Science is really one of the most wonderful and misunderstood things about the Human experience. I am no scientist myself. Hell, I only understand enough about it to know when someone is trying to bullshit me. But a recent proclamation of intent to “debate” got me thinking. How can I best explain the things that set my bullshit detector off?
There is a website that is more rigidly scientific than anything I will ever write, called Quackwatch.com. Quackwatch is dedicated to exposing medical frauds and correcting some commonly held myths about medicine. A lot of what I have to say here will reflect content that I have read there.
In times past, there have been “truths” that the mainstream power in society have held to be virtually scared, and murdered, persecuted, and/or tortured people for daring to put up the slightest challenge to them. The reasons behind this despicable behaviour vary somewhat in cosmetic nature, but they all boil down to ego in the end. The individual that believes them refuses to acknowledge their untruth because it brings them more comfort to believe the lie than understand the truth. This reduces their arguments to a string of logical fallacies, some of which are so obvious and powerful that it is hardly any wonder that they indulge in the logical fallacy of believing their proposition to be true simply because a large percentage or all of a choir that they preach to believes them.
This is the first and most important beauty of science. Real science does not give a shit about the ego of the audience or even the scientist. When a scientist wants to prove something, he is obliged to devise and execute tests that will either prove or disprove his assertion. For example, if a doctor wants to prove to a patient that they have diabetes, all they need to do is test the patient’s blood and urine. If both have excessive amounts of glucose in them, as measured by tests using chemically-sensitive materials, then the assertion that the patient has diabetes is taken as valid in the absence of an alternate explanation.
This is an incredibly important point not only about medicine, but also science in general. All explanations are temporary and conditional, to be set aside in the event of better explanations emerging. This, unfortunately, is one of the key points where scientific illiterates fail to understand. A theory is called a theory regardless of how well-supported it is. And the word itself has multiple meanings. Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution is, in the hierarchy of science, both a theory and a fact. The fact part is that the occurrence of evolution has been proven so soundly that it would be completely insane to not acknowledge it as fact. Countless experiments have confirmed it. The theory part revolves around how it works and what drives it. Different ideas concerning the whys and wherefores are still debated in scientific circles, although the arguments are more about the fine details than the actual process.
Which brings me to a point I wish some people understood better about science. Just because a theory is published in a book that you happen to like does not make it scientifically valid. In fact, publishing one’s theory in a book that is released to the public rather than subjecting it to the process of peer review is a major fire alarm to those spotting what we call quackery.
Peer review is one of the most sacred processes in science. When any theoretical work is about to be published, responsible scientists bring it to a gathering of peers of all kinds. Said peers go over the data bit by bit and argue about any perceived flaws in the work. And they do so for a long time. The debate is extensive, and often brutal. Every little detail of the work is debated, and any sustained flaw in the material means the theory or paper is sent back to its originator to be refined. This process can occur numerous times for the one work.
Some sciences have produced embarrassments that took a long time to recover from. Deep sleep therapy, a process in which a patient is put into a drug-induced coma and then subjected to electro-convulsive therapy, is one of the most notorious (and yet misunderstood) examples in psychiatry. Human rights conventions prevent scientists from dissecting or analysing living Human brains (or even living animal brains for the most part). So a lot of psychiatric theory has to work upon indirect models, which results in flawed ideas passing muster. But this highlights another aspect of science that the fraudulent would like forgotten. Much like Human beings, the younger a branch of science is, the more mistakes it is liable to make. As a science, psychiatry is an infant compared to chemistry. Hence, it will make mistakes. But compared to the times when Nazi experiments in cutting open living Human heads and seeing what the contents do were still classified, the margin of error is getting radically smaller.
Do I happen to like the fact that it took brutal experiments upon living Human beings to understand the manner in which the brain’s components work together? No. But this leads us to an aspect of science that I wish the entire world would run by. Namely, a scientist worthy of his salt (so to speak) would rather be discomforted by the truth and reality than kept comfortable by a lie. Yes, there are bad scientists who would rather falsify studies or information than displease the people that they report to. This, however, is not a flaw in the scientific process itself, but rather a flaw in the manner in which scientific researchers are supervised and paid.
Being caught falsifying research, especially medical research, can have devastating consequences. For one, the powers that grant grants for scientific research will be wary to fund further research involving the caught-out scientist for a long time. Possibly the rest of their natural lives. For another, any other scientist who was working with the fraudulent scientist on the falsified research is going to be tainted in some way. Probably the most problematic consequence of being caught falsifying research is that it sets back all research in the field whilst the branches and roots of the false data are weeded out.
Is the myriad of scientific scandals in recent years proof of science’s weakness? Yes and no. As I believe I have stated, scientific methodology is very sound. But what these recent scandals prove is that science as a whole needs to get a little more pro-active about policing itself. The problem is somewhat two-fold. The scientific community is distrusted as a whole by the hick fukktard segment of the population not because of wrongs done by its constituents, but rather because the scientific community makes no effort to branch out to them. Simply making these hick fukktards aware of how little scientific knowledge they really possess, in a relative and demonstrable but understandable manner, would go a long way to rectifying the problem.
As would proper scientific education in our school system. That is, not just teaching the theories that have been accepted as fact. Teaching today’s children to understand why today’s scientific theories that are held to be fact are held to be fact would dramatically improve our world when today’s children come of age. Especially in places like America, where there is a profound culture holding ignorance to be just as good as knowledge.
During the 1970s, there were numerous programmes on television that educated audiences about various sciences. The Curiosity Show is a good example. It educated audiences about things like what is in a battery, why batteries run out even when they are not being used, and the difference between batteries that can and cannot be recharged. Educational, or so-called educational, television of today cannot hold a candle to these programmes. And their absence from airwaves today is being felt in the form of reduced scientific knowledge in the young. And if educators think that illiteracy is difficult to put an end to, that is nothing compared to trying to end scientific illiteracy.
Possibly my favourite point in the Quackwatch article concerning the nature of science is a statement that should be brutally obvious to any child. Nature is not benign. Yet we have a whole fad based on scientific illiterates telling us we could be immortal if we only ate more natural stuff. It just goes on and on.
I think it was H.G. Wells who said that the future of the Human race is a race between education and catastrophe. If the current state of affairs where a child can be brutally tortured because of the ignorance of those with supervisory power over him is any guide, then catastrophe is far in front.
It is a race that I am not in any hurry to witness the end of.