Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It’s an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.
Many times, because of the success of technology, we seem to forget that science is not a “thing” but rather a process,or even better yet, a worldview. It is a world where not only do the theories change, but often even the “facts” themselves. When Darwin started collecting information for the theory of evolution the earth was thought by many people to be 6000 years old, by many scientists to be hundreds of thousand of years, and a few scientists a couple of million. A few years later, many millions. Now, about five billion. A scientist’s “faith” cannot be in the “facts” or theories, they are ever changing. Their faith is in the method, that being open to new information and allowing the data to lead the way that some more light will shine into the dark corners, which will reveal even more dark corners. But along the way, pictures emerge, ideas come together and puzzle pieces fit, giving tremendous satisfaction and meaning. Until it all changes and we have to begin again. Humility is the virtue of a scientist.