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Irreni Solutions vs. The Bubble Bath
Science is like a bubble bath. When you are feeling alone and yet wanting something wet, effervescence and gentle on your skin then draw a nice warm bath. Or science project. Muh ha ha!
Should we genetically test babies at birth? This will provide much needed medical information throughout a person's entire life?
Bubble baths and genetic testing. That's like two different topics. I'm taking a hint from modern television to have two story lines going. Did you know that two different story lines is now a staple of television show? Back in the old days of television a television show was a vignette. A vignette is a self-encapsulated show that can be watch independently. This makes perfect sense with broadcast television where viewers may miss episodes week-to-week. Then reruns were invented and television evolved. Dual story arcs took hold and viewers took to them. Then Joss Whedon comes along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and invokes season long story arcs and multiple story arcs. This was then followed by Lost, Hereos and others and now the advent of binge watching on Netflix. Woot! Bubble baths and genetic testing at birth. For this blog I will just stick with two story arcs. Mmmm.
Where was I? Oh yeah, science is like a bubble bath. People have a mental image of science that is linear. The image goes something a chain linked together of scientific discoveries. In science we learn 'A'. After we learn 'A' then we go onto to learn 'B'. And so on. The problem with this model is that there are gaps in the chain, missing links. But chains are so cold, hard and violent. Let's do bubble baths. Anyone who has taken a bubble bath knows there can exist air or gaps between the bubbles, not just in the bubbles. And that is okay, your bubble bath is still good. Science is like that. We have gaps between in the chain of events and that's okay. What science does provide we appreciate.
Climate change is like a bubble bath, but perhaps we are not enjoying it so much. I believe this is because the gap of events is so large. I am not sympathetic to the climate change deniers who are scientists. I am sympathetic to the average people who are confused. Why? Because the state of meteorology science today is that we cannot reliably predict the weather more than just a one week forecast. We can only predict hurricanes after they begin to form. We cannot predict tornadoes at all. And yet climatologists are predicting the weather ten, twenty and one-hundred years out? What's going on here?
What's going on with climate science is that modeling weather is a bubble bath. There just happens to be very large bubbles missing between. Our scientific models for global warming are somewhat accurate. Our five-day weather forecasts are somewhat accurate. Everything in between is a big mess of unknowns. And so I'm sympathetic to the folks confused by climate change deniers. Just because science doesn't have all the pieces to a puzzle doesn't mean that the puzzle pieces we have aren't useful.
Medicine is also very much a science where there are pockets, or bubbles, where things are understood and yet the entire chain of events has enormous gaps.
Science is like a bubble bath not just because there are gaps between bubbles. Science is like a bubble bath because a 3D bubble is a better metaphor than a straight line of events. Take for example the temperature. When we give a temperature we give a single number. Right now it is 65F in Menlo Park. There are two dimension of problem with this though. One dimension is the accuracy of the instrument of measurement and the other is the uniformity of temperature in space. Neither dimension is accurately described by 65F.
Fuzzy logic is a branch of mathematics that attempts to deal with error. If my thermometer is only +/- 0.1 degrees then all formulas in Fuzzy Logic will use this +/- 0.1F in the calculations. Further, if the thermometer in Menlo Park is specific to a very small region of space and the temperature in Menlo Park varies +/- 3F then this number is also input into Fuzzy logic equations. The accuracy of measurement can be modeled as a chain of bubbles. Imagine three bubbles, A,B, and C, are adjacent in line where B connects A to C. Imagining science as linear is akin to only focusing on the exact line where A, B, and C actually touch. This is analogous to stating a measurement is 65F for Menlo Park. But that is not reality. The reality is that there is a confidence factor, or accuracy, of all measurements.
Science is like a bubble bath because a.) there are unknowns in or gaps between bubbles and b.) accuracy or confidence can vary in multiple dimensions or a bubble rather than a straight line of events.
All of which brings me to the question: should we be genetically testing babies at birth for long term health benefits?
No. And the reason is accuracy or confidence. DNA testing is used to verify paternity with some 99% accuracy. This is misleading. People may draw that wrong conclusion that because this bubble of genetic testing is 99% accurate then so are all other bubbles. However, that is not the case. We may be able to reliably sequence a person's genome for heath care some day, just not today.
Climate change and genetic engineering share a common theme in scientific understanding. There are gaps, huge gaps, in events and what is known. Accuracy and confidence are low. This doesn't mean that the models we do have should be ignored. It just means we need to include in our conversations the meaning of what is known with the corresponding confidence and also what is known relative to the gaps of unknown.
Climatologists cannot predict the weather tomorrow based upon climatology models. That is not a flaw in science, just a gap between events of what science can model. Genetic testing at birth today cannot be used for health care because the sequencing, measuring, of the DNA is highly inaccurate even though genetic DNA tests for family are 99% accurate.
Science is like a bubble bath. There are entire gaps as well as measurement gaps between the bubbles of science that exist.
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