Lecturer’s License | November 15, 2007

The best answer in the world is I don’t know.

So many questions in the world are safely answered by I don’t know. Safely does not equal satisfactorily, especially to intelligent human beings.

Philosophically, we don’t have the greatest idea about things that may currently seem so commonplace. For example, the chemical bond. With current methods, we can’t actually visualize them. Thanks to Linus Pauling’s calculations we can predict them. And math usually does an excellent job of telling us what’s going to happen, to a first approximation.


In a lecture the other day about protein structure, the lecturer railed against Pauling’s later stages of quackery, but failed to mention the incalculable number of contributions to nearly every conceivable scientific field that he was able to make over his short (90+ years) life.

Now these medical students who take everything these professors say to heart will now associate quackery with Pauling. They’ll “know” that Pauling wasn’t helpful.

How much do we know because of him? A lot. Just because he went overboard with Vitamin C’s efficacy and potential use doesn’t disqualify everything that he did beforehand. In general, this is the reason why people should try to present the complete picture, especially with facts. Things that are known, whether about human beings or science can be misconstrued far too easily with just the correct wording. We should be left to form our own conclusions. Please allow your listeners this pleasure if you have the gift of informing people (Except with politics, do whatever you want, ad hominem, accusations of adultery — that’s a different game).


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