However, these incommensurable scales of space
What Can We Do?
and time are not what disturb people so much in their views of the universe and mankind’s place in
What can we as scientists do to meet the
it. It is the role of chance in the organization of the
universe, in the formation of our solar system, and of the Earth, and as the driving mechanism of the
evolution of life that rocks their “beliefs.” Wilson
work experience, discoveries, and even our failures
put his finger on it when he wrote, “Evolution in a
with the public.
pure Darwinian world has no goal or purpose: the
2. All large scientific projects must fund
exclusive driving force is random mutations sorted
and maintain strong public education and
by natural selection from one generation to the
outreach programs. These programs must avoid
next.” This is the “hard nut” we have to crack.
triumphalism, spectacle, or entertainment.
We must continue and do more to share our
3. We must promote rational thinking and critical The concept of chance or randomness transformed
reasoning, at the same time keeping an open mind
modern physics and chemistry through statistical
on various non-scientific ways of understanding
mechanics in the late 19th century and the more
fundamental step of quantum mechanics in the early
4. We must steer away from wishful thinking,
20th century. Amazingly, the underlying role of
boosting expectations, or promising “final answers”
randomness in nature was implanted more than 2,000
to big questions.
years ago: yes, the clinamen of the early atomists.
5. We must work on creative approaches that
Then, as today, this unsettling fact and idea was
bring the scientific community and the public
strongly resisted. It is still considered profoundly
together, in a respectful and fruitful dialogue.
repulsive to so many of our fellow citizens. This is our challenge.
Jean-René Roy is deputy director and head of science at Gemini Observatory. He can be reached at: email@example.com