how to fix science

I would love to say that I had all the answers. Because that would be awesome. Seriously, if I could single-handedly usher in a new age of Scientific Enlightenment, that would be pretty much the coolest thing I could ever do. Well, maybe the second coolest, unless it also somehow involved skin-tight black leather outfits, this one girl I know, various pieces of sporting equipment, punk music, the Tianhe-1A supercomputer cluster, a 60-meter rope, and Antarctica.

But I digress.

Random tangents aside, I do think there is one very simple thing scientists could do to promote science in general and to make the process of scientific inquiry more accessible to the public at large. And it’s really as simple as rephrasing the argument.

Take Global Warming for example. In the 20th century, the global temperature increased 0.74 degrees Celsius, according to the 2007 IPCC report. So that means Global Warming is an indisputable fact, right?

Well, no. What it means is that the theory that the earth is getting warmer is the scientific theory that best describes the available evidence. Science doesn’t deal with “facts”. Science isn’t an ideology. Science is simply a process of coming up with theories to explain available evidence, and performing experiments or studies to support or disprove existing theories.

And we look damn sexy in our white labcoats.

The only other criteria for a scientific theory is that it has to be falsifiable. Therefore Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory because we cannot prove that God is not somehow involved in the process of evolution. Evolution on the other hand is falsifiable because we could, theoretically, discover a 65-million-year-old fossil of a human riding a dinosaur.

Which would be pretty damn awesome.

And that’s the thing about science; if we’re confronted with credible evidence that contradicts an existing theory, we modify or replace the theory to accommodate the new evidence. As the creator of the delightful webcomic xkcd put it: SCIENCE. IT WORKS, BITCHES.

Getting back to Global Warming, a 2009 poll found that around 50% of Americans don’t believe that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. At this point I feel compelled to point out that 50% of Americans also have an IQ of 100 or less, but that’s probably just a coincidence.

So is Global Warming caused by humans? What does science say? Well, that’s just it. Science doesn’t have a “yes” or “no” answer, because that isn’t how science works. What we have is this: The theory that Global Climate Change is due to human action is the theory that best describes the available evidence.

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not “real” “a fact” “true” or anything like that. Not in a scientific sense, anyway. It’s just the theory that best describes the available evidence. That’s it.

And that’s how scientists should present their arguments. Because this is what we’re up against:

“[Pawlenty is] a strong candidate. I worry, however, about the energy policies he has implemented in Minnesota, which involve a lot of government intervention, and mandate the use of renewables – in my view climate change is a complete joke with no scientific backing.”

This was from a commentator at the Conservative Political Action Conference held recently in Washington, D.C. Now my first instinct is to suggest that this woman suffers from profound mental retardation, but that really isn’t fair. Because if nothing else, she seems quite blissful in her willful ignorance. But the fact is, a lot of people who deny climate change are perfectly intelligent people, but they’ve decided on an emotional level that Global Warming is false.

There’s a lot of talk about scientific consensus and scientific opinion, like it should matter. For example, the consensus among scientists is that Global Warming is real, and it’s caused by people. But so what? That’s just, like, their opinion. Or something. And who cares about some asshole’s opinion? Or even the opinion of a bunch of really smart assholes?

Look at me. I’m a scientist. I’m quite brilliant. Handsome too. I have a PhD in Computational Biochemistry, which is without a doubt one of the most complicated and difficult subjects known to mankind. Probably to some alien species too. But that does not mean that you should trust my opinion. About anything. Because I’m just as capable of being irrational as anyone else. Probably more so, in my case. In fact, I have a well-documented history of doing extremely stupid things. So unless I have credible evidence to back up my arguments, don’t just take my word for it.

Trust me.

Oh, wait….

If you’re smart, you’ve probably realized that all this is just my opinion on how scientists should present themselves and their work, but here’s a “fact”: a scientist cannot prove to the satisfaction of everyone that Global Warming is “real” or “true” or whatever, but they can prove quite easily that the theory that the climate is changing due to human action is the theory that best describes the available evidence. Then the argument becomes about what other evidence might be out there, or what experiments or studies we could perform to disprove or modify the theory. And that’s where the argument should be.

At least in my opinion.

Heh.

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About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

4 Responses to how to fix science

  1. Carlos says:

    “Look at me. I’m a scientist. I’m quite brilliant. Handsome too. I have a PhD in Computational Biochemistry, which is without a doubt one of the most complicated and difficult subjects known to mankind. Probably to some alien species too.”

    ???????

    Are you OK???? little friend EGO growing?????

    Everybody knows that Bioinorganic chemistry is the most complicated subject in the world…. and that’s a FACT.

    P.S: one of those days today for me……

  2. Cyrus says:

    “At this point I feel compelled to point out that 50% of Americans also have an IQ of 100 or less, but that’s probably just a coincidence.”

    You do know that’s perfectly normal, right? That IQ is normally distributed, with 100 as the mean score?

    • Yeah, the joke was the implication that the 50% of Americans who don’t believe in Global Warming are the same 50% of Americans with an IQ of 100 or less. But of course that isn’t really the case.

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