Physical Science Blog

Tis the season for cognitive dissonance

January 10, 2008

Over the last couple of weeks, a number of events have dovetailed to perfectly highlight the ways in which science can be both beneficial and detrimental to mankind. While shopping on the Internet for digital Christmas presents, many Americans will have also read articles about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the ways in which modern medicine has allowed a generation of athletes to cheat their way into the pros through steroid technology, and how Facebook’s Beacon application was monitoring user’s web travels.

At the same time, around 10 million Americans went to see I Am Legend, a movie where an attempt by scientists to cure cancer accidentally ends the human race. Personally, I like my fear of science in the form of fire breathing dinosaurs destroying Tokyo, but regardless of the imagery the message is the same:

Our society is deeply anxious about the dangers of science.

Now I’m not going to say that I don’t appreciate all that science has done for me. From the vaccines that have allowed me to live this long to the computer I used to type this piece, I have feasted deeply on the fruits of scientific progress. Still, there lingers a nagging distrust.

Yet whatever this anxiety is, it still hasn’t impacted sales on iTunes. If you’re reading this, that means you are comfortable enough with technology to use the internet, and interested in science enough to go to a science blog. So rather than preach to the converted, I’ll ask some questions of you, the readers.

As you use the Internet to buy tickets to movies where technology kills us all, I want you to weigh your love of science against your fear of its discoveries. Do you fear what the future may hold while at the same time clamoring for the newest drugs, technology, and intellectual advances? Are you more excited by the promise of discovery, or the terrible consequences of its misuse? I’ll be checking the comments for your responses, and whether it’s genetically modified food and steroids or nuclear weapons and cures for AIDS, I look forward to seeing whether you believe science is the light in a darkness of ignorance or the progenitor of death for us all.

Happy new year.

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