanted a convenient way to talk to peers across the campus and around the world, to exchange information quickly and easily.

I am a huge science fiction fan, and the earliest novels I read were “hard” science fiction – based on physics and chemistry advances, dealing with rivets and gravity, planets and relativity. Most of the more successful writers from that classic era were trained and (often) working scientists. I think it is for that reason that I’ve never attempted to write straight science fiction myself; my lack of an advanced science degree gives me a major “not worthy” complex.

But I do find it refreshing and very exciting that more and more women are entering the hard science fields and finding success. That is one of the more positive trends of the last decade – one that I hope not just continues, but escalates.

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