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The Science Cloak

13th May 2015

by Araceli Camargo

Last Thursday I was asked to be the moderator for the Girls in Tech event on Internet of Things. As is the case at many of these events the question of “How does technology affect us?” came up. We have a lot of anxiety about the effect of technology on our behaviour and brain. Will it make us more or less social? Will we lose certain human traits? Will it change our intelligence? The honest answer, is that we do not know how it will change us, however we do know that it will. As the invited neuroscientist I felt compelled to join the discussion and gave my hypothesis/theories on the matter. I explained that one of the greatest qualities of our brain and central nervous system is that it is highly adaptive. We seem to think that the technology will evolve yet we will stay the same, which is not true. Our brain will be equipped to cope with whatever changes are ahead, history has shown we are a highly adaptable species.

This thought was contradicted by a man claiming he was a neuroscientist, saying, “the brain doesn’t evolve”. To which I replied, that data shows that the brain does evolve. We went back and forth and his final rebuttal, was the “brain doesn’t evolve, I’m a neuroscientist and that is just science”.

My problem is not that he didn’t agree with me, as one of the purposes of science is provoke discussion. My problems with that loaded statement are as follows:

1. Trying to use science as intimidation does not promote open discussion. It also prevents innovation as people from other industries may feel like their point of enquiry is not valid.

2. Science is not a fixed point or an answer, it is a point of enquiry. Therefore saying it’s “just science”, he is essentially saying that it’s just a question. Which is true, but sadly he used to allude that science is indisputable, it is not. Every scientific theory should be questioned.

3. Finally, there have many points in  history where “it’s just science” has been used to do horrific things, such as lobotomies. Or it has simply been incorrect such as our initial understanding of gender, sexuality, fertility, etc. The point is that scientist are wrong all the time, in fact that is the point. The point of science is not to be correct, it is to ask exploratory questions, which lead to further more sophisticated questions.

It is not enough to hide under the “it’s just science” cloak and expect to use to shut people up and prevent them from their point of enquiry. Furthermore, science is a moving processes, which is only as correct as the current data and interpretations. It would have been far more interesting for hims to have explained his anti-evolution theories then just pathetically hide behind his science cloak.

Araceli Camargo

Cogntive Neuroscientist