I woke up in the middle of the night last night by vomiting over the side of the bed. Gross? Sure. It’s ok, my dog cleaned it all up. Grosser, yup.
Why do I mention this rather disgusting episode? Well, besides the fact that I’m still suffering the effects of whatever illness I may have contracted, it is mainly to grab your attention so I can focus it to one of my favorite subjects: science.
Because of the scientific method and the scientific advances that have occurred because of it over the past 200 years or so, we now know that a germ of some kind is the cause of my rude awakening and subsequent discomfort.
About 250 years ago, had I been alive and experienced the same malady, I might have been treated by bloodletting, in order to “balance” my body’s humors. Not only would this have added to my discomfort, but it would have also put me in danger due to the loss of blood when I most needed it (after all, there are antibodies in my blood helping to fight off the invading germs, not to mention the adverse effect of dehydration).
Now, due to what science has learned, I know that my body will most likely fight off the offending germs on it’s own, which it normally does quite well (After all, I’m still here after all the numerous battles with germs in the past.) I don’t need to put myself at risk with dangerous, unscientific treatments. And if for some reason my body can’t quite cope, there are plenty of medicines and treatments that can help it do the job.
Science has managed to stamp out Small Pox, the feared killer which was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century alone (1). Polio has almost been completely eradicated and millions of children who would have died in the past 70 years due to measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough lived on instead. All of this due to vaccinations that were able to be created due to the knowledge gained through the scientific method.
The germ theory showed public health officials all across the world that diseases like cholera and dysentery that used to kill millions, many of them children, is easily controlled through good sanitation and is only now usually a problem during disasters that disrupt the infrastructure that maintains that sanitation.
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that billions of people who would have suffered excruciating deaths due to disease have been saved in just the past 70 years due to the proven methods created by our scientific knowledge. In fact, we so take for granted our good health that the early deaths of children and adults that afflicted every family in the western wold only 100 years ago aren’t even a distant memory anymore.
The average life span has doubled in the past 100 years in the west and, where modern science based medicine is introduced elsewhere, a similar increase in life span almost always follows.
People have tried using prayer and “natural” remedies for thousands of years to no avail. Doctors and clergy in medieval times noted that the plague afflicted both the sinners and the devout in equal numbers. Not until modern science with it’s rigorous and continuous testing and refining, did real improvements in quality of life, longer lifespans and control of diseases become a reality.
Prayer has its place, but its place is not in medicine or science. The belief in “natural” remedies, while quaint and folksy, is no match for the proven effectiveness of modern medical drugs and treatments.
Science has saved billions of lives and improved many billions more and it will continue to do so at an accelerated pace as our knowledge and technologies expand exponentially.
Today, when you or someone you know has a baby, you look at the baby and can know, almost for certain, that that baby will grow up and reach adulthood, Just remember, as you look in her sparkling blue eyes that your expectation is so certain due to science, and not superstition.