Science Directions

Once upon a time there lived a king who reigned over many subjects. As time wore on, the king's subjects wanted a better life. They wanted to be recognized and appreciated. For one thing, they felt the word "subject" was demeaning and insisted that the king call them "participants." That sounded wonderful to the king because he thought using the word "participant" would make them feel good without his having to improve their living conditions. They would not ask for anything and would do whatever he told them to do, he thought.

But then some participants took their new name seriously. They told the king that, as participants rather than subjects, they wanted to share power with him through special advisory councils. The king acceded to their demand, thinking that, since he would appoint the members, they would do what he wanted. The king's unsuspecting participants rejoiced and danced in the streets, singing songs of praise to the king.

Meanwhile, the king's secretary of sophistry called together the king's sophists. They assembled in the peace room to figure out how to get participants to do the king's bidding. Before long, they decided that their best strategy was to depend on selection of "agreeable" participants. The sophists pondered the question of various selection procedures. They finally concluded that it was a matter of interviewing the candidates to determine whether their attitudes matched those of their ruler. Soon the court dispatched a messenger and invited the advisory-council candidates for interviews.

The court did not often invite participants, so the sophists felt they would have no trouble finding out what the potential advisory council members thought. The king's secretary of sophistry himself decided to interview the potential members of the advisory committee.

"Are you subject to the king's will?" he thundered as soon as the first candidate entered. The potential member was taken aback for a moment but answered, "No, I am not a subject; I am a participant and therefore not subject to the king's will." Sitting close by was the king's sheriff, keeping score as the interviewee answered each question.

The next question followed closely upon the previous answer: "Did you vote for our great monarch?" The nonplussed candidate for what he thought was high office once again said "No," explaining, "Unfortunately, we do not vote for kings in this great country." The king's sheriff entered another cross on his score sheet, took the interviewee away, placed him in jail and threw away the key.

The king's secretary soon found another candidate to interview. He asked him what he thought of the idea of hoofs with heels. Knowing that that would harm horses while filling the coffers of the king's friends with silver and gold, the interviewee rejected the idea, and before he could say "horse feathers," he was turned over to the sheriff.

The king's sheriff brought in a third candidate. Happy at the thought that she might help the king, she smiled at the sheriff and at the secretary, and they felt very good about this candidate.

"I wouldn't mind having you as a participant," said the sexist secretary, and he went right on to ask her a question he thought she surely would answer the king's way: "Are you in favor of faith-based conclusions in science?" The secretary was so smitten by the candidate that he almost missed her answer. "Of course not," she said. "Scientific conclusions must be based on data, not faith." And she too was thrown into jail.

When word got out that the king was rejecting candidates for his advisory council because they did not agree with his views, the people rose as one and got themselves a new king. The members of the advisory council for the next king were chosen for their competence and provided him with useful information, of which the wise king often availed himself. As a consequence, his kingdom flourished as no other had before or has after.

Moral: Real life is unfortunately very different from what is depicted in fables.