Want to ‘save’ Science? Then Follow the Evidence, not the Consensus

Science has run into some problems as of late and the organized March for Science didn’t address these.  In fact, it turned out to be mostly about politics, and set an example of how to not do science.

The central issue is that people are being taught not to question what science tells us, or what is being passed off as science. The celebrity scientists of our day encourage STEM programs, wax on how amazing science is, and how important it is for you to study it.

But don’t question it. Anytime someone yells “the consensus says,” you should stop and shake your head in agreement.

This isn’t science. It’s pseudoscience at best, brainwashing into conformity at worst.

Dr. Jonathan Witt writes:

Think about it. Thank goodness Copernicus had the courage not to stay in line and march. Thank goodness Newton didn’t scurry back into line when critics said his theory of gravity was “spooky action at a distance.” Thank goodness Louis Pasteur didn’t stay in line and support the mainstream scientific view that life could spontaneously generate from non-life. And thank goodness Alfred Wegner broke ranks and insisted the continents were not fixed but drift.

Each of these scientists was ridiculed but later vindicated. Their willingness to break ranks and question the “scientific consensus” was key to scientific progress…

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions highlighted what is today a truism among historians of science: Reigning scientific paradigms, challenged by new and contrary evidence, do not go gently. Most scientists who invest their careers in a paradigm find it hard to admit the mistake. So scientific revolutions often happen very slowly, and only after brave scientists break ranks and wage a long campaign, risking the ire of their colleagues.

Science isn’t decided by consensus, but rather the strength of models and their ability to withstand counter-evidence, while amassing more support of their own. Often the consensus has been wrong, not necessarily because people misunderstood nature, but due to bias or a priori commitments to a belief or philosophy.

Once the consensus claimed cigarettes didn’t cause cancer.

Once the consensus claimed continents didn’t move.

Once the consensus scoffed at the idea of asteroids ever hitting Earth in the past.

Once the consensus ridiculed the idea of the universe beginning at a finite time in the past.

And so on.

Bioengineer Matti Leisola, writes in Heretic:

Scientific progress requires some healthy skepticism…How could science progress if we could never question or abandon the majority scientific opinion? In science we should follow the evidence, not cling to pet theories.

Unfortunately, the academic world of science doesn’t always hold the ideals of free thought and debate very dearly. And scientists, like all people, don’t like to be challenged. Leisola continues:

We all have a tendency to avoid knowledge and opinions that threaten our position and worldview…And scientists are no different from other people. A scientific investigator’s framework or paradigm often hinders him or her from fairly considering other views. The temptation is to consider a contrary paradigm to be not just in error but heretical.

The rush to make science support certain views and theories, has led to an ongoing parade of troubling revelations, like this recent one in The Economist, of the corrupted peer review process.

What the marches for science failed to realize is that the biggest threats to science don’t come from the outside, but from within.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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