What is Science?

At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, I gave a presentation at Albion College’s Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium.

I presented my FURSCA project from summer of 2013, where I read books about climate change and examples of creative nonfiction, and I wrote endless pages of words that eventually became two essays about climate change for the Millennial Generation.

It’s akin to the great grandparent of The Climate Pickle—the beginning of my journey.

After Elkin Isaac, there is a Keynote Speaker, and last year it was Richard Alley. Oh, do I know who Richard Alley is. He was one of the main climate scientists that I research during FURSCA.

Alley is an incredibly intelligent and quirky scientist who has been researching climate science for a long time. His official job position is a professor at Penn State in the Geosciences Department, but is known for much more than that.

This dude has received a Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution as an author of the IPCC reports, and has advised many U.S. officials in the White House on what is actually going on in the world. He spent months in Antarctica, studying ice cores and collecting data about historic geologic climate changes.

A pretty important guy who knows what he is talking about.

Guess who my geology professor brought to my presentation in the second biggest auditorium on campus?

Alley.

I kept my cool, I am proud to say, and delivered the best presentation I have ever given. It was a good day.

I went to a small Q&A with him that several geology classes where geology students could ask him whatever we wanted.

Richard Alley sat on the edge of the gray speckled desk at the front of the classroom. He looked at the small gathering of students through his thick glasses. Most of us were required by a professor to be there. Alley’s hair stuck out at odd angles with his beard covering his face like brambles on a forest floor.

We started talking about how climate change is measurable. Lots of scientists have argued over the best way to measure or to average temperatures, but the same answer comes back—the Earth is warming.

Alley said, “Climate change should be a debate between environmentalists and scientists to figure out the best and lowest impact solution, but right now scientists are just trying, and failing, to show Politicians reality.”

He paused after this, swinging his leg off the desk. I remember paper shuffling and a cough or two before he broke the silence.

“Science isn’t something you believe in.”

Alley believes that science is testable knowledge. It’s how we understand the physical workings of the natural world. Science isn’t real or validated because people put their faith in it.

His statement is simple yet beautiful. Science isn’t something that you believe in. 

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