07/08/2010 04:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blowing in the Wind

Science, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing these days, it seems.

If you had asked me a few years ago the answer was absolutely clear. No, not the technology, that's just the side effect, a little bonus, cream on top.

The real importance of science, for the last 500 years, was that it was the one aspect of human endeavor that constantly advanced, constantly improved, built on previous work, and earlier understanding, it didn't take a backward step. Each scientist stood on the shoulders of giants, as Newton said.

Up until the Renaissance humans had taken one step forward and two steps back in their understanding of the world around them. Some glimmering of understanding about the nature of the real world would be smashed down again by religion or war or cynical politicians or charlatans. But once the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment, modified hypothesis, became established by people focused on investigating the real world instead of accepting the imaginary world of wishful thinking, the human race never looked back. Or not for long anyway.

The age and structure of the universe was established; the form and relationships of different chemical elements; the development of life on earth (and the place of Homo sapiens in that development); the history and geology and climatology of the Earth; the anatomy and physiology and psychology of the human (and other animals) body. All of this was a long way from superstition, and folk medicine, and mythology, and religion, and the last vestiges of those early and primitive beliefs were gradually being swept away as the twentieth century came to an end. At last the human race was on the move into the twenty first century, after 500 years of steady advance, with a clear vision of reality unencumbered by the past detritus of failed human beliefs.

That was a scary prospect, it seems, for some people. It couldn't be allowed to happen. And suddenly all the junk thought from past millenia (with some additions) was back in the mix, spurred on by politicians and religious leaders and the media. Suddenly there were miracles, and magic remedies (homeopathy just the most egregious), and prayer, and creationism, climate change denialism, belief in ghosts and the afterlife, and heaven and hell, and mysterious forces, and supernatural beings, and faith healing, and magnets and crystals, and human domination over nature, and witches, and spirituality, all flooding back into human society and culture like an oil leak flooding into the Gulf. Just as poisonous to the human condition as oil is to seabirds.

Both of them need a big clean up effort. We need decent science education in schools again, free of the baneful influence of religious followers. And we need a media that again accepts the scientific method and its findings, and refuses to give air time or column inches or internet bandwidth to charlatans, and religious leaders, and the deliberate deceptions of the anti-science self-proclaimed mystics and healers, and the no-nothingism of those determined to let the corporations destroy the planet. Big task to clear all this rubbish out, but once it is gone science can again get on with the task of illuminating the real world. And after the damage that has been done by the charlatans and con men and crooks in the last few years we have lost time to make up, urgently. The answers have been blowing in the wind of nonsense and lies for a decade now.

You with me?