How can we distinguish between good and poor scientific answers?

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The awareness of science differs between a scientist and the general public. A scientist tries to understand everything down to the smallest detail and the general public likes to know little detail about everything. How can everyone be satisfied in a good way?

We regard, often unknowingly, science somehow as a holy oracle which can provide straight forward simple answers to any given question at once. In contrast, a scientist likes to understand how the oracle came to an answer, but is not much interested in the answer itself.

This different awareness of science is difficult to resolve. How can we decide whether a scientific answer is reliable and not an oracle whisper out of nowhere or based on only limited knowledge?

In my experience four mechanisms can be an indication of poor science answers:

  1. On the edge of extinction

    If a research result is apocalyptic and forces to act quickly you should be suspicious. This type of science answers is like a door-to-door salesman, who tries to sell you something less worth than he makes it appear. Think about how long it takes to get reliable scientific results. It takes month to years and even decades to find good answer and therefore there can be/is no rush to act quickly. This will only force you to stop thinking and to act in the authors’ fashion.

    Apocalyptic science results are usually guided by faith or fear and the conclusion is often drawn before the facts are known. Fear and faith are not good advisers to give the right answer, not even outside of science.

  2. Repetition

    If you read and hear the same scientific answers and arguments many times then most likely, in the good case, the authors try to make themselves important and, in the bad case, they try to make something suspicious to look correct and proven. Either way, nothing becomes true only because someone repeats a statement many enough times.

  3. Political involvement

Usually, if politicians are involved in scientific answers, public opinion is more important than facts. The purpose of a politician is to channel public needs and wishes into state rules and laws, but they don’t have the knowledge to provide scientific answers. Politicians only support scientific answers which suits their own ambitions.

  1. Lobby-work

    Everyone has an agenda, but this does not necessarily lead to poor scientific answers. Nevertheless, if a research group reaches a certain degree of power an agenda becomes lobby-work with their own dynamic. Unfortunately, scientific lobby-groups try to keep alive or in power even when new research results point in a different direction. They become obsessed and ignore all results which challenge their built paradigm by all costs necessary.

As Ibn Al-Haytham an ancient scholar wrote 1000 years ago: “We must be seekers of truth and not rely on any consensus.”

“Research should always refuse authorities as such. Skepticism is the highest of researchers duty; blind faith is the one unpardonable sin”, as T.H. Huxley felicitous pointed out.

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