Judi Stuart: Don’t take my word for it, but scientific method is sound

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What is the truth?

Do you know it when you hear it?

Can you believe it when you see it? Does it even exist?

An ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, reputedly wandered the land carrying a lantern looking for a truly honest man. His quest was the beginning of cynicism.

A 2012 survey published by the National Science Foundation revealed that, “4-in-10 American adults doubt evolution, over half are confident that the Big Bang took place, just under 40 percent don’t believe that pollution is causing climate change, and 15 percent don’t believe in the safety of vaccines.”

Why do Americans sometimes reject scientific theories?

Perhaps people have become more cynical because they are bombarded with shocking news every day which is presented as factual. Last week there was news that the sweeteners made from stevia might have an organism that might be harmful to humans. There was no data, no studies that followed the correct protocol, and no information on who put forth the findings.

Science started out as stories which were told in an attempt to answer the question “why.” Much later, thinking became more sophisticated, and as observations became theories, testing, experimenting, and exploration followed.

Science gained respectability in some circles, but there have always been people who have fought new ideas. Fiction favorites like “Frankenstein,” “2001 A Space Odyssey,” and “The Andromeda Strain” suggested that science might one day take us a step too far.

Of course, there is what is known as “junk science” which is presented as authentic science. Usually, the information touted by those presenting these types of studies is not sound and has not adhered to the tried and true scientific method. Rejection of scientific findings can be based on religious, political or personal beliefs.

Students and parents both complain about the yearly school mandated science project which requires that students learn and follow the scientific method. However, knowledge of the process is a tool which can be valuable throughout the student’s life.

The steps of questioning, hypothesis, procedure, experimentation, data analysis, and conclusion are a sound method for analyzing many of life’s problems. The process is orderly and based on logical, time-tested reasoning.

How do we tell the difference between junk science and authentic science?

There are several questions to be considered:

• Is a reputable organization such as a university presenting the information?

• Who will benefit from the general public believing the conclusions?

• Who paid for the research?

• Was the scientific method followed?

• Were there sufficient trials to make the study valid?

• Were the groups being studied large enough?

• Are there words like might, possibly, and could in the presentation?

As consumers of information, we must be extremely critical of what is given to us. Junk science is often the type of science practiced when politics and business enter the picture. The result is that the facts desired by one group or another get emphasized over others.

Like Diogenes, we must seek the truth.

Judi Stuart is the visitor services 
coordinator for Port Discover. She is a retired educator.

Comments

What a thoughtful, wonderful,

What a thoughtful, wonderful, and timely article; thank you for taking your time to write it. I think this article is very basic and long overdue. Your reference to the 2012 Survey is timely. In my lifetime I have known hundreds of folks that belong in the survey. Isn't it a shame! Ignorance is a natural trait. Stupidity is a choice.

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