The goal of science

I’m currently reading Gwyneth Cravens’ Power to Save the World, will blog on it in early January. I decided to post this after a friend described scientists as people who…. His description did not fit the scientists I know.

The epigraph:

Most of us were taught that the goal of science is power over nature, as if science and power were one thing and nature quite another. Niels Bohr observed to the contrary that the more modest but relentless goal of science is, in his words, “the gradual removal of prejudices.” By “prejudice,” Bohr meant belief unsupported by evidence. Richard Rhodes

Early in the book, Cravens describes beliefs that she later decided were prejudices. The remainder of the book describes her process of change.

When I turned to the statements of antinuclear groups, I naturally found that they echoed many of my own assumptions; that uranium mining and processing, depleted uranium, nuclear accidents and nuclear waste had killed or would one day kill huge numbers of people, caused mutations and birth defects, and turned pristine places, usually home of Native Americans, into radioactive wastelands; that all man-made radioactive material was lethal and we lacked any natural defenses against it; that all radiation was bad; that cancer clusters occurred around nuclear facilities; that to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons all reactors had to be shut down; that terrorists could easily overwhelm a nuclear plant or waste dump; that such facilities could explode atomically; that there was no safe place to put our towering heaps of nuclear waste, which would remain harmful for millions of years; that reliance on uranium was futile because soon we’d be running out of it, just as were running out of oil, that nuclear power put almost as much carbon into the environment as coal, gas, and oil; and that instead of using fossil fuels and nuclear power we could instead practice conservation and obtain all our energy from wind, sunlight, tides, and geysers.

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