The esteemed Dr. Anthony Fauci lamented that Americans don’t believe in science. That reminds me of a rather raunchy anecdote illustrating the difference between a scientist and an engineer; however, I don’t think The Daily News would print it, so I’ll try another tack.

The difference between the two is their degree of hubris. The scientist insists that he knows everything about something and insists on analysis to paralysis because he insists on pursuing perfection that never can be reached by unproven theories proffered as truths, whereas an engineer uses currently perceived scientific facts to get close enough for all practical purposes within a reasonable time.

I say “currently perceived scientific facts” because these facts seem to have a way of changing over time and closer examination. We engineers humbly use what we call SWAG, Scientific Wild A** Guess. A SWAG gets you close enough for all practical purposes.

This may be especially true where medical science is concerned. I’m older than most folks, so I suffered all the childhood diseases — measles, mumps, chickenpox, tonsillitis, etc. — that aren’t a problem today, but in those days there were no vaccines and no cures except riding it out or dying. In those days, it wasn’t medical science that fledgling physicians studied. It was the “Medical Arts,” and perhaps medicine still is an art augmented by a little science.

At least my neurosurgeon hinted so when he suggested that, despite what his colleagues insisted, there was no definitive proof that another three months of wearing a neck brace would hasten my mending. I didn’t continue wearing a brace, and after four months, there’s now a CT scan indication of stability and commenced mending.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to denigrate physicians and scientists. After all, the cardiology, urology, ear-nose-throat and neurology groups at the University of Texas Medical Branch and all the potions and pills they prescribed have kept me alive for 21 extra years.

Even so, over the years it has become apparent to me that the primary interest of medical science in general is in extending my life and not necessarily in improving my quality of life. Anyhow, one doctor’s science may be another’s alchemy?

So, maybe Americans aren’t rejecting science so much as your interpretation of science and that of all unproven sciences such as climate change or whatever title it most recently goes by.

Perhaps they’re just not willing to give up the probability of quality living for the possible extension of life with diminished living quality promised by an unproven “scientific” theory. Perhaps living in fear and isolation isn’t humanly sustainable for those Americans who don’t have your privileged position. Perhaps reliance on conjured up computer models doesn’t get you any closer than a SWAG?

Frank Bowser lives in Galveston.


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(7) comments

Jack Cross

Good, common sense points.

Claudia Burnam

[thumbup] E G Wiley

Bailey Jones

Perhaps people just aren't naturally scientific. Perhaps critical thinking is a skill that doesn't come naturally and that most people can't be bothered to learn. Perhaps people are more comfortable thinking what they're told to think by authority figures than thinking for themselves. Perhaps ignorance is the natural state of humanity.

Mark Stevens

So where do readers go to get that story about the scientist and the Engineer???

Dan Freeman

I hope its printable

Dan Freeman

A vicar, doctor and engineer were playing a round of golf. They got to the third tee and were delayed by people still playing the hole.

The engineer lost his patience, "What's going on? We’ve been here at least 20 minutes!"

The doctor nodded in agreement.

The vicar saw the green keeper walking by and shouted to him, "How come that group ahead of us are so slow?”

The green keeper replied, "Oh, they’re all blind firemen. They all lost their sight pulling school children out of a burning building, so they can play anytime for free.”

Everyone was silent for a few seconds.

The vicar finally said, "Oh dear. I’ll be sure to pray for them. Well done on such charitable work good fellow."

The doctor added, "Yes, well done to you. I’ll make sure they get the best treatment at the eye unit in the hospital too."

The engineer, arms folded, tapping his feet said, "Ok, but if they’re blind then why can’t they play at night?”

Jose' Boix

Great use of rational thinking and common sense! As engineers we used SWAGs and also ROT = Rules of Thumb, plus "standardized steps" to "measure" pipelines. A great column to get our minds away from the "current news noise." Just my thoughts.

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