Science by Subhadra Jayaraman

Interestingly, in today’s world, there seems to be a ‘science’ behind everything. The science behind getting rich, the science behind good cooking, the science behind lustrous hair, the science behind six-pack abs, the science behind keto diets, and why there’s even the science behind the darned dalgona coffee. Adding the word ‘science’ before a phrase makes it glamorous and mighty important, doesn’t it? If I tell someone a story about my morning flossing routine, I see stifled yawns, but if I say, “I’ll tell you the science behind dental floss”, there’s suddenly rapt attention from my audience. I can sell the dumbest story to naive listeners by just adding ‘science’ to it! Listen to this – Want to know the science behind winning the Russian roulette (it’s sheer dumb luck)? Did I tell you about the science behind my ear piercing (I can’t even remember when I got it, but I’ve heard how much I bawled)? You know, the science behind chanting a mantra every morning after you wake up but before you brush your teeth is pretty convincing (because my mom won’t give me any breakfast if I didn’t chant it)!

The word science is thrown around quite aimlessly and at will. Science is hard facts. It is the systematic understanding of phenomena that is achieved by thorough observation and experimentation. It requires resolve, time, strength, patience, and intricate planning. It needs manpower and machine power. And yet, today, any halfwit with a computer writes verbose articles about the science behind applesauce and marshmallow chicks and anything else he can think of just to sell his products. Let me repeat that – to sell! We are consumers first before anything else. And the merchants know what strings to pull to get us to pay them and buy from them.

Have you ever wondered why this ‘science’ doing rounds on the internet keeps changing? Vogue tells you ditch the carbs, but Cosmopolitan tells you that carbs are imperative. Both said science, after all, so they both must be right? I repeat, science is facts. Science does not pretend, does not shroud itself in glossy covers, or sport shiny skin and lean muscles. It tells you the ugly truths – it tells you that what works for the model on the cover will not work for you because you are different people, it tells you that your body has its own predispositions and its own rules and forcing yourself to jump on the keto bandwagon will take you nowhere. Have you ever wondered why actual scientific articles have long wordy complex names but the trash that is internet ‘science’ is all glitzy and fancy? It is because scientists could not be bothered with click-baiting the common man – they aren’t trying to sell their work; they’re hoping to educate as descriptively as possible. And this is a significant disadvantage to science from the perspective of reaching out to the people – how is the common man going to access the crazy data and make any sense of it? And this is what the media immediately pounces on – the inability of ground level science to be socially digestible is all of media’s dreams come true. They are now free to twist the narrative to fit their mission. “Eating dark chocolate will cure diabetes!” actually means “there were some upward trends in diabetes found on people who did not consume dark chocolate, but more research needs to be done as it is currently inconclusive”.

Now, no wonder people hate science – because according to their limited browsing of clickbait media pieces, they will label science as fickle and flaky. The scientists can’t decide if lemons are good for you or bad for you, or if eating sugar substitutes is better or worse, or if vaccination causes autism or not – to hell with science! Well, here’s where the issue lies – it is not the scientists, but the journalists who can’t decide. It is the half-baked knowledge that can’t decide. This is not to say that science has all the answers. Scientists are truthful in saying that they don’t have all the answers. They are encouraged to say that some experiments are inconclusive. It is their job to be true to experimentation and research. They have a lot of integrity and reliability to lose if they manipulate data. But media – they have no such rules. They can lie through their teeth and get away with absolutely no consequences whatsoever. And then there comes the common man, the consumer – this consumer wants a quick fix, wants answers, wants someone to tell them right away what to eat, what to wear, how to work out, what to use on their hair, and how to get rid of wrinkles. This consumer does not stop to think about the fact that there may not be a solid answer to those questions – how could that possibly be where there are 167 magazine and blog posts about wrinkle-free and stretch mark removal regimens? So, this consumer sets out to browse with the idea that there is an answer, and that makes them question science eventually, because all the garbage out there now has the magic prefix, science! Now, do you see a pattern here? Do you see that the anger and the skepticism are misguided? Do you see how the world has managed to mangle science to an extent that the word is unrecognizable now?

The beautiful thing about science is that it is tangible. That sets it apart from all other forms of study. Science has its flaws, because it is performed by humans after all, but science has set out to eliminate the effects of this variability systematically. If you ask five gurus about afterlife, they will give you five different answers. But if you ask five scientists about what happens after death, they will all tell you uncannily similar answers, because they have the tangible power of observation. There are limits to science just like to any other field, but science provides pillars made of brick and mortar, and not smoke and glass. Science strives for proof, and to anyone who objects to that evidence, I implore them to show me an alternative that is not an internet article, one person’s experience, or word-of-mouth hearsay.

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