Scientists bother me, sometimes. Not because I have issues with concepts relating to learning or explanation, or because I live in terror of the day they figure out how to implement worldwide chip implants so we all serve the Number of the Beast or because I suspect that we’re all going to be overrun by hideous mutations unleashed from their underground bunkers or because their genetically engineered super viruses will destroy us all.
It’s because a lot of them are lacking a simple logical process in their minds that differentiates between the idea that one can do something versus the idea that one should do something. They remind me of Sheldon Cooper and company. Here’s why:
Now, a lot of scientists are doing things that are a little more interesting – and thus potentially dangerous – than hooking their stereo and light switches up to the internet. But half the time my reaction is about the same as Penny’s. And at least as often, their answer is about the same as Sheldon and his friends.
They do fun things like speed up light particles in 17-mile long racetracks and then slam them into one another, to see if they can duplicate the Big Bang or maybe create a black hole. Now, they’re 99.9% sure this is safe. Probably. Thankfully they found a side effect of this that caused the little mini-black holes they created to dissipate almost immediately. But they weren’t sure such an effect could occur.
Or maybe they say “You know what’s awesome? Spider-silk. It’s great for armor and fabric and building supplies. Too bad it’s so hard to get in any usable quantities. Know what would be cool? If we could milk a goat and have spider-silk come out! Sure, it’s theoretically possible we’ll get some kind of twisted freak that doesn’t survive infancy, or possible that we get rabid, eight-legged venomous goats out of the deal, but hey! Spider-silk, guys! Fire up the splicers, I’m goin’ in!”
Or maybe they say “Hey, we need a new weapon. So we’re going to take all these funky little atoms that we don’t really understand yet, and smash ’em together really hard in a tight space and if it does what we think it will, it’ll make a really big kaboom. Of course, there’s about a 2% chance it will ignite the earth’s atmosphere in an unstoppable chain reaction and flash fry the planet, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, right, guys?” Contemplate that while it worked, and didn’t flash fry us, it did introduce us to wonderful things like radiation poisoning, mutation and the idea that we were capable of doing something that broke the rules of existence that we had formerly clung to so hard that shadows were burned into the surface of the few things that weren’t destroyed.
Now, I am not a naysayer who actually believes the worst possible outcome is likely to occur. And I acknowledge that there is rarely gain without risk. I just cock my eyebrow at the idea that so few of these sorts of people stop for ten seconds to consider the possibility… or worse, do consider it (such as Oppenheimer and crew) and then just shrug and say “Aw, what the hell!” and flip the switch anyway.
Of course, you can take the opposite side and point out how many lives are being lost or important discoveries are slipping away or even the chance to ever leave our solar system unless we somehow get around the theory of relativity going byebye because there’s too many regulations and safety protocols to follow and it’s slowing us down too much. And I can kind of agree with that, too.
But damn, guys. At least stop and think and come up with better reasons to do something than “because we can!” That’s all I’m asking.