When the Nobel Prize makes me throw up a little

You’ve probably heard of the Nobel Prize.

You probably even know it’s a series of awards for science.

That undersells it. They don’t just hand out a Nobel for good science, great science, profitable science or trendy science. It goes to the newest and most impressive Settled Science –  science that has been around long enough that people know, beyond doubt, it’s awesome, correct and had an impact.

A cool new theory might not pan out. Sometimes you can prove that quickly, sometimes it takes decades of work.

If research keeps kicking butt for decades, then it must have merit. The best of this sort of science has a chance of earning a Nobel.

… right?

Pop quiz: who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1949 and for what research?

Don’t know it off the top of your head?

Neither do I – here’s what the official Nobel Prize website says when you look it up:

The winner was Antonio Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz, for his “discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses.”

Don’t know the definition of ‘leucotomy’ off the top of your head either?

It’s another term for a lobotomy.

72 years is within living memory – which means, within living memory, people thought destroying the higher reasoning centres of the brain was an excellent treatment for anxiety and antisocial behaviour.

It makes me want to throw up a little.

How could such a barbaric practice have caught on, let alone won the highest scientific award there is?

Even weirder – a year after that Nobel Prize, the USSR banned the use of lobotomies because they were too barbaric.

If your medicine makes Stalin flinch, then stop and think for a moment.

It makes me shudder.

Then, when I take a deep breath, I realise how fantastic my horror is.

Science is so (literally) awesome – the pinnacle of medicine seven decades ago is now not worth the crud on your shoes. If science moved at the speed of religion, we’d still be doling out brain damage for the lolz.

Yesterday’s genius is tomorrow’s drooling barbarian. That might not be fair to the genius, but it shows our progress.

We even overturn Settled Science – not because of the changing tastes of the public, but with more evidence, better ideas and subtler experiments.

I’ve said that Settled Science can only be overturned by a lot of hard and smart work. That’s generally true.

Overturning lobotomies, though, turned out to be a low bar.

All it took was a few people to notice the side effects – like how it removes intelligence along with insanity.

Common sense, observation and asking the question, “are the benefits worth the immense harm?” defeated Nobel Prize-winning science.

You hear a lot of talk about ‘science’ and ‘research’ in the media. Often it’s some puff piece – “a new study has shown that…” More often these days, it’s about something more serious.

Some of it is true, reasonable and accurate.

None of it is Settled Science.

Little of it is Frontier Science.

None of it is above challenging using common sense, observations and asking the question, “are the benefits worth the immense harm?”

Pure science isn’t above questioning, especially when it’s new. When research filters through the media and politicians, and used for political gain, it becomes something impure – and therefore less reliable.

Science is a lot like magic. In most fantasy books, the rituals that require the most precision and sacrifices grant the most power.

Science gave us spaceflight, electricity, antibiotics and computers – each a power like none the world had seen before.

It’s the source of so many powerful things because it itself demands precision and sacrifices – especially the comfort of believing what you’re told.

You have to think for yourself.

That doesn’t mean ignoring the mainstream and listening to folks on the fringe. That’s just a different flavour of believing what you’re told.

Science is merciless.

It requires you to question everything, especially your most treasured beliefs, and especially the need to question everything.

No easy answers.

No shortcuts.

It’s just like the rest of life, really.

For example, if you want to overcome anxiety, then getting a lobotomy is the easiest way to do that. It works, leaving you neurologically incapable of anxiety.

I supposed that’s not so easy, as no doctor will do that to you…

The harder way is to work on yourself.

That doesn’t mean telling yourself to not be anxious.

By all means, try that.

If that doesn’t work, though, the Alleviate Anxiety program is for you:


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