2014-11-02

Wanted: new Galileos

Galileo is a name familiar to many school children. Adults often forget what the name stands for. A scientist who allowed himself to think freely and not to be afraid to publish his findings. Often he is attributed the discovery that earth travels around the sun and not the other way around. This actually was known to astronomers like Copernicus before, but he had the guts to stand to his ideas.

Science comprises methods and routines such that scientific work results in truth and new knowledge. Findings can be published after peer review processes and discussed. At the end we will get new insights and understanding. This will always change our way of life. A scientific discourse is also characterized by the fact that the discussion always centers around the topic and never turns into an attack on the person. Every appeal to emotions rises the question if the topic is a matter of ethics and moral rather than science.

Politicians on the other hand are the opposite extreme. Elected for a few years they have to aim at securing their future. On the long way to public positions they have learned that folding to public opinion is a must. They are elected to lead the country but in reality, they are trailing the masses. A well known phenomenon are self re-enforcing processes, divided into virtuous and vicious cycles. The latter are devastating to society, here we need enlightened persons to show the way out, persons like Galileo. However, speaking out against main-stream opinion carries the risk of political and social death.

Currently, scientists face the same situation. Funding is provided to those, whose previous results have been approved. Publishing results and findings which are in conflict with main-stream schools, can mean the end to a scientific career. Nowadays, published results have to be politically correct. As happened recently in the USA, such publications have been a controversy and publishers pressured to withdraw printing. Scientific societies have been under pressure to expel certain members. And it happens in Europe too, in Germany, some publication might be considered a criminal offense. The most visible cases are in psychology, where published findings were in conflict with conservative moral and ethics.

Some conservative non-governmental organisations want to dictate the political agenda, such that the funding of their institutes is guaranteed. They are easily discovered by their appeal to emotional arguments and usage of absolute terms. In comparison, scientist make a lot of effort to state all assumptions and discuss their findings thoroughly. Also, they use reasoning and logic to make a point. It just makes sense. If only one side is presented, then it often is an attempt by a conservative nut-job to gain followers.

A new dark age has arrived. Whistleblowers like Snowden are very seldom. The world need many more of them. Edward Snowden pointed to the terrible surveillance activity that poses a danger to democracy. It becomes increasingly easy to identify people of a different mind.

It would be nice if Europe could remind itself of its tradition of carrying the burden of civilization. But for this we need new Galileo's who can tell bullshit from reasonable arguments, who have the guts to tell the truth no matter what, and to tell what is right and what is wrong. 

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