Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dan Falk Gets It Right!

Dan Falk is a Toronto-based science writer and winner of 2002 Canadian Science Writers’ Association Science in Society Journalism Award. He writes for major Canadian newspapers and is a frequent contributer to the CBC television program Quirks and Quarks. He is the author of In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension, which I have not read—an oversight I plan to correct as soon as possible.

I'm critical of many science writers for misrepresenting science in their articles appearing in newspapers or magazines. It's even worse when ordinary journalists attempt to write about science [The Ottawa Citizen Should Be Ashamed of David Warren].

Today I'm deligheted to bring to your attention an excellent article by Dan Falk in today's Toronto Star "[You are here: Your microspot in the universe: What Galileo and Darwin should really be remembered for: making us feel smaller"].

You really should follow the link and read the whole article. Here's the conclusion—I hope it will tempt you.
As physicist Steven Weinberg famously said, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless."

Both Galileo and Darwin showed us that our place in the cosmos is less central – perhaps less special – than we had imagined. For some it has been a bitter pill to swallow. But there is also every reason to rejoice in their discoveries. We are indeed animals, but we are animals that can comprehend the structure of DNA and the unity of life.

And yes, we live in one remote corner of the galaxy, itself one of billions of galaxies, but from this outpost we have probed the fabric of the universe, from the smallest quark to the most distant quasars.

Galileo and Darwin broadened our horizons, perhaps to a greater degree than any other two thinkers in history. As a result of their vision, we live in a larger, richer and more wonderful universe.
Thank-you Dan Falk. It's refreshing to see that kind of writing in a major newspaper. I'm looking forward to the letters to the editor, especially from those who haven't yet swallowed the bitter pill.

[Photo Credit: The photograph of Dan Falk on the University of Toronto campus is from his article, TIME TRAVEL AND THE DOWNING STREET DILEMMA, on the website.]


  1. Unfortunately, many people have a vomit reflex just from looking at the bitter pill from across the other side of the room; they don't come anywhere near swallowing it.

  2. [B]ut from this outpost we have probed the fabric of the universe, from the smallest quark to the most distant quasars.

    And we have been able to probe that fabric by using the concept that the heavens themselves are subject to the same laws that apply right here on Earth, a notion brought home beyond argument by the greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton!

    I suppose that was way too unsubtle to get a rise out of Larry. :-)

  3. The author seems to mistake the Western experience of Galileo and Darwin for universal experience. This is nonsense, either arrogant or ill-informed. Nowhere in classical Indian or Chinese philosophy has there ever been a notion of human exceptionalism. Starting with the atomists - Kanadaa who predates the Greeks by over 200 years, through the logicians, and the ethicists, there has always existed an implicit idea of the limitlessess of the cosmos. If anything it is the Christian tradition that has had to wrestle with the implications of Galileo and Darwin. For modern day atheists and agnostics these two thinkers' ideas may come as a breath of fresh air, but for some others this is merely an empirical confirmation of classical thought.

  4. Anonymous (the second one) - if you read Dan Falk's *book*, it's quite obvious that he *is* aware of other cultures' views of the world, and the fact that many of our world views depend on where we were raised. He even explicitly discusses it at points. That doesn't come across in the newspaper article, but does it really *need* to at that level of communication? (Newspapers are, by their very nature, biased toward the city they're printed in and the culture behind it.)

  5. on the other hand on the same page of that web site:

    "most read today
    horoscopes for monday ..."