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The Benefits of a Scientific Education

The stereotypical view of a scientist is that comical clich-: a tall, nervous, socially awkward, bespectacled individual (preferably with thick, horn-rimmed, NHS issued bottle necked specs), with unkempt white hair streaming in all directions. He is engrossed with the activity occurring atop a long, narrow table. On this stands a small city of conical beakers and tubes and bubbles and steam, noxious vapour and fog foaming out everywhere; Bunsen burners bring up the temperature, forcing coloured fluid through twirling tubes; the pressure is building and sparks are flying - the scientist is bustling around in a panic, his white hair more crazed than ever! Sparks are flying! The dial on the galvanometer is in the red! Maybe if he adds some powder here, adjusts the temperature there, presses that lever and BANG! Explosion and debris' fragments fill the air, acrid smell of gunpowder and charred wood. The smoke clears to reveal a sooty face, eyes blinking white and shocked, hair still smouldering. Ladies and Gentleman, the Mad Scientist! We all know this stereotype - it is a cliche that has captivated us since childhood. The question is how do we reconcile this comical figure with scientists of the real world: with chemical engineers and pharmacologists, with structural surveyors and doctors? These respected professionals are very far removed from the jester just described. To help dissolve the misleading (though admittedly amusing) misnomer, we simply need to elucidate the benefits that a scientific education can afford us, and our children. With this done, the value of science will be seen, and it will hopefully not fall prey to these crass debasements. The first aspect to clarify would be what science itself is? The question is a straightforward one, but the answer is often not so forthcoming. Unlike geography, or languages, science does not have a clearly bounded domain: it is rather a method, a style of inquiry. This nebulous definition is what makes it so far reaching, so broad in its applications. Science can analyse everything, from the structure of a sunflower, to the origins of the universe. It is as capable of studying the behaviour of human beings (sociology, anthropology, psychology, as might be expected, this is a broad domain even in itself!), as it is investigating the properties and constituents of distant objects in our galaxy, and far beyond. Without science there would be no medicine - indeed the advancement of modern medicine, the near eradication of certain diseases, such as smallpox, the development of antibiotics, and the treatments of countless aliments, are the crowing glory of science. By these achievements the quality of life for mankind has been increased; and what greater accolade can there be than that?

The ultimate aim for many who choose to study the sciences is to become one of the immortals: to be another Newton, or Einstein: to be assistive in extending mankind's knowledge of the universe ever further. For most however, this is a mere romantic dream, a fanciful, arrogant ambition (even if dreams and arrogance are needed for genius to rise up), which is in marked disparity to the prosaic tribulations of modern life. What then are the benefits of studying the sciences, if it is not for future generations to construct statues bearing your flattered form, and put up gilded plaques bearing your immortal name?

As science itself is the adherence to a method of study, it is applicable and useful in all different domains. It teaches the importance of evidence, of logical thought and reasoned arguments; and it exposes the empty meaninglessness of dogma and rhetoric. To be rational, and logical - these are surely foundations that the modern mind should be built on: to shun the proclamations of prejudice and insist only on truths supported by evidence. It was prejudiced and faulty intuition which said that heavier objects must fall to the earth quicker than lighter ones - they do not; and it was prejudice that insisted the earth is at the centre of the solar system, round which the sun revolves - it does not.

Any kind of science qualification is seen as indicative of the intellectual attributes of the pupil - this is an attitude held by university admissions departments across the country. With GCSE's and even A levels being diluted of academic content, by such modern subjects as media studies and fashion, the sciences are appreciating in value, like gold in a recessive economy. Whatever subject you wish to study at university, possessing any science A level will only assist your chances in gaining a place on the course.

The list of jobs that require a good scientific background are staggering: they range from anything in medicine, engineering, mathematics, IT development and silicon architecture - the list goes on and on. Drug pharmacology companies are crying out for chemistry graduates, whereas automotive companies want young maths and physics minds to join their ranks. You wish to be part of a team that is working to find a cure for cancer, or to be part of the production and design process for the newest sports car? If so, you will need an education that focuses strongly on the sciences.

The modern world is a scientific world. The industrial revolution was spurred on by scientific discoveries: from the middle of the eighteenth century, there were huge advances made in manufacturing, mining, agriculture, transport, and technology. The very concept of technology was formulated during this period. We are imbued with achievements from this period of history even today: whether you are walking down the street, or sitting in the comfort of your home, you cannot cast your eyes about more than a few degrees, before they alight on some captivating cynosure, some piece of technology that would have been but the dream of poets past. The light bulb, the computer, antibiotics, and the automobile - these were once dreams that only by the power of science have been made reality; and they are so commonplace, so ubiquitous that we think nothing of them. Who can know what wondrous delights the future holds? Consider things commonplace today, that our great grandparents would surely have regarded as sorcery; and now imagine the world of our great grandchildren - we cannot predict the glittering, phantasmagorical splendour it will be draped with, but thanks to science, we may live long enough to see this future for ourselves.

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