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8. What is Science?: Conclusions

Everyone has an idea of what is and isn’t science, but not every opinion is equally accurate. We, as scientists, are the ones who must have a clear grasp of these concepts. Careers have been torpedoed by mistakes in this area. How do we expect non-scientists to be able to critically evaluate claims if we ourselves can’t? Once we do, it is then part of our professional obligation to help those with whom we interact to understand also.

Additionally, this ability to analyze things critically applies to more than just laboratory work. Will that health supplement in the infomercial really help me more at $100 per month than having a 50-cent apple every day? Is that politician blowing smoke about a given issue, or might there be truth in it? Who’s selling snake oil and who’s genuinely making a contribution? We educators tend to do a better job of teaching facts than teaching discernment.

Logic and epistemology used to be required parts of our curriculum, but they have faded away to footnotes as a rule. Is this part of some conspiracy? If so, no one has recruited me to join, not that I would. At least part of the explanation is that the sheer quantity of information available to us has exploded beyond anyone’s dreams or nightmares. There is so much to cover in a standard education that many things are just skimmed over, and some have gotten pushed aside. Without laying blame, I simply have tried to give a brief overview of what I feel are critical but commonly overlooked areas of study.

There are so many issues facing our society today that have deep emotional pulls on folks from each side. In order to civilly make real progress in discussing and reaching resolutions, it is important to define terms clearly, determine the kinds of evidence available and the required burden of proof. This sets the parameters. Another key requirement is avoiding ad hominem attacks. Challenges include obstruction by parties that profit from the chaos of unsettled discourse and overcoming peoples’ emotional attachment to their perspective, especially if their success rides on their view winning out.

As Paul admonished in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Maybe understanding the last few posts can help with this.


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