“Asteroid Skims Past Earth In Record Near-Miss” blared one headline. NASA scientists were just thrilled Friday at their ability to spot a giant space rock heading our way and accurately predict that it wouldn’t hit anything.
But the party got put on hold because they completely missed the other big rock that did enter the atmosphere about 9:20 a.m. local time over Russia’s Ural Mountains, exploding with the force of a 470 kiloton bomb.
The blast that occurred 18 or more miles above the surface of the Earth shattered an estimated 1 million square feet of glass and damaged more than 4,000 buildings, including collapsing the roof of a zinc factory.
The meteor, whose approach was captured on dash cams of local drivers, is estimated to have weighed about as much as the Eiffel Tower and to have been about 50 feet wide, only one-third as big as the one that missed.
As of Saturday, 24,000 emergency workers had been dispatched to the region, and hospitals reported at least 1,200 people injured, several hundred of whom required hospitalization.
Scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency who had publicized the near-miss asteroid ahead of time as some sort of triumph of science were quick to assert that the Russian meteor had nothing to do with their asteroid, hitting at virtually the same time due to some incredible cosmic coincidence.
Another cosmic coincidence occurred in the skies over California’s Bay Area on Friday evening as a bright blue fireball was seen hurtling overhead, sending the denizens of Silicon Valley to their Twitter and Facebook feeds.
None of what happened in the skies above the Urals or the Bay Area is the fault of scientists, of course, who just observe things and try to figure out what the universe is doing, but it’s an important object lesson about putting faith in science.
Science itself admits to no faith, not even in its own findings. That’s why scientists subject data to rigorous testing and retesting and often find that their conclusions need to be updated or even, on occasion, thrown out. It’s the self-correcting function of the body scientific that makes science such an important tool in the search for knowledge.
But there are far too many people today who do put faith in science, as if science were a giver of Truth rather than a means to verify facts. There are several reasons people do so, but it becomes particularly noxious when faith turns into political ambition.
Global warming is probably the most important case in point. For years, world governments including our own have been flying toward environmental totalitarianism on the wings of politicized science.
Recently, leaked draft versions of the United Nations’ updated climate report have revealed that most computer projections for the past two decades have overestimated the change in global temperatures. Another leak revealed a draft portion of the report that finally admitted that solar activity may play a much larger role in climate than previously acknowledged.
The ClimateGate scandal of a few years ago revealed similarly embarrassing information about the “fudging” of data to reach preconceived results.
Yet, somehow, the media and politicians still feed the public a steady diet of “the sky is falling,” when any rational person can see the global warming “science” has largely been a scam, and if the globe were to warm anyway there isn’t a blessed thing we could do about it.
And somehow, the public still believes the fairy tale.
Similar lessons could be drawn from fields as diverse as cancer research, stem cell studies and psychology.
We always go awry when we start to believe in the authority of science as an article of faith rather than a sound conclusion of facts.
Friday’s cosmic display of the fragility of human existence should be seen not as a failure of science but as a reminder to the public to stay skeptical and to scientists to remain humble in the light of the complexity of creation.