dam Savage, a star of the long-running Discovery Channel show, “Mythbusters,” will be a keynote speaker at the March for Science in San Francisco on Saturday.
STAT’s Charlie Piller spoke with him to get his thoughts about the event and the state of the science.
The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What’s the biggest myth you’d like to see busted on Saturday?
That science is some citadel where people are deciding on facts. The biggest public misconceptions that we have about science are that it is a ‘thing,’ when it’s a process by which we learn and understand things about the universe, and that people think that science is for smart people. Nothing could be a greater disservice to oneself or to science. Science doesn’t require genius. It requires rigor and a willingness to have one’s mind changed.
If science has an enemy, that enemy is bias. Any of us attempting to think scientifically is trying to see past our own bias and the institutional bias that keeps us from clarity about how things work.
Some who support science fear that the march might endanger the scientific community by politicizing the issue. What do you think about that concern?
It’s hilarious compartmentalization to worry about science being political. If politics in a democracy is the way humans agree on methods to make their world better, to try things that seem like good ideas and hopefully throw out the bad ideas — that’s the very soul of the scientific method.
To imagine a world in which science is separate from politics is absolutely ludicrous. It’s like trying to separate politics from people. What we do with science is explore our world. It’s what identifies us as sentient beings. Exploration is a process of scientific understanding.”
You’re not a scientist, but you do play one on TV. Are you giving the keynote to show that this issue is broader than the scientific community, or because scientists sometimes give dull speeches?
MythBusters turned me into a scientist. What makes a scientist is the willingness to ask questions about how things work and look for honest answers to those questions.
Yes, I think I was asked to give the keynote to make the point that this is a broader issue. For example, children are natural scientists. When you tell your child a rule, like, ‘You can’t eat in the living room,’ they say, ‘But what if I’m already chewing when I enter the living room?’ That is your kid thinking scientifically, looking for the exception, looking for how robust this rule might actually be.
That’s a natural human inclination that’s inside all of us.