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Unsettling Discovery: Science Is Never 'Settled'

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Wednesday, 19 February 2020 02:28 PM Current | Bio | Archive

There is an ongoing and concerted effort by political extremists to stifle scientific debate concerning a host of radical views. The dissimulation, supported by an unquestioning media, is seen everywhere in the culture.

It’s turning the very foundation of science upside down.

Activists groups routinely go over the tentative work of uncounted research teams, sifting through reams of speculative papers, cherry-picking supposed proofs for anything they’re eager to ban or promote, immediately declaring it "settled science" and then peddling the pretense that all discussion along with any possibility of future development are conveniently closed.

Inverting the scientific method this way however is nothing less than the means to destroy it, and holding science up as the opposite of what it is will sooner or later accomplish just that.

Science is much more "back to the drawing board" and certainly not "chisel this in stone."

It’s the rare scientific fact indeed ever to have been enshrined immediately in the compendium of humankind’s body of knowledge, perfectly formed and doubtlessly comprehended without requiring years, decades, centuries of modifications, corrections and revision. Athena, goddess of wisdom, burst forth from the mind of Zeus fully mature and impeccable, but that’s mythology, not science.

Accordingly, describing quite a few facets of science as "settled" oftentimes turns out to be as accurate as referring to hot as cold or up as down. There aren’t that many hypotheses and theories in science — especially now in the uber-sophisticated and fast-changing 21st century — that weren’t or aren’t now still evolving, some at break-neck speed, others seen now as almost nothing as had been previously imagined.

Photosynthesis, the primal engine powering the entirety of life on the surface of the Earth, is an excellent example.

All food is created by means of sunlight converting carbon dioxide and water into sugars—the base of the food chain. Without this eons-old gift of the Sun, CO2 and H₂O life could still exist on Earth but only in the most primitive and microscopic forms.

It’s no overstatement then to elevate photosynthesis to the status of one of the most important scientific dynamics in the chronicle of our planet since it’s the means by which all life feeds itself. Yet 3.5 billion years after the process first appeared on Earth no one is absolutely sure just precisely how it all works.

For the 300,000 years that Homo sapiens has been eating, for the 12,000 years engaged in agriculture, and even through the last centuries of modernity up to the present with crops evaluated from space via satellites, a thorough and complete understanding of all the chemical and physical nuts and bolts that mesh perfectly to provide us our daily bread still eludes science.

And over the last few years instead of answers coming into clearer focus the view has in fact been obscured somewhat by a new set of questions. There may be deeper and previously unknown complexities, new research now contends, even concerning what is known about the age-old science of photosynthesis.

The world’s botanists were stunned in 2007, for instance, at the news from a team of researchers at the University of Chicago led by Dr. Greg Engel that there may be a quantum mechanical component to the way in which plants conduct the energy of sunlight.

Just like quantum particles can be at two or even many places at once and in the form of both a particle and a wave, in the topsy-turvy and incomprehensible world of the sub-atomic, light photons during photosynthesis, according to the Hyde Park study, take not only the straight path from plant leaves’ light-harvesting antennae to the chemical reaction center of the leaf, but all possible routes as well simultaneously.

How this all may affect in the end the astounding magic of the world’s plants and single-celled organisms converting yearly more than a quarter trillion tons of carbon dioxide into life-sustaining sugars is anyone’s guess at this point. Of course, there are respected voices who dispute Dr. Engel’s finding, and others who while accepting the results disagree that there’s anything critical or earth-shattering about it.

So politicos and activists delivering unchallenged and infallible scientific laws — and about matters for which there weren’t even terms scant years or decades ago — seems highly questionable. Science doesn’t move that fast; a topic so central, vital and ancient as photosynthesis may not yet be fully understood even now.

Science isn’t and can’t be settled since dissension is crucial to maintaining a healthy and flourishing scientific community.

When the doctrinaire suppose to make it so, it ceases to be science and is immediately converted to politics, religion, philosophy, metaphysics, or far worse, those scourges of reason over the ages — indoctrination, superstition, mass delusion or cultic mysticism.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Science isn’t and can’t be settled since dissension is crucial to maintaining a healthy and flourishing scientific community
speculative papers, research, teams
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2020-28-19
Wednesday, 19 February 2020 02:28 PM
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