The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview, by Dennis R. Trumble (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013, ISBN 978-1-61614-755-6, ebook ISBN 978-1-61614-756-3) 346 pp. Softcover, $20.00.
Dennis R. Trumble is a project scientist in the Circulatory Support Laboratory and an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds many patents for biomedical devices and has published numerous research articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. His book, The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview, brings the scientific method and some of its yields to date into the realm of the very exciting.
Trumble’s lively discussions of well-known and less well-known scientific discoveries inspired me to reread Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Consider Trumble’s illustration of a remarkable facet of Darwin’s theory of natural selection: the discovery that traits no longer necessary in a species will be biologically eliminated over time. “Scientists would later discover dozens of . . . biological relics in human beings, including remnants of a tail (caudal vertebrae), atrophied muscles formerly used to rotate the ears, and a rudimentary third eyelid (nictitating membrane) still found fully formed in cats and other land vertebrates.”
Trumble cautions that no discovery in science is inherently easy to comprehend or accept. For example, he advises that in the field of quantum physics (a relatively nascent field of research), “if you are looking for meaning in this world it is best not to look too closely because at the most fundamental level of the physical universe the gods really do appear to be playing dice.”
Some of the faithful oppose the advance of science, viewing it as cold, inhuman, and antireligious. Science is not inherently antireligious. As Trumble explains, “science holds no a priori prohibitions against the kinds of things that religious people tend to believe—even the really crazy stuff.” Religious principles, like any other hypotheses, can be tried and tested, proven or refuted, and dismissed when evidence does not exist. But he has decided that the only good Earth is a godless Earth. While he explores the pros and cons in his discussion, the urgency for a freethinking world yesterday or sooner remains the same.
Trumble discusses some failings of scientists, one of which is that from time to time some do not follow their own principles. He relates the case of one scientist who published findings of a genetic predisposition to religious faith. His results were unceremoniously debunked because he had completely bypassed the peer-review process of subjecting one’s discoveries to the scrutiny of the rest of the scientific community prior to publication—a cardinal rule of professional research.
Trumble makes a fantastic argument for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. In his persuasive arguments, however, I discern some sweeping generalizations and missing data. He blames educators for students’ shortcomings in scientific literacy and excellence. Let’s face it: inspiring student interest in science can be quite a challenge, and educators are as diverse and individual as their classroom members. Some teach with contagious enthusiasm. Some do their best but are still not particularly motivating. Some are just putting in their hours until they can retire. The student, I suggest, is equally accountable. Some students have socioeconomic issues that affect their performance, and some succumb to distractions and temptations that they find more appealing than science class.
Later in the book, Trumble makes a compelling argument for the advancement of space exploration: only 0.5 percent of the federal budget is dedicated to it (chapter 13). However, he ignores the economic considerations that affect funding of this and other research.
I recommend reading this book for its entertaining discussion of many fascinating scientific discoveries that are perhaps not widely known. Proceed with caution, however, to avoid the potholes in this book’s road to scientific progress.