Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Drivers Licenses and ID Cards

Once again that issue of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants has been debated. The debate was between the current California Senator Barbara Boxer and her challenger Bill Jones. The issue of driver’s licenses for immigrants is really a non-issue if driver’s licenses were used the way they were meant to be used. They should be used to prove that you have passed a driver’s test, and are a capable driver. However, it is also used as an identification card.

Why is a driver’s license being used as an identification card? This question dates back to the 1950s. After World War II there were several issues brought up by the McCarthy group that was trying to weed out Communists from the United States. The idea of having a national Identification Card was put forward. There was a heated debate on this issue and the ID card lost. This was because the congress feared a National ID card would be used to keep track of citizens in an un-American way. The country would be no better than the Soviet Union who kept track of its citizens with ID cards.

So, driver’s licenses were used as a back door ID card.

Now, we want driver’s on the road to be safe. We would like all drivers to take classes and understand the rules of the road. However, we do not want to give ID cards to people who don’t deserve them. The only solution to this problem is to have two different items. An ID card for US citizens and a driver’s license for those who don’t deserve an ID card for whatever reason.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Scientific Theory

Many lay (non-scientific) people don’t really understand that a Scientific Theory is actually a serious compilation of scientific facts. When people think about theory they think of the way that non-scientific people incorrectly use the word theory in their every day language. They say things like, “I have a theory about how the stock market responds to hot weather.” What they really mean to say is that they have a hypothesis about the relationship between the stock market and the weather. They can perform an experiment measuring the weather and the market to determine whether their hypothesis is correct. The measurement could determine a statistical relationship between the two, but it is virtually impossible to rule out every other parameter in this relationship.

So, what is a scientific theory if it isn’t a guess about how something behaves? The definition of a scientific theory is: A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

In other words, a theory is an explanation of how a series of facts fit together. But, not only that but a theory has predictive power. A theory can be used to create more hypotheses so that further experiments can be performed. Perhaps this is why the public has this misconception about what a theory is. Since you can use a theory to predict completely new hypotheses you always face the point where the theory may hit the wall and fail to be predictive.

An example of this is when the theory of mechanics is used to describe the behavior of objects. However, as the size of the object gets smaller and smaller classical mechanics fails to describe how these small objects behave. So, at the scale of atoms classical mechanics no longer describes how electrons orbit the nucleus of the atom. It doesn’t mean that classical mechanics is just a theory and it is useless. Hardly, instead classical mechanic describes how things which are larger than a few atoms behave. The theory of quantum mechanics must be used to describe the behavior of atoms and molecules.

So, when you hear the fundamentalist Christians tell you that the Theory of Evolution is bunk, because it is only a theory. Then just remember that a scientific theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. Remembering this definition makes one realize how powerful the theory of evolution really is.