…and I bet you don’t appreciate it nearly as much as you should. In fact, I will go as far as saying Science is so important and beneficial that its near scandalous if you give it anything less than giant praise.
How do I get away with saying that? Well, the facts overwhelming and clearly illustrate that the benefits of science are enormous – facts that you likely take for granted. Lets consider just a couple areas of benefit and see how much you agree.
SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS HAVE SAVED MORE LIVES IN THE PAST 150 YEARS THAN EVERY LIFE TAKEN IN EVERY RECORDED WAR IN HUMAN HISTORY COMBINED – AND ITS NOT EVEN CLOSE.
I used to look a the average life expectancy numbers going back 150 years (it was 49 then) and marvel at how amazing it is that we’ve extended it to almost 80 years worldwide (1). Have you ever considered what it means to have a life expectancy of 49 versus 80? How many people currently living would be long gone by now?
We live roughly SIXTY percent longer than our ancestors did a mere 150 years ago because we’ve made massive strides in healthcare, sanitation, and access to clean water. We also know a lot more about what kills us and how to deal with it.
Some will argue that the huge jump in life expectancy is primarily because we’ve improved how we deliver babies. That is accurate. The bulk of this improvement is from a lot less babies dying during birth (as though this was a bad thing?). But that’s not all of it.
Imagine yourself living 150 years ago and think about what it would have meant to have spent time in a hospital.
You would not have had access to any of the following:
Dialysis Machines (1960s)
Ultrasound Machines (1970s)
Heart Monitors (1950s)
Intravenous Tubes (1950s)
Local Anesthesia (1930s)
If you were lucky enough to survive your stay at the hospital in lieu of all these scientific breakthroughs, there was always the good chance you would have died from unnecessary germs because even the best doctors didn’t know the importance of washing hands between surgeries.
Assuming you had avoided the hospital entirely, you or someone you know would have been dealing with with Smallpox, Typhoid, Rheumatic Fever, Scarlet Fever, Polio, or Tuberculosis – all death sentences. Thanks science.
Even a persistent cough in those days was a red flag. How willing would you be to roll the dice with any health concerns if you didn’t have access to the last 150 years of breakthroughs?
But this only paints the picture. So how about some numbers.
THE TOP BREAKTHROUGHS OVER THE LAST 150 YEARS AND THE CORRESPONDING NUMBER OF LIVES SAVED STARTS LIKES THIS: (2)
Synthetic Fertilizer – 2.7 Billion Lives Saved
Blood Transfusions – 1.1 Billion Lives Saved
Smallpox Vaccinations – 530 Million Lives Saved
Chlorination of Water – 177 Million Lives Saved
Polio & Measles Vaccine – 120 Million Lives Saved
Penicillin – 82 Million Lives Saved
Tetanus Vaccine – 52 million Lives Saved
Insulin – 16 million Lives Saved
These 8 items alone account for an estimated 4.6 billion lives saved. Try researching every war in human history for the total number of lives lost and you won’t get within an eighth of this number.
OK, but that’s just health. What about overall quality of life? Have you ever considered how much Science and Prosperity are linked?
THANKS TO SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE DIVISION OF LABOR, THE AVERAGE HUMAN ON EARTH HAS A QUALITY OF LIFE MULTITUDES BETTER THAN THE WEALTHIEST PERSON DID JUST 150 YEARS AGO.
Most of the advantages given to us by scientific and technological progress either go unnoticed or unappreciated – most often both. Compared to 150 years ago, we live in a golden age – something straight out of science fiction.
We can marvel at the improvements science and technology have provided to us looking back over even shorter distances. Consider what Matt Ridley has to say in his book The Rational Optimist:
In 2005, compared with 1955, the average human being on Planet Earth earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children and could expect to live one-third longer. She was less likely to die as a result of war, genocide, murder, childbirth, accidents, tornadoes, flooding, famine, whooping cough, tuberculosis, malaria, diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, measles, smallpox, scurvy or polio.
She was less likely at any given age, to get cancer, heart disease or stroke. She was more likely to be literate and have finished school. She was more likely to own a telephone, a flush toilet, a refrigerator and a bicycle. All this during a half-century when the world population has more than doubled, so that far from being rationed by population pressure, the goods and services available to the people of the world have expanded. It is, by any standard, an astonishing human achievement.”
Yet many still complain. We live in an age of cynics. People complain about things like low pay, high gas prices, and spotty Wi-Fi. Let’s think about that.
4 dollars buys a gallon of gas that fuels the average automobile for at least 20 miles – a distance the auto covers easily in less than half an hour.
The same 4 dollars buys the ingredients for many basic meals limited mostly by imagination and cooking ability – this being available merely by stepping into a local market or grocery store.
The same 4 dollars buys more than a full days worth of WiFI, giving access to unlimited amounts of knowledge and entertainment, instantly beamed straight to any location – again limited only by imagination.
That 4 dollars represents 30 minutes to the average minimum wage earner.
To put this in perspective, 150 years ago:
Personal travel was by horse or bicycle – a horse with a rider on average covers 20 miles in about a day (3). If you think you could do better on a bike, consider what you’d have available – metal tires and pedals at the front. Good luck.
Almost 90% of the population lived and worked on farms.(4) That meant growing your own food. Have you considered what it would take to make a single meal entirely on your own efforts? Next time you see the price of eggs, bacon, and bread at your local grocery store, consider the back breaking number hours (or days) of labor it would take for you to produce this single meal working on a farm.
Your best access to information was from newspapers, books, and letters delivered by horse. Suddenly complaining about those five seconds of buffering seems a little hollow.
To people living 150 years ago, advantages like these things were pipe dreams. As per Ridley…
Today, of Americans officially designated as ‘poor’, 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone; 71 per cent a car and 70 per cent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these.”
The last line is worth repeating. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these. Vanderbilt was the richest man in the world.
And for the cynics, yes, everything is not perfect for everyone. Science has not solved every problem for every person. Some people still live pretty badly. Yet on the whole, science has lifted us all tremendously. Dismissing the enormity of what science has provided on this basis is like rejecting the importance of hospitals because they can’t save everyone. That’s not a reasonable conclusion – that’s just poor reasoning (see Perfect Solution Fallacy).
The average human life is better now than ever in terms of free time, availability of resources, access to knowledge, and overall quality of life – and we owe science of a big thank you.
IF YOU’RE NOT PRO SCIENCE, WHAT ARE YOU?
Seriously, think about that. If you feel anything but extreme gratitude about science, what do you stand for?
Sure, not all science is used for good, but so what. Do you devalue your car because sometimes people drink and drive? Of course scientific advancement requires the responsibility of those who use it, but the trend has always been overwhelmingly positive (despite what we’re made to believe – see Impression Bias).
If you’re not ready to fully embrace science for all it provides, then you’re left with some pretty absurd premises supporting your values. Dinesh D’Souza drove home this point especially well when speaking about the merits of industry:
Until we can find cultures that prefer hunger rather than plenty, disease rather than health, and short lives rather than long ones, we have to acknowledge that material improvement is a universal objective.”
Human ingenuity coupled with science has continually proven to be our greatest resource in terms of material improvement.