Letter from the President: Light, science, and truth

01 May 2021
By David Andrews

Science is a realm centered on the pursuit of truth. Alongside the most ancient principles of civil law, its internal structures impose severe sanctions against propagation of falsehood: Both are equally based on principles of test and validation.

In the sphere of scientific conferences and publishing, we find remarkably uniform acceptance of this foundational structure. Throughout its numerous disciplines, and across the globe, the evaluation of scientific reports is structured to support propositions that ultimately square with objective reality. In the teeth of scrutiny by reviewers and conference audiences, any notions that fail analytic dissection and challenge are soon cast aside. Theory rises or falls through its testing by experimentation.

It is the applied sciences and technology that provide the clearest, most tangible verification of established principles. The fruits of scientific progress and consolidation are available for all to see in materials and devices that serve society. Why should we believe the textbook laws of semiconductor electronics or electrodynamics? Evidence is in the myriad devices we use each day.

One of the most singular features of SPIE as a scientific society is the extent of its compass, from fundamental theory to commercial product. With its strong representations across the board in academia, industry, health services, and government agencies, this mix of "pure and applied" research is a highly distinctive and widely recognized character, strategically nurtured. It is hard to identify other organizations that can so comprehensively serve and represent this full breadth of the scientific community.

It is entirely fitting that a society dedicated to the study and applications of light should pin its colors to the mast of truth. Deep in the heart of humanity, there is a profound sense of connection between light and truth. We find it in countless maxims of world religions. In a current Festival of Light exhibition at the National Gallery in London, the catalog states: "Across cultures, light is an ancient symbol of understanding and intellectual thought: it is the opposite of ignorance, or darkness."

The annual UNESCO International Day of Light on 16 May reminds us of the myriad practical outpourings of optical science. SPIE was a prominent supporter of its instigation, and is represented on the Day of Light Steering Committee. Every practitioner of optics and photonics is warmly encouraged to use this annual opportunity to spread the word on the central role these subjects play in everyday life. SPIE is also a signatory to a "Trust Science Declaration and Pledge," a document currently submitted for UNESCO endorsement. Solid science underpins every modern civilization, and it is ignored only at their peril.

The science of light and the light of truth: together they encapsulate our mission.

David Andrews

David Andrews

2021 SPIE President
president@spie.org

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