Science has an image problem.

The view on science is starting to change, but scientists themselves are in a bind.


This image problem is exemplified in the Dresden files, a book series centered around a professional wizard in Chicago. In Harry Dresden’s world, magic is real. Nobody notices, because whenever someone encounters the supernatural they rationalize it away, preferring the comfort of their normal lives.

Fantasy scientists are particularly good at explaining away all the evidence of magic in favor of their cold precise models and a world that works according to the rules they learned in school. They know how reality is, because it says so in their textbooks. They aren’t able to lift up their noses long enough to see the magic in the world around them.

It’s a prevalent sentiment. Star Trek’s Spock is cold and calculating, his rationality depriving him emotion. Muggle scientists in the world of Hogwarts are none the wiser. This is the Hollywood misconception of scientists: cold, rational men turning the cranks on their cold, rational formulas.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being a scientist isn’t about fawning over models. Scientists aren’t the guardians of the Holy Textbooks. They weren’t plopped down in the year 2000 and handed a list of rules to follow and defend.

No, scientists built those rules. Scientist had to discover how reality worked. They had to go out there into the wild unknown, with no idea what the universe held in store for them, and they had to wrest Understanding kicking and screaming from the chaos. They had to drag the rules of reality into the light, inch by arduous inch.

Science isn’t about memorizing the rules of reality. Science isn’t about applying the schoolbook equations. Science is about finding the rules.

Science has never been about maintaining the status quo. Science began its life as a rebellion against authority. The scientists said the earth revolved around the sun, when everybody else thought otherwise. The scientists discovered how muscles work, when everyone thought they were driven by human will.

Science is about dropping the blinders of tradition and actually looking at reality. Science is about listening to the evidence, not to the established ‘common sense’.

If you want to be a scientist you have to learn how to listen to reality, even when it sounds ridiculous. You have to listen to the universe, even when everybody else things you’re crazy. When the rest of the world hallucinated that the sun circled the earth, scientists alone caught a glimpse of the truth.

In a world of magic, scientists aren’t cold men cooped up in offices clutching their models and ignoring the magic of the universe. Scientists aren’t the people in lab coats who rationalize away any evidence that doesn’t seem to fit. Scientists aren’t the ones screwing their eyes shut and making up excuses.

Scientists are the ones tearing off the blindfolds. They’re the ones staring reality in the face.

Scientists are the wizards.