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What's in YOUR water?

Tonight, a friend sent an email link to a story indicating a conspiracy allowing toxins in the water as byproducts of fluoridation. She sent it because I’m a chemist and wanted my take. I said that drinking water is usually tested for these very toxins, so I was doubtful that the story was a significant issue, but it was worth keeping one’s ears open for more information. She didn’t really like my response—I wasn’t taking things seriously enough, saying, “Can you prove the story wrong?” >sigh<

I was telling Dad about the exchange, and his comment was insightful. To wit, people interpret data based on their presuppositions, not necessarily letting the data draw its own conclusions. Hence, Christians and Naturalists look at the data and draw conclusions about Origin of Life and the Universe issues based on their worldview assumptions. If you assume that no supernatural realm exists, then obviously God couldn’t have created the place. If you assume the possibility of the supernatural, then you are open to more possibilities, more willing to allow the data to tell its own story.

As academicians, we are often called upon for our ‘expert opinion’ on this or that topic/issue/event. Often, it is in areas that are related to ours, but not directly in our line of expertise. How we respond is often important. Often, the questions are, let’s face it, based on complete and appalling levels of ignorance, on the scale of, “The folks in my department are NEVER gonna believe THIS one!” Now is where our talents as educators really have a chance to shine. How do we explain in brief, simple terms the information needed, without making the person feel like a fool, and in enough detail that they are less likely to misinterpret us when they tell others?

Nuance, respect, and short simple facts, supplemented with good analogies (parables?) work wonders. Yet, like my friend, we may never overcome their decisions to hold on to already formed opinions.

You can lead a horse to water, but will they believe your assurance it’s safe?


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