Regarding those mistakes made by science…

ddt-is-good-for-meI know I shouldn’t use the conspiracy theory fallacy when talking about the pseudoscience-pushing science deniers, who are the bread and butter of topics for skeptics. But, when I keep observing the same ridiculous and insanely illogical arguments used in the same manner by all of the deniers, I begin to wonder if they don’t get together annually at the International Society of Pseudoscience meeting, usually held in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo. They obviously share their stories, because we hear the same regurgitated stories in different contexts.

The antivaccinationists, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on a trope that “science makes mistakes.” And then they produce a list of historical events that “prove” that science is wrong. Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit these “science makes mistakes” tropes.

By the way, in my story, I admit that “science makes mistakes,” so read on. Continue reading “Regarding those mistakes made by science…”

Science is not based on absolutes–Richard Dawkins proves that

dawkins-bus-advertOne of the tropes of pseudoscience pushers is that science is too fungible, that is, scientists can change their mind or, horrors of horrors, refuse to make an absolute “this is the TRUTH™” statement. There are numerous articles, published in peer-reviewed, high impact factor journals, that state “more research should be done to confirm these results.” The anti-science crowd uses these comments as “evidence” that science isn’t sure about something.

Black/white absolute truth doesn’t exist in real science. Many people state that science “seeks truth,” and it does, if we do not ascribe moral qualities to the word “truth.” Actually, science seeks evidence to support or refute a hypothesis (or some other scientific principle like a theory). It’s all about the evidence (and the quality thereof), not about proving that it’s either this or that.

Part of the problem, amongst both “pro-science” and anti-science types is that they both think that science is some magical word to either be loved or despised depending on the answer it provides. But science is, in reality, a coherent method to find an answer to a question about the natural universe, but it is not itself the answer. Science is a systematic and logical process, using the scientific method, that finds and builds data, and eventually knowledge, into testable explanations and predictions about the natural universe. it is not a magical word that implies truth, but it is a rigorous process to separate meaningless information from high quality evidence in support or refutation of an explanation of the natural world. 

Oftentimes, someone will report that “scientists believe that birds are living dinosaurs” or “scientists believe humans cause global warming.” To the lay audience that sounds like a bunch of men and women, sitting in an apartment with a keg of beer, a dartboard, and inventing some new theory. OK, in my experience, we have often sat around with a keg of beer and a dartboard, but we were discussing 10 years of research and how to sum it up clearly. Or wondering if a new set of results adds to the data or may actually move us in a different direction. But all of it was based on many years of hard work (including education, bench and field research, withering criticisms from peers and mentors, and countless nights of worrying if an experiment would fail because the power went off), not just making a random guess.

Moreover, even after hard work, publications, and critiques, science is filled with doubt. New evidence, as long as it is as strong as the evidence that supported a previously held explanation, can create new explanations and predictions. The whole scientific process is based upon criticism, open-mindedness and accumulation of new data. It’s not based on “ok, we’re done, we’ve answered all of the questions.” Science evolves over times, because it simply isn’t dogmatic. Continue reading “Science is not based on absolutes–Richard Dawkins proves that”

The proper definition of a skeptic-once more with feeling

conspiracyPropagandists everywhere misappropriate words to use in manners that benefit them and their agendas. For me, looking out at the natural world in a scientific manner, the most misappropriated word is skeptic (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). I previously disliked the word, actually quite a bit, because it had a negative connotation. But I’ve embraced it over the past few years, and I now get offended when it’s misused.

The problem with the word “skeptic” is that it is used differently in different circumstances, much like the word “theory” has a different meaning in a formal scientific context than it does in common vernacular. To the average person, a skeptic is  a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. In other words, this type of skeptic just doubts everything, whether or not that doubt is backed by any type of evidence. It’s not very meaningful in terms of scientific discussion, and it it carries little weight in a debate about the scientific merits of an idea or a scientific hypothesis. In ordinary usage, this type of skepticism has one of three meanings:

  1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  2. the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  3. the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics. Continue reading “The proper definition of a skeptic-once more with feeling”

Richard Dawkins and the existence of god

You’re going to be reading this story about Richard Dawkins and his doubts about the NON-existence of god.  The Telegraph, a British newspaper, wrote about a recent public discussion between Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the traditional head of the Church of England (known as Anglicans outside of the USA, and Episcopalians in the USA):

There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”

Continue reading “Richard Dawkins and the existence of god”