In Support of Science [and Tim]

By Nitesh Dhanjani
November 4, 2008

Tim O'Reilly recently blogged about why he supports Barack Obama. Following this, in a more recent blog entry, Tim addresses some complaints from readers who dismissed his endorsement of Obama as out of line for a technical site such as O'Reilly.

I think Tim did the right thing in putting up the blog entry about his endorsement for Obama. Even though Tim himself may see some justice in one reader's displeasure about the blog entry showing up in the News section - I don't see a problem with it. Tim is a well known technologist - his endorsement and, most importantly, his reasoning behind his endorsement is news to me and I want to read it.

I feel, as technologists and scientists, we have the right and the duty to take upon critical thought and express opinions on topics that are important to the world and to society; the job of information technology is a lot more than just discussing software and hardware for the sake of discussing software and hardware.

My enthusiasm for technology ultimately derives from my appreciation for the most well known method of evaluating and finding out what is true in the universe: Science. Therefore, I want to extend this issue beyond the O'Reilly case to point out two topics that are often labeled taboo and consequently banned from discussion on many intellectual forums and venues: politics and religion.

I feel the science community at large has played along with the taboo of approaching the matters of politics and religion with kid gloves for far too long. These are important topics that affect our lives today and the lives of future generations.

  • Politics is important. We need more scientists and technologists, not less, to get into the conversation and offer critical thought and reasoning towards important issues.
  • Religion shapes peoples lives and minds, yet it is deemed disrespectful to converse or, yet, even approach the topic in many forums with the superficial reasoning that religion and science do not intersect. I reject this stance for the following reason: A universe with supernatural mechanisms offered by most religions is likely to be a lot more different than a universe without supernatural mechanisms. Therefore, the topic is no longer devoid of Science, and as a scientist I am interested in it.

Venues such as O'Reilly are not likely to discuss politics or religion often. Yet, as scientists and technologists, when we do have something to say that addresses an important topic where we can offer reasoning and critical thought - lets not be shy about it. The illogical, taboo-based, and oft-counter-claim, mostly along the lines of "You are not supposed to talk about x? Why not? Because you are not" is dangerous because it shuts away Science from contributing much needed critical thought and reasoning to important topics that shape our world.

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