Is science really the great antidote?

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: Why in the world did she name her blog “The GreatAntidote”?  I mean isn’t that a little presumptuous?

The quote (AKA my subtitle) helps explain it a little bit:

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.  – Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

Sweet, this is a blog about SCIENCE.  Okay, cool, but what about it? Really the quote isn’t even 100% clear to me, and I’m the one who liked it enough to name my blog after it.  So… after some thought, I’ve decided that the title “The Great Antidote” stuck because it allows me to simultaneously address three complex questions:

1) Is science the great antidote to the poison of superstition?
2) Is science the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm?
3) Will science give us the great antidote?

Check out a bit of Stevie Wonder and PhD Comics after the break.

—————————————————————————————

1) Is science THE GREAT ANTIDOTE to the poison of superstition?

Here we could say that ‘superstition’ is really a placeholder for mass movements in general or religion specifically and discuss whether science and religion are incompatible.   However, in the words of the great Stevie Wonder, superstition is “when you believe in things that you don’t understand”, which as far I’m concerned is an essential part of science as well.

Superstition, religion, faith whatever you want to call it, there are a lot of ways in which it both negatively and positively effects science, and none of them are straightforward.  Or you know, maybe I’m wrong and theoretical physicists will suddenly figure everything out, eliminating the need or desire for non-rational thought.

2) Is science THE GREAT ANTIDOTE to the poison of enthusiasm?

I think PhD comics put it best when they said:

3) Will science give us THE GREAT ANTIDOTE?

Now this is the fun one.  Cancer. AIDS. Global Warming.  Aging. Green Energy. Alzheimer’s. Stem cell therapy. CERN.  Diabetes. Space Flight. Personalized medicine.  Think about all the money that is being invested into these things with the hope that science will save the planet and cure all diseases.  Right.

On a more personal level, I study structural biology. Seems like everyone in the general field claims that figuring out the structures of proteins is pharmacologically relevant.   The truth is, it SHOULD be, because a lot of what we do is look at how drugs interact specifically with proteins and what changes we can make to change the strength of that interaction and how that effects the biology of the animal as a whole, etc.  Honestly, though, there have not been many clinically relevant drugs developed using this SCIENCE.  Instead, most pharmaceutical companies do huge screens of almost random molecules until they find one that works. That’s it.  It’s not really an inspiring process.  I think it will be interesting to see, as more proteins become better understood and more of the genome becomes amenable to personalized medicine, whether this method of addressing disease will really yield the cures we all dream of.

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