The Great Influenza
The 1918 influenza epidemic inspired author John M. Barry to write about the importance of uncertainty in science and research. In his piece, The Great Influenza, Barry endeavors to reveal to both researchers and men of modern science that science is not a domain in which one can rely on the comfort and strength of certainty. Rather, it is a domain that is reserved for the courageous and one in which the “weakness” of uncertainty must be embraced. To stress this point, John M. Barry rationally employs rhetorical strategies, and effectively convinces his scientifically-minded readers, that one must “move forcefully and aggressively even while uncertain” to be a successful scientist.
By juxtaposing the antithetical concepts of “certainty” and “uncertainty,” and by emphasizing the exceptional burdens of the latter, Barry compels his readers to acknowledge the courage that is required of any successful scientists and, indeed, to appreciate the unnatural skills that a scientist must possess in order to “overcome significant obstacles.” He effectively argues that uncertainty, though a weakness, is a cross that all scientists must bear and that, in order to become a successful scientist at all, one must first recognize that weakness and then persevere in spite of it. To the casual observer, venturing into the unknown might seem the more courageous feat of the scientists, but, as the allusion to Bernard’s quote reveals, the most courageous feat, and what science endeavors to teach most of all, is “to doubt” – that is, to be uncertain and to work with the discomfort of that uncertainty.
Einstein himself, who is generally revered as one of the greatest scientists in the scientific pantheon, had even remained uncertain of his own theory until it was proven empirically correct. And Barry likewise makes it clear to his readers that to believe exclusively in the “process of inquiry” is, above all else, a prerequisite for...
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