A level results are in and I guess some of you will be discussing with your offspring, degree options and career choices. As usual siren voices in the government are extolling the wisdom of choosing a career in science. Should you let your children be seduced?
A few weeks ago Little Nicky was involved in a bit of a kerfuffle with the boy scientists from The Bad Science forum. One of the more intelligent and articulate commenters eventually asked why science gets such a bad press?
Well it could be something to do with the way, when their certainties are challenged the science boys tend to respond, “Youre not a scientist, you dont understand scientific methods. Such a response puts scientists in the same category as those religionists whose answer to any challenge is, Anything is possible for God. Could it be that narrow minded, blinkered attitude?
Or it could be because we see so many stories like the two below.
Researchers at Herriot Watt University and Strathclyde University claim to have proved older people have difficulty using new technology because physiological deterioration in connections between cells in the frontal lobes of the brain causes them to be easily confused by unfamiliar things.
Typically the scientists involved in this study forgot to look at the most obvious thing. Do older people want to use new technology that much? So we can watch movies or play games on our mobile phones. Are we bovvered? Many of us who have been rounded out by leading full and interesting lives can think of a hundred better things to do than watch a movie on a three inch by two inch screen.
I cannot take pictures or record video clips with my mobile phone. Is my brain going or is the case simply that my excellent digital camera and state of the art camcorder perform those tasks far better than the phone ever could. So I cannot do those things simply because I am never likely to want to.
Similarly neither I nor my wife ever learned to set the VCR to record a week in advance. Are we sliding into dementia or are we simply not the type of people to get withdrawal symptoms if we miss an episode or two of a favourite programs. They will be repeated in a few months anyway.
So it is not a question of neurological degeneration because everybody is different in that respect, it is a question of how interested we are. QED.
The second story has slightly more sinister connotations. Scientists (again its never philosophers or artists or historians causing trouble is it?) at the University of Kentucky, Louisville now keep in mind this is in Kentucky; think fried chicken, bluegrass and red necks claim to have found a link between eye colour and intelligence.
Blue eyed people, amazingly, are found to be more intelligent, ambitious and focused. Brown eyed people can run faster.
Nobody thought to mention in the context of this study that brown eyed people tend to have darker skin and curlier hair than blue eyed people.
My entirely unscientific observations on this issue, made throughout a long career in management consultancy is that if you tell people they are intelligent, creative and capable of more than they have ever given themselves credit for, they tend to aim higher and as a result grow in confidence and perform better. This approach works regardless of “eye” colour.
So lets throw this one back at the boy scientists. What is it exactly that us alleged non scientists dont understand? That ageism and racism are OK so long as they are backed up by properly conducted scientific studies?
You should bear that in mind when talking to young people about career options.