With the increasing speed of innovation and technology, we’ve become addicted to data like never before. We lean so heavily on the principle ‘if you can’t measure it, you shouldn’t be doing it’, that we’ve defaulted to data to make decisions about everything, even people.
I recently came across an article about scientists, who every year for decades, visit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador to measure the beaks of a particular species of finch. Every year, they arrive at the same outcome. The beaks change in exactly the same way as the year before. They use this in-depth data to support that evolutionary biology works, which is kind of ironic to me since most of us learned about evolutionary biology in high school. I don’t need to be convinced that it works.
However, for hundreds of years, science has been proven wrong about gender, race and ethnicity. Science says, ‘on average, across populations, left to its own devices, one group is either not as skilled, is neurotic, is hard to work with, not as smart, not as strong, slower, etc.’ than another.
Aside from all the assumptions that are being made, the bigger problem is that human beings aren’t averages; they’re individuals. An even bigger issue is that human beings are never left to their own devices. Why? Because we are all creatures of culture.
Science for years said that women weren’t capable of being doctors. A British woman by the name of Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female doctor in the US in 1821. Science for years said that a 4-minute mile was impossible. An Englishman by the name of Roger Bannister proved otherwise in 1954. Science for years said that women could never finish marathons. An American woman by the name of Roberta Gibb proved otherwise in 1966.
Science has been used for years to craft affirmative action policies to either limit or accelerate the number of minorities in colleges and universities. Science has been used in some shape, form or fashion against every race of people for hundreds of years.
I’ve studied culture for much of my career, academically, professionally and personally. The math that we can do on populations of birds or other species doesn’t apply to people, because people build, change and experience culture differently than any other species.
It’s culture that pushes us to dig deeper and do things that we might not otherwise do. It’s culture that pushes us to become better versions of ourselves; even better than what anyone ever expected of us.
Look, I’m much of a data freak myself. We need science and we need to collect and use data to make decisions and influence outcomes. But everything is wrong with using it poorly (and often intentionally) to craft an agenda or to fit a narrative, which is way too much of how it’s being used today. That kind of science removes the most important component from the equation, which is culture.
It’s very tempting to use science to measure or judge people. It just makes more sense to me to see people and value them for contributions that will make the culture better tomorrow than it is today.
Truth Be Told, science will keep looking for the missing link. Let’s don’t forget about the missing culture.