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Communicating Science

This is a continuation of the previous post.

It should come as no surprise to scientists to find that many people, who have received poor science educations, should be pretty “skeptical” about some scientific conclusions or observations. After all, I have never seen a black hole either. I am taking it on faith that the scientists who have studied them know what they’re talking about.

Yhat’s an easy thing for me to do, because I have studied science, and I have a strong sense about how scientific consensus is achieved. Once enough people of different stripes start to agree on the meaning of the data, that’s when we have scientific consensus. And that’s when we’ve gotten as-close-to-right-as-we’re-gonna-get.

I also understand that in many fields of science, there are only handfuls, maybe hundreds, of people in the entire world who can truly understand the data that their conclusions are based on. This doesn’t bother me. I respect that that is the case.

But many people don’t understand that. Most people have not been closely related to the field of science. And many who have, have been involved in fields of “science” that many hard scientists would question the validity of as well: medical science, political science, psychological science, social science…

Full disclosure: my experience is in the fields of medical and psychological science. Many hard scientists like to scoff at our findings as they do tend to be less reliable than those in the harder sciences.

What makes these fields “sciences” is not so much that they are looking at atoms and molecules and other “scientific” phenomena. It’s that they use the scientific method to make as-close-to-right-as-we’re-gonna-get statements about the phenomena they study.

And they can be pretty good at it too.

But they don’t always communicate their results so adequately. Sometimes they make stronger statements than they should, and they turn out to be wrong. This makes all scientists look dumb, even the ones who would never have made such statements to begin with.

But those who undervalue the use of the scientific method in fields like psychology or medicine do not understand the incredible benefits of it. There is so much that we now know about how to be healthy, how to have good relationships, how the environment affects our health and well-being, and how sensitive and vulnerable humans are to stress and manipulation that we could only have guessed at before. This way, since we have systematically compared our ideas (hypotheses) with valid data, we can make more educated as-close-to-right-as-we’re-gonna-get statements about the things that interest us.

Scientists may need to make a more concentrated effort to explain not only the results of science, but its process to those who claim some skepticism towards it. Otherwise we are just asking people to take it on faith.

And we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t.

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