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Rocket brain Wed, Dec 15, 2021
A study found that rocket scientists and brain surgeons aren't smarter than the general public.  I was actually just thinking about this recently.  Those disciplines aren't some sort of obscure, hidden knowledge obtained through a secretive quest.  It's just people who had some sort of baseline ability and interest in a topic, then studied and worked hard for a while.  Not to understate their accomplishments or overstate my abilities, but I could do that.  Most people could.  There's a huge caveat that it depends where you live and how your local schools are and all sorts of things.  But in general, most people can do most things. 

I think it's weird that rocket science and brain surgery are put on a pedestal, when really any specialized discipline is essentially equally difficult and impressive.  Electricians regularly work with an invisible death force, yet the average person has no idea how it works much less how to wire an electrical outlet.  Modern life would essentially stop if electricians stopped showing up to work.  Similarly, I hired a guy to redo some drywall in my house, not because I'm unable, but because I'm not good at it.  The work he produced nearly brought tears to my eyes because it was so good.  In other words, trust experts

I think rocket science and brain surgery get singled out at least partly because those subjects are inherently more risky.  Or more specifically, the likelihood of an incident is higher, and the consequences are quite bad.  Getting a rocket to lift off and fly straight is difficult, and if it fails it causes a big boom with lots of fire (high likelihood, high consequence).  This happens frequently enough that it's a legitimate concern for engineers and safety people.  A similar discipline like structural engineering is just as difficult, and the consequences of a bridge or building falling down are just as bad, but the likelihood is much lower (low likelihood, high consequence).  It's the same for brain surgery, but in the reverse order.  If a dentist screws up a tooth surgery, they can just try again next time (low likelihood, low consequence).  If a surgeon screws up a brain surgery, that patient is permanently altered (low likelihood, high consequence). 

[This has been your introduction to Risk Assessment.]

Finally, rocket science doesn't really exist.  Science is the application of the scientific method to further knowledge about a subject.  Not to put too fine of a point on it, but we pretty much know everything we're gonna know about rockets (dangerous claim to make, but I did it).  The science is essentially settled (combine some chemicals or ignite them to produce an energetic reaction).  What we're really talking about when we say "rocket science" is "rocket engineering", i.e. how do I apply this scientific knowledge to shoot a person at another planet?  But "rocket engineering" just doesn't have the same ring. #science


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