Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Preventing Future Massacres

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

After each horror like the one at Virginia Tech, we wonder how we might prevent the next one. Even as we do so, though, we know at some level how hard it is to prevent a person like Seung Cho from killing. He bought guns and ammo at a store. We could make that transaction more difficult — today, in fact, the NY Times has reported that federal law should have made it impossible for Cho to obtain those guns — but every time we make it harder to purchase guns we increase the burden on many thousands of unthreatening gun buyers and dealers, without measurably reducing the threat posed by men like Seung Cho.

According to a NY Times column this week, there are 200 million guns floating around the U.S.; he would have been able to get guns somewhere.

Meanwhile, all the university and the police knew about him was that Cho had been accused of stalking, and had written two bad plays that relied on profanity and violence as their theme. While stalking is reprehensible, most stalkers do not go on to massacre people, and our society have decided not to regard stalking as an offense worthy of years of imprisonment. Nor would imprisonment necessarily protect us, if we used it; it could easily embitter a man like Cho further, while enhancing his criminal skills, making him all the more dangerous by the time he left.

So we are faced with bad choices: Imprison all those we deem ‘scary,’ commit them to psychiatric hospitals for indefinite periods, or do nothing. A glance around most major metropolises would reveal a number of people who seem ‘scary’; locking all of them up would be as immoral as it would be impractical.

And yet, as attorney Marcel Florrestal and I were just discussing, technology gives us an option. We could do something that is both practical and moral — something that would protect innocent victims without locking up those who have committed no crime.

Here’s how it could work:

Each new gun could be equipped with a chip that would awaken only in the very near proximity of an electronic bracelet/RFID tag. When awakened, the chip would prevent the gun from firing.

For everyone who wasn’t wearing such a bracelet, the gun would work just fine.

Thus, young children could wear such bracelets, preventing them from firing their parents’ guns.

Parolees could wear them, until such time as they had proven themselves capable of acting in self-defense only.

Such a system would also give us a way to reduce the likelihood of massacres like the one at Blacksburg. It would not prevent them all, but it would surely prevent some.

Today, if you suspect that someone is dangerous, there’s very little you can do. You can notify someone of your fear, and the police or a psychiatrist may talk with them. But unless the person is deemed to be an imminent threat, the state is not permitted to lock them up. And in many cases, even the most suspicious person is not ready to ask that a ‘scary’ person be locked up. We just want to know that he or she, but usually he, is not allowed to harm us. As of today we have no way of reducing that threat without infringing on civil liberties.

Here’s what we could do instead: If an institution, whether a university or a place of employment like a post office, decided that someone might be dangerous, it could ask that person to submit to an evaluation by two trained professionals. If the professionals agreed that the person was a threat, the bracelet could be put on, with the force of law.

The suspect would be otherwise free to conduct his or her, but usually his, business. The bracelet could be made sufficiently unobtrusive so that there would be no social stigma. Its removal, however, would signal the police department to respond immediately. And as long as he wore the bracelet, the suspect would be unable to fire any new weapon.

Retrofitting old weapons would be expensive — perhaps too expensive for the law to require it. Such a system would still allow some killers to kill; no system can prevent murder. But it would make it harder, while preserving the rights of law-abiding, non-threatening citizens to bear and use arms.

To reduce the likelihood that such a decision would be influenced by racial bias, at least one of the two professionals would have to share the same race as the suspect.

Some may take an odd comfort in the notion that there’s nothing we can do to keep scary people away from weapons. But advances in technology have made it possible for us to do more than we were able to do before. It’s worth a shot.

198 years ago today …

Monday, February 12th, 2007

… were born not one but two great men. Their work reverberates today, and the controversies they tried to solve sometimes still feel unsolved — but not because they didn’t solve them.

One was born in a log cabin, the other in relative luxury. The log-cabin boy lost his mother to milk sickness when he was just nine years old; the other had lost his own a year earlier, when he was only eight.
These two motherless boys grew up outside the embrace of conventional religion, and made only token gestures toward it as they aged. Yet each became a cultural deity. Today, the face of each graces a commonly used monetary note in their native lands.

The influence of Abraham Lincoln is obvious and great, and America and many other nations have absorbed it. But the human race may never fully comprehend the influence of Charles Darwin. It may be that we have not evolved far enough from the apes to be able to accept them as our cousins.

Though no one could know it then, February 12, 1809 was quite a day.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

So says Michael Pollan in this terrific piece, the cover story in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.

Great lede. It’s been playing in my mind like a mantra ever since. And great story, all about the way farmers, nutritionists and journalists have made the question of what we should eat waaaaay more complicated than it should be.

Inpatient drug trial

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Feb. 2005: Day One

At 7 a.m. on the day our drug trial begins, a bus takes 15 research subjects from the opulent Westin Grand Bohemian to the functional Orlando Clinical Research Center, a trip of 10 minutes. Along with two women, I miss the bus by three minutes. Bad start.
Roger, the drug company’s ambassador, puts us in a cab and tells us not to worry.
We have flown here from 10 states, including Iowa, Maryland and Wisconsin. Three sisters came from Texas; a brother and sister, from Minnesota. Otherwise we are strangers with just three things in common: our nationality, our white skin, and the pockets of fluid that grow on our kidneys.
Each of us has inherited polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. A dominant gene caused cysts to form in and on our kidneys while we were in our mothers’ wombs. Those cysts grew larger. New ones sprouted. Sometime in our forties or fifties, the cysts will finally overburden our kidneys, causing them to fail. In order to stay alive we will have to submit to the thrice-weekly miseries of dialysis, unless we can find a new kidney from a generous loved one or an unrelated cadaver. Older relatives have shown us that transplants are risky, and immunosuppressant drugs are a drag.
We’ll spend nine days here, testing a drug that may spare us all that.
During my physical the doctor looks at my magazine and smiles. “Oh, we’ll remember you,” she says. “You’re definitely the only person for miles who’s reading The New Yorker.”
“Is that right?” I say. “I guess that explains the way you guys vote.”
“Whoa!” she says, sounding hurt. “We like the way we vote.”
I grimace. I’m reading that the U.S. secretly deports suspected terrorists to Egypt and Syria, in order to ensure that the suspects are tortured. The friendly doctor will never read that article. Neither will anyone she knows. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to read nothing.
I meet two of my four roommates. They seem nice. All the men are in one room, a barrack with eight beds and a large TV. I change into our uniform: aquamarine scrubs. I wonder if I look like a doctor.
Next door, I attach my computer to one of three high-speed cables. A man whose gray hair is flecked with white talks to me. His study is ending today. He tells me that he needs to go back to school and finish his engineering degree.
“The trouble is,” he says, “I hate engineering!” He’s agitated, rocking on the balls of his feet. “But I’ve got to do it,” he says. “These experiments—this is no way to live.”
I wonder how many experiments he’s done. I don’t ask.
He says, “Well, I’m sure you know a lot of people who hustle, right?”
I’m not sure what he means, but I don’t want to seem like a snob. “Some,” I say.
It’s enough for him. He nods. “One of these days,” he says, “I have to get a job.”
“Me, too,” I say.
Using a loudspeaker in the hall, a staffer calls us to the treatment room. They take our blood pressure and give us EKGs. We have lunch. It’s chicken salad. We don’t like it.
As lunch ends we wonder when dinner will start. Four women begin to walk the halls for exercise. A circuit takes less than a minute. The rest of us read or talk on the phone. We can go outside once a day, but we don’t know when. I feel both lost and trapped.
For days we have avoided alcohol; caffeine, which means chocolate; medication, including aspirin; orange and grapefruit juice. I accepted all that. But I hadn’t planned on being stuck inside, where metal grills block the view.
I go to my room and am glad to find no one there. I lay down for a nap.
At 4:30 pm I hear voices outside the door. The people in my study may be going outside.
I get up and go into the hall. It’s empty.
Is that it? Did I miss my chance?
Images from a Ray Bradbury short story flash in my brain: “All Summer in a Day.” On Venus, it rains every day of the year but one. The story begins just before the sun comes out. Grade-school kids prank a classmate, putting him in a closet. Later the teacher takes the students outside. The clouds part. The kids play ecstatically. Then one remembers the boy in the closet. They run to get him. It’s too late. He won’t see the sun for another year. The rain falls again.
I hurry through the halls, looking for someone to help me. An African-American woman in the kitchen smiles at my anxiety, and leads me outside.
Most of my peers are playing a game: Two truths and a lie. You say two true things and one lie, and everyone tries to guess the lie. Ignoring the game, I pace the concrete courtyard. I can take no more than 15 steps in any direction. High walls block my view. A woman tells me, “You look like a caged lion.” I slow down, but can’t stop.
“Come on, Frank,” says the game leader to the man who led us outside. “Two truths and a lie.”
“Okay,” says Frank, his face deadly serious. “I’m a Marine Corps medic, I’ve worked here for two years, and … we’re going to keep staying out here.”
We laugh. He takes us inside.
We start taking the drug tomorrow.

[I always meant to continue this story, but Slate showed no interest and then I got busy and stopped pitching. If you’d like to hear more, please let me know.]

Mike Brazell’s Cowboys

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

I’ve known since I was a freshman in college that I have PKD, but I didn’t do much about it until my first cousin, Mike Brazell, died of PKD complications at the age of 35. It happened two Decembers ago, and it was a terrible shock. I decided I could no longer afford to be complacent about this disease.

So I invited Mike’s closest relatives to join a team, “Mike Brazell’s Cowboys,” and take part in the PKD Foundation’s Walk for the Cure.

We call ourselves the Cowboys because Mike loved the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. I’m not a Cowboy fan, but I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan — so no matter how important Mike’s memory is to me, I couldn’t call our team the Yankees. It’s the Cowboys by default.
A year ago September saw the first PKD Walk in Albany, NY, and Mike Brazell’s Cowboys were there. There were 30 of us, and we raised more than $6,000. Mike’s mom, dad, sister, widow, son and daughter all walked.

This year we walked again — and we raised more than $14,400. We had a fantastic time.

Some of our fellow Walkers are reluctant to ask their friends to contribute. And I can understand why: it’s uncomfortable, and it makes it clear that we need each other — none of us stands alone. Plus, if your friend declines, you have to deal with the interesting feelings that arise in your gut.

But asking for support, and receiving it, can also be deeply satisfying.

Here’s what my friend Bernhard wrote, when I thanked him and his new Italian bride Christina for their generosity:

“I’m so happy to hear the day was such a resounding success. We are
honored to be a small part. Mainly, our reasons are selfish. We want
you and your family healthy and safe from harm. Please keep us
informed on the latest developments with the foundation, and you!”

If I hadn’t asked for their help, I’d never have known that they felt that way. And now my day is brighter than it would otherwise have been.

PKD docs win top prize

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

This is only good news. Drs. Vicente Torres and Jing Zhou have won the 2007 Lillian Jean Kaplan International Prize for Advancement in the Understanding of Polycystic Kidney Disease.

These two have dedicated their professional lives to understanding and curing PKD. Dr. Torres’ research led directly to the Tolvaptan trials, while Dr. Zhou has done fundamental research on the malformed cilia found on the kidney cells of PKD patients.

I was lucky enough to shake hands with each of them at the PKD Foundation Conference in Washington, D.C., last June, and to thank them personally for their dedication to this work.

Science is a funny thing. Those who do the best work are often in it primarily for the intellectual challenge — their personal curiosity about how the world works. It’s slow work, and often goes unrecognized. It feels so good to see Drs. Zhou and Torres get this recognition, and the financial prize that goes with it. I hope that word of this prize will help some other researcher, currently debating which field to pursue, decide to focus her efforts on PKD. Adam Smith’s invisible hand helps millions of visible kidneys.

What PKD does

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Actually, this very nice piece isn’t about PKD at all — it’s about glomerulonephritis. But the result is the same: three hours of dialysis, three days a week, while you hope for a transplant.

Since the first dialysis machine appeared in 1943, these artificial kidneys have kept many people alive. Dialysis greatly prolonged my uncle Dick’s life, keeping him alive long enough to get the transplant that restored most of what his life used to be. But by all accounts, actually being on dialysis sucks.
As this writer describes it: “I tried to stick it out for the rest of the semester, undergoing dialysis while trying to maintain the life of an average Loyola College freshman. But the treatments exhausted me, and eventually I had to drop out. I moved back home to Pennsylvania, where I sat in my childhood bedroom for the rest of the school year contemplating what the doctors said could be an alternative to dialysis: a kidney transplant.”

The first transplant she received didn’t take, so she needed another one. She got the second from her boyfriend. He sounds like a hell of a guy.

I take Tolvaptan in the hope that it will help me and millions of others avoid all that. If it works, and PKD stops ruining kidneys, 5,000 spaces on the kidney-transplant waiting list will open up in the U.S. alone.

Let’s hope it does. I’d hate to think all this peeing is in vain.

Drug Experiment

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

For the past ten months, I’ve been taking part in a drug experiment. Along with 47 other people around the country, I’m taking a medication called Tolvaptan, which may or may not end up lessening the effects of polycystic kidney disease, also known as PKD. PKD is the most common genetic, life-threatening disease there is — more common than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, hemophilia, Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia combined.

I inherited PKD from my dad; a number of other close relatives have it, too. Each year our family takes part in the PKD Foundation’s Walk for the Cure, raising money that will help pay scientists to research this disease ever more deeply. Thanks to the PKD Foundation and its many benefactors, the research is going extremely well. But we’re not there yet.

Tolvaptan is a vasopressin receptor antagonist. Vasopressin is a hormone that causes your kidneys to conserve water. Hence, when you take Tolvaptan, fluid flows out of you like, well, water. You pee more, and more often, than other people do. Your body misses all that fluid, so you also get thirstier than you ever used to be. Most mornings when I wake up, I’m thirstier than I was when I hiked the Grand Canyon, some 15 years ago, on a very hot day. I no longer go to sleep without a big glass of water near the bed; when I wake up, I drain it.

A lot of people who care about PKD are curious about Tolvaptan — how it feels to be on it, how optimistic we are. Ever since the invention of dialysis and transplants, Tolvaptan is the first real hope we’ve had. So I’d like to start blogging about it. I may forget to do so, now and again. If you’d like me to say more, just let me know.

For now I’ll say this: I’ve gotten used to peeing more than most people do, and to being thirstier than I ever used to be. I am now constantly aware of where I can get water and juice in a hurry; when I go to a new place, that’s what I look for. When I went to Italy in August, a week or so after the British government disrupted the plot to use liquids to blow up planes in the sky, and the airlines decided that the rest of use could no longer bring liquids onto planes, I became very agitated. I worried much more about getting enough to drink on the plane than about terrorism. (In the end, I was fine. And Italy was even more beautiful than I’d been told it would be.)

There’s an unexpected benefit of Tolvaptan: The thirst, and the anticipation of that thirst, can distract you from other anxieties (exploding planes) you might otherwise develop. I don’t mind my airplane exploding, as long as I have access to liquids on the way down.

I live in New York City — Brooklyn, to be precise — and as the northern hemisphere once again tilts away from the sun, I remember noticing, last year, that I felt colder than I used to feel. Perhaps because of Tolvaptan, my body doesn’t run as warmly as it used to. All of my life, I have felt warm when others around me felt cold. Now I feel cold before they do. That’s a bummer.

But if Tolvaptan slows the growth of my cysts, I’ll take it.

Why Religion Is Better Than Science

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

Actually, most of them aren’t. But a number of religions do at least one thing better than any science I’ve ever seen: They motivate their followers to go out of their way to show kindness to people not related to them. People they’ve never met: total strangers.

That is not to say that the sciences urge cruelty. Those who study biology, chemistry and physics are no more likely than those who live by faith to deliberately harm strangers. Indeed, they are far less likely to do so than a religious fanatic is to harm an infidel. A ‘biology fanatic’ may devote his days to observing killer whales, but doing so does not make him a murderer. Indeed, naturalists have been the first and most consistent protectors of non-human life. And anthropologists often perform the same function for endangered tribes of people, urging the rest of us to appreciate rather than destroy.

Still, ‘helping’ is not the primary motivation for an anthropologist the way it is for, say, a nun who devotes her life to feeding, educating and clothing the poor. Religions can inspire us to look for God or the Buddha or Krishna or Jesus or a Hebrew Scripture Angel in a deeply flawed, smelly human being, and some people claim they really do see God or the Buddha, etc., in the eyes of that suffering person. And they spend time with that stranger, and look into his or her eyes, and get to know him or her, and emerge from the encounter having made both that person and themselves and, by extension, the rest of us, a little happier. That’s glorious.

People who are not religious at all do this too, of course. Many atheists I know care deeply for people unrelated to them, and do their best to help. We do not need religions to teach us to be ethical.

What I’m saying is neither that people need religions to remind them to show compassion, nor that the study of science removes such compassion (although there’s some evidence that the study of economics has this effect — a study of undergraduate economics students revealed them to be, on average, less altruistic at the course’s end than they’d been at the beginning). Only that some religions are really good at motivating it — at nagging people to look more closely at the stranger, to see the stranger as less strange.

And in this respect, when it does this one very important thing, religion is better, in that moment, than science.

To this, some people would add the hope many religions offer for a better life after this one — reuniting with loved ones, etc. To me, though, that hope is counterbalanced by the fear many of those same religions implant — the fear that you and/or your loved ones will end up in Hell, or at least with much more pain than you already have. I’d much rather believe that my deceased loved ones never regained consciousness than imagine them in Hell, and I feel the same way about my own fate. So I think that one’s a wash.

Roger Responds

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Roger Berkowitz writes, in regard to what I wrote on April 23rd:

“In response to your post: In all frankness, you mangle my point.

“My point is not that there is no difference between science and religion. Nor do I claim, as you suggest, that the science boosters are racist. You try to make me into a spokesman for some kind of cultural relativism, which I would never speak for.

“I have no complaint with the claim that science has won the day over religion. The evidence for this is too plain to be contested. Religion has failed (the Judeo-Christian God is dead). And science has indeed offered us unparalleled success, from reaching the moon to communicating through wires and beams of light. I accept the victory of science.

“Before one can criticize my claim, the decent thing to do is at least attempt to understand it. As you faithfully report, I suggested that science shares the character of religion. Now, by this I certainly don’t mean that science says, as you write:

“’Here is what I know to be true, because someone I never met wrote it in a book more than a thousand years ago. And by the way, it’s impossible for anyone to test these claims, ever. Still, if you don’t accept my interpretation of this ancient book, I will expect you to burn in Hell, and may even have to persecute and possibly kill you to make sure you get there soon.’”

“Of course, on this understanding, science shares little with religion. Then again, I don’t imagine that many religious people throughout history understand religion this way either. Indeed, aside from zealots and fanatics (of whom there are too many in and out of religions), I don’t know who would hold such a view. I don’t mean to defend religion, but to say that your definition of religion is perverse.

“So what do I mean when I say that science shares the character of religion? Well, as you know I live part time in the Hudson Valley, not far from the Hudson River. I go out sometimes and walk along the Hudson. I may contemplate the river, and what do I see? I see a waterway for ships and commerce. I see a source of power for turbines. I see a reservoir for drinking water and a reserve of (slightly irradient) fish for eating. I see a coolant for power plants and a storage tank for PCBs. The river, in other words, is a thing that is useful. Like the forest under the US Forest Service (A Land of Many Uses), the Hudson is, in its essence, something that is useful for man and society.

“Now, I may also see the river as something beautiful, a tourist attraction that is essential for the economy of my neighbors. It is even possible that I will see it as an example of nature that needs to be protected and preserved from the degrading impact of human hands. But even when I approach the river as something to be protected in itself, I understand that the river is subject to human will and manipulation. The choice to “preserve” the river in its natural state is, for us, a choice. Whether we use the river for commerce or protect it as a natural thing, the river is inescapably something that I and my fellow man can control.

“Recognizing this, I may look at the river and recognize that there is one way I cannot see the river. I have lost the ability to experience the river as awesome, as a work of nature that is beyond my control. I cannot see the river as something incomprehensible—as something that is bigger than human understanding. Even if I don’t understand its currents and chemistry, I know that I could with effort and study. The very possibility of a mighty river, a magisterial experiene of nature, is foreclosed to me.

“The scientific way of thinking about the river, in other words, stands deeply opposed to the religious worldview in which the river is just there, impervious to our understanding and will. Because I approach the river today from a scientific worldview, I can no longer experience the river as awesome or holy—holiness is, from the perspective of science, a superstition. This scientific worldview means that I believe that the river, like all things, has reasons for why it flows and why it is. The river, just as much as my computer, is comprehensible. It can be explained, understood, and thus harnessed for human ends.

“Now, this worldview is, as a worldview, something I cannot go behind. I can’t just decide to suspend my scientific mind and see the river as holy and awesome. Rather, my scientific worldview precludes any and every other way of thinking. In this sense, it is a belief that I have, one that I can’t question (except scientifically, from within a scientific critique). The point is, therefore, that science is, at bottom, a belief.

“In my book, The Gift of Science: Leibniz and the Modern Legal Tradition, I explore one danger of the scientific worldview. I show that when law comes under the sway of scientific thinking, law necessarily loses its connection to justice. Just as the river must have reasons for how and why it flows that make it understandable, so does law—as an object of scientific thinking—need reasons that justify and explain it. But then law becomes something that is useful, something that serves some end. Today, of course, the idea that law serves ends (be they ends of fairness, efficiency, or security) is common sense. But insofar as law serves political ends—ends of our choosing—law becomes simply a tool, a means. Law, like the river, is useful.

“The scientific idea of law as a mere means stands against an understanding of law as an imperative to do justice. It denies the very existence of law as justice and insists that law, like all things in a scientific world, is only meaningful for some human goal or end. It is in this way that science, in the name of improving and bettering our understanding and use of law, chases justice from the world. Justice, like the river qua river, is an affront to the scientific faith in the rationality and human masterability of our world.

“I admit that science is useful. Science is deeply and powerfully effective way of seeing the world. I would never contest that. If I am sick, I prefer medicine to prayer (although I am skeptical of much medical knowledge). And on an airplane, I prefer to remind myself of the law of physics over and against a hope that I can fly. But your claim is bigger than that: you argue that ‘the world, if studied, may be rationally understood.’ You write:

‘By now, moreover, it should be obvious that the assumption that the world, if studied, may be rationally understood, has in fact been demonstrated. If it had not, people would never have reached the moon, to cite an obvious example; nor would we have conquered polio, nor have invented the computers on which words like this are written and read.’

“Your point is that science is not only effective, but also true: you argue that we have mastered the world or are in the process of mastering it through science. In other words, the effectivity of science is proof of its truth.

“Against you, my point is that science is a worldview that we accept and cannot prove. Indeed any attempt to prove the scientific world of reason is caught within our own need to prove it according to the very same scientific standards we are attempting to question. We can’t escape the scientific world since it is our worldview. It has great benefits, but an appreciation of its advantages ought not to blind us to thinking honestly about its deficiencies. As a faith in the rationality and knowability of the world, science cannot abide or allow the thought of that which exceeds or escapes its grasp. The world becomes demystified and rational, and we lose our ability to think and act meaningfully upon a thought of the holiness or justice of a world beyond our control. You may not see this as a loss. But that it is a fact of our belief in science is, I think, undeniable.”

I appreciate your response, Roger, and apologize to you for mangling your point. I have a better understanding now of what you actually meant – or think I do. If we’d had more time to talk at the party, I imagine I would have understood it better still.

Perhaps one reason for my apparent obtuseness is that I simply don’t see the need to make the choice you say we’ve been compelled to make – the choice between science and holiness, or, as I prefer to call it, reverence.

I love what the scientific view has been able to tell us about the world. Yet I have not lost the “ability to think and act meaningfully upon a thought of the holiness or justice of a world beyond our control,” as you say one must, if one accepts the gifts of science. I still believe in the holiness and justice of a world beyond my control, and can still see people in mystical terms, even as I happily acknowledge that most of us evolved from ape-like mammals. (I say ‘most of us,’ because some do   to have evolved.)

I guess I don’t see the loss.

Moreover, I have a hard time understanding why it is even worthwhile to insist that scientific beliefs are ‘beliefs, therefore they share some of the character of religious beliefs.’

At that level of abstraction, of course, everything is a belief. But why dwell on that fact? What is the use?

I don’t see what it gets one, to emphasize the fact that everything that we know or think we know is a belief. Of course it’s true – but so what? All beliefs are not equal, and calling scientific truths ‘beliefs’ as a way to point up human ignorance seems silly.

Perhaps I misunderstand again. I have to ask, though: What do we gain by reminding ourselves that scientific beliefs are only beliefs? Does not every scientist and appreciator of science already know that, and accept that all findings are provisional?

Every belief is ‘only a belief.’ But some beliefs are better than others.

What am I missing?