What do you know? You sure about that?

Scientists sometimes think they know it all. I certainly do —  at least until my wife explains to me that I don’t. There is probably nothing really wrong with knowing it all except that it irritates other people who actually do.

People who think they know it all, even if it is about only one area of knowledge, often think that no one else should be able to talk about the thing they know.

I am quite sure there are chemists out there who think I shouldn’t be explaining things about chemistry. They are probably right, but since I think I know it all, I keep doing it anyway.

I do shy away from writing much about things I don’t know anything about. However, it is sometimes difficult to find those topics. So I keep commenting about things about which I know nothing. It’s so hard to know what I don’t know. Once I know it, I can see that I didn’t always know it. Until then, though, I think I know.

For example, I have been critical in the past of the phone company for making the dial tone an F. Why did they choose a key with one flat? The only instruments with a home key of F are the English horn and the Wagner tuba. These are obviously not important instruments (sorry, Elisa).

I suppose the key of F is better than cellphones, which have no tone at all.

It would be a great service to everyone if they would make a tone that broadcasts in a nice clear A.

Sometimes what I know in one area of “knowing” is simply a lack of knowing something else. I’d give you a personal example if I knew of one, but since I don’t know it yet, I can’t. Knowing it all though makes it possible for me to provide examples from other people.

Recently some engineers were upset with my use of the phrase “A pint’s a pound the world around.”

They knew that was not true, as does every beekeeper and, for that matter, every housewife who has canned jams and jellies. What they apparently didn’t know was that the phrase refers to the time in history of British rule when it seemed, indeed, as if a pint of beer would cost a pound wherever one would go. They just didn’t know that.

In all fairness, this tendency to “know it all” is not restricted to just scientists.

Recently a politician reprimanded another politician for lecturing her on the Constitution when politician No. 2 had not been in office as long as politician No. 1. 

Apparently, in this view, the only people who can ask questions or have an opinion about the Constitution are our elected representatives, and then only after they have been in office for a standard period of time.

In case you are interested, I also have a reasonable, scientific opinion about stop signs. Why are they red?

Red is in the longer wavelength part of the visible spectrum and is nearly impossible to see at night. It often just looks black. It is easily visible during the day, in contrast to the greens and browns of the rural landscape.

I suppose red signs made sense when everyone stayed home at night and lived in the country.

It has dawned on me that all humans are “know-it-alls” because we can never know what we don’t know. Once we learn it, then we know it.

It seems the best scientists can do is be extremely conscious of all the things we don’t know. So whenever I am not sure if I know something or not, I just check with my wife.

As the famous scientist Mark Twain once observed, “the person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn’t.”

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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