Science has always been important to me.
I grew up lucky, though I didn’t fully realise how much, then. In my home there were microscopes and telescopes and, perhaps more importantly, too many science books to count.
My father, though he was an engineer, was fascinated by science and subscribed to the weekly science magazines that were available in the 1960s. Through them I learned about Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle; about basic psychology and anthropology; about physics and space.
This was the era of the Space Race; terms like ‘escape velocity’, ‘orbit’, ‘action-reaction’ and ‘solar system’ were everyday language amongst primary schoolchildren.
The 1960s was a fantastic time to grow up in another way too — we had no internet. This meant that you had to find things out using two methods: by reading books; and by going and looking for yourself. And we did both with enthusiasm beyond measure.
Chemistry sets — quite capable of causing a fair-sized explosion or setting the house on fire — arrived every Christmas. I was always fascinated by the amazing colours of the crystals in the small jars that came. The intense blue of Copper Sulphate, for example. We made crystal gardens and learned how reactions work — long before we were taught chemistry at school. For me, chemistry was never the dry stuff of equations, it was the sheer wonder at making something new out of these dry powders.
At the same time, I lived in the country and all around me was an immense
laboratory to do science in. I immersed myself in The Observers’ Books series — pocket-sized volumes that were designed for the field. I still have some of these and The Observer’s Book of Astronomy sits, today, by my telescope.
We had a big, old-fashioned brass microscope and soon — with the aid of another Observer’s book — myself, my brother and often mum too would be splashing about in the water at the old quarry nearby with nets made of mum’s old stockings and a jar at the end. I remember the first time I saw a living amoeba under the microscope: Gosh! It’s just like the book!
Many flies were sacrificed to science, their legs and wings minutely examined.
We discovered some strange stones in an old wall full of crystals of the most amazing colours. What were they? Though I was but 10 or so, I could see that whatever they were, they were insoluble. A hunt through the huge collection of books produced — you guessed it — The Observer’s Guide to Geology, which quickly identified our mystery crystals as quartz, (SiO4) which forms in bubbles in volcanic rock. We traced these stones to their source, which was the old quarry itself.
I learned to draw well because drawing, then, was still an essential skill for a biologist; and that led in turn into other things.
How it shaped me
All this could not help but have an effect on me and the way I thought. What it did was to teach me to rely on evidence. In those youthful days the world around me could be encompassed by a young mind. I was like a 19th-century Natural Historian; I could learn everything there was to know about the world I lived in.
Well, even in the 1960s, the fact was that no one individual could possibly hope to learn all there was to know, even about a small patch of Scottish countryside. And now, science is so much greater.
The way we get round this, I later discovered, is through Scientific Method and the way that it is applied today. Discoveries, when made, are submitted to specialist journals and these are then ‘peer-reviewed’. That is, they are subjected to intense criticism by other experts in the same field. If they agree, then the paper is published and other scientists will try their best to disprove it.
This is the only reliable way that we have to know the universe we live in. Religion is for children; it was an early attempt at explaining the world. Philosophy, once a huge leap forward, has proven, now, to be redundant in our understanding of the real world. Indeed, while Philosophy still has uses in fields like justice and social policy, its frequent misuse, by non-scientists, to undermine true science, is deplorable and should be challenged whenever it appears.
Denying science is denying knowledge
No good can come, ever, of ignoring or denying the science. If you don’t like the science, then make it better.
Departments of Humanities across the planet should be shamed for their pseudo-scientific preference for politically correct nonsense over scientifically established knowledge. If we were to take any heed of them, we might as well go back to believing in an angry Sky-father and bowing in abjection before distant volcanoes.
This site respects science and scientists.