I previously wrote in defense of cog psych. Here, I want to go broader. Not my usual topic, but… I feel the need to rail in defense of science.
When I’m talking about science, I’m talking about the systematic exploration of how things work. It’s about theorizing, and testing, and refining. It’s about having rigor in that, being systematic and principled. And, importantly, it’s about sharing the results and building on the works of others. Interestingly, it’s not a human universal, but instead emerged relatively recently. However, there’s a reason it’s been so successful.
And, let’s be honest, science has flaws. There have been recent problems in replicability. Another problem is academic politics; new ideas can struggle to get recognized. Pressure to publish can lead to fake data. Folks with money can influence what research gets done, and the outcomes. Similarly, politics can play a role. Like democracy, it’s not perfect, but…and this is an important but…there’s nothing better.
The evidence for science are the things that we’ve come to count on: sanitation, transportation, medicine, the list goes on. Your ability to read this depends on science. Most of what we use all day every day has been improved by science. So, too, some bad things, like how successful marketing can be at snagging your attention. Yes, we need to use it wisely. Science can help there, too! And, importantly, most scientists are ethical, caring, diligent individuals. They do what they do for science, not for wealth, not for fame (except amongst their colleagues, which goes back to doing it for science), and most certainly not to support conspiracies.
So, trying to pick and choose what science to believe isn’t a great bet. Unless you have a deep background in a particular domain, trying to ascertain the validity is challenging. You may listen to disparate voices, but not if they’re flying the face of a concerted viewpoint of people who have spent the requisite time to be true experts. In my mind, you’re either for science, or not. Saying “well, I’m not for this science because someone said it’s controversial”, then, is just not on.
Yes, there are controversies around most science: that’s how it advances. But there’s also essential truths that most every reputable scientist in the field will agree to. And that’s how we build products, services, and ultimately societies. I was trained as a scientist (though I’m more of an engineer, tracking it and applying it to solve real problems). I know, in my field, what makes sense and what’s silly. And then, in other fields, I look to what the received wisdom is. And I know what sorts of people to listen to, and it’s not politicians, or pundits. Unless they listen to science. The best guidance comes from the folks who know the field in question. And that holds true for medicine as well as meteorology.
And sure, I too could wish I lived in a world where magic worked. But if you think about it, they, too, use systematic experimentation to find out what works. Whether Earthsea or Hogwarts, they go to schools to learn and there the professors are studying. But here, magical thinking doesn’t work. Science is what has let us knock back polio, generate electricity from sunlight, and walk on the moon.
So, if you do want to go against what the scientists or reliable interpreters tell you, don’t do it piecemeal. Abandon all the science, because you’re unlikely to get it right in a domain that’s not your expertise. If anyone is telling you contrary to what’s known, question their motives! People mislead for lots of reasons, from money to mischief. If you let them, they’ll hurt you in ways that may be stark or subtle.
If they’re steering you away from something that has been shown to be better than the alternative, you should be wary. Their tricks are myriad: lack of context, distortions, selected subsets, and outright lying. For instance, our brains are wired to see patterns. If we’re pointed to them, we’ll see them. We’re also biased to look for evidence that confirms our beliefs, and avoid what contradicts it. Thus, it’s easy to gin up potential conspiracies, despite the incredible challenge in actually pulling them off!
I’m putting it out there. I can say that, in defense of science, it’s better than any other approach. That’s my stance, what’s yours?