Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Of gall bladders and spaceships

So I was comparing gall bladder surgery notes with a fellow employee at Education Corporation of America today. He had his taken out a couple of weeks ago and has a couple of tiny scars and is at work. I had mine removed in 1974 and have a foot-long scar to show for it. I was off work for five weeks. They use laproscopy nowadays. In 1974, it was a saber and a butcher knife.

Well, maybe not that drastic, but things have changed. In my description of this blog, I mention the statement I once read that claimed that scientific knowledge doubles every five years, but medical knowledge doubles every three years. Some have looked at me askance...whatever "askance" is...and said, "Well, bright boy, if that were the case, wouldn't they have cured all diseases already? And wouldn't the swine flu have been shot down the first week? Oh, and wouldn't we have regular spaceships to the moon if we doubled our scientific knowledge even every five years?"

What we have to keep in mind is just how ignorant we are. Not so long ago, we were bleeding sick people to clean out the bad blood. And those Wright boys were just managing to skim the ground out there on Kitty Hawk.

Knowledge could double a whole bunch of times before we make a dent in our ignorance.

Don N4KC


Anonymous said...

Great article Don!

But a couple of observations:

First, just because somebody says the amount of "scientific knowledge" doubles every 5 years doesn't make it true.

Second, not all "scientific knowledge" is of equal value, or equally new. A lot of it is simply more data on a known subject.

Third and most important, there's a huge difference between "scientific knowledge" and "engineering know-how". Maxwell's laws are the scientific basis for radio, and were a tremendous increase in the amount of scientific knowledge about electromagnetism. But those laws alone don't result in a working radio. That takes engineering.

73 de Jim, N2EY

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right, Jim, and thanks for visiting and posting. That "5 years" statement is open to much scrutiny, but I bet it was an estimate. And discovering a cure for cancer may be a major jump in scientific and medical knowledge, but learning a previously unknown fact about the sex life of the tsetse fly may be just as big a leap in knowledge, but certainly does not have the practical value of the cancer cure.

Hey, engineers have always take the theories and postulations of scientists and put them to work in a practical way. Thank God we have both!


Don N4KC