Friday Flicks: What Makes a Scientific Achievement?

This month on Friday Flicks, Flickmaster Max Yipp brings us a great video from PBS’s Idea Channel. The featured video asks the question: Was the discovery of global warming humanity’s greatest scientific achievement?

This is an extremely compelling question, and it hinges on the host’s argument that our understanding of global warming is the culmination of an immense amount of data collected globally over the past century. An incredible feat that one could argue should be added as an Olympic sport.

I asked Max what he thought and he was skeptical:

Achievement implies we’ve done something with our scientific knowledge to reach a positive goal. If the question was if global warming is one of our greatest discoveries, then yes, it is. Now that we understand it though, we need to use everything we’ve learned to find ways to help solve and possibly reverse the effects, such as the Clean Power Plan that President Obama recently introduced. It is the accomplishment of that goal that would be our greatest scientific achievement.

The real question for me is how you define a scientific achievement? Is it wiping out a disease to save lives? Is it solving one of the world’s hardest and oldest problems? Or is it collecting bundles of data to understand a large and complex problem?

What do you think? Is the collection of data to develop an understanding of a large-scale and complex problem enough to be considered a scientific achievement? Or much achievements come in the form of solutions to those problems?

Give us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Minda Berbeco
Short Bio

Minda Berbeco is the former Programs and Policy Director at NCSE.