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Does Science Suck?

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The February issue of Wired has a cover story on my favorite topic, "Why Things Suck." It's a thing of beauty. Wired, I bow down before you, bow down before you. Here I was thinking I was the only person to rant about printer cartridges.

There are just three things about the article that suck or semi-suck. First, WTF does Sarah Silverman have to do with any of this? She lent her pretty face to the cover, but not much else. Second, why does Wired let U.S. airlines off the hook for their high fares? You can fly from London to Barcelona every week for two months on easyJet for the price of one New York-Cincinnati ticket -- and then you're in Barcelona, rather than Cincinnati.

Third, and most important, Wired included science on the list of things that suck. If science sucks, I'll find a way to live with the utter unimportance of my life. But please, give me a better argument than this:

"The real reason science sucks is that it makes us look bad. It makes us bit players in the Big Story of the universe…. Look at it this way: Before science, we humans had dominion over Earth, the center of the universe. Now we're just a bunch of hairless apes on a wet rock orbiting a minor star in a marginal galaxy."


This cosmology relies a bit too heavily on Douglas Adams. As I've written before (here and here), the Copernican Revolution elevated the status of humanity and of Earth. The previous idea of Earth as the "center" of the universe was not a self-congratulatory the-world-revolves-around-me pat on the back. The "center" was in fact the bottom, the lowliest point.

As for the minor star, the sun is actually far larger than average (the average being a red dwarf). Nor is our Milky Way a marginal galaxy. It's actually pretty large by galactic standards. True, neither the sun nor the Milky Way is the king of its kingdom. We wouldn't want that: the biggest stars and galaxies are hazardous for life.

As for hairless, speak for yourself.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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