Opinion

For science’s sake, emphasize the scientific method

We need to reestablish the credibility of scientists

Like most members of the MIT community, I am aghast by the large fraction of the U.S. population that does not believe in climate change, the theory of evolution, or the age of the universe.

I wish to meet these people to ask politely: What of science do you believe in: Gravity? Electromagnetism? Quantum Mechanics? Then I would address the paradox that their using modern technology, such as GPS, would mean also their endorsing of the scientific theories. Rather the thoroughness of pseudo-science that these “deniers” believe in are to that of actual science as night is to day.

All of science — whether gravity, or genetics, or climate change — is built from applying the scientific method, a thorough procedure for investigating, acquiring, and correcting scientific knowledge. This method has allowed humanity to make so much progress understanding the universe around us. The credibility of the science field is built on by calculated researchers following this method. The seminal experiments proving relativity is no less scientific than those experiments proving climate change. Therefore, those rejecting the science of evolution but embracing technologies that employ other canonical concepts such as the relativity in global positioning system are not only picking and choosing what they want to believe, but also contradicting themselves.

One of the most important aspects of the scientific method to highlight is the process for when a theory becomes a law of nature. By developing a hypothesis, trying to falsify it, and then slowly gathering evidence either refutes or supports it, scientists have a model that welcomes skepticism. But as scientists accumulate evidence in favor of a given theory critics become less and less skeptic. Eventually, the proposed model reach a point where so much evidence support a theory, that it wins over peer and public skepticism. We have reached this point for climate change and evolution.

Even if you disagree, there is one mode of thought that you cannot disagree with: the scientific method itself. When you look at today’s society, you will see everywhere the derivatives of the method: the electricity running through our sockets following the behavior illustrated by the Maxwell’s equations; the silicon in our computer chips abiding by the laws of quantum mechanics; and the plethora of medicines we use to combat disease synthesized from our knowledge of molecular biology. Users of these technologies and products unknowingly accept the science. For those denying actual sciences but practicing them daily, they are irrevocably invoking the scientific method. These “deniers” must see through the lenses of the scientific method. Only then can they understand that climate change and evolution are not theoretical conceptions but axioms of our universe.

As one of the top scientific research universities in the world, MIT must be more aggressive in overturning the ignorance of the public on issues of climate change and evolution. We need to point out the wrongs in people believe to be true. After all, while the theory of general relativity is as abstract and difficult to understand as climate change, there are no “deniers” of relativity laws. Is that because those denying climate change and evolution simply just resisting behavior change? Perhaps they do not want to be told how to act in the interest of others on the grounds of science, and thus are denouncing those certain sciences in protest.

But we cannot sit idly by while such people are tarnishing the credibility of scientists. Questioning climate change is equivalent to questioning whether there really is electricity. We as scientists need to do our most in making that connection clear. The public minds are depending on us to expose those denying fundamental laws of science to be frauds. We need to reestablish ourselves to be true authorities.

2 Comments
1
Socialist Worker over 4 years ago

The problem concerning evolution is one of religion. Darwin's Origin of the Species and the Theory of Evolution directly conflicts with Judeo-Christian dogma found in the book of Genesis. Darwin himself knew that his ideas of natural selection and genetic variations would conflict with the Church of England's view. If the Catholic Church and Conservative Protestants give in on this it puts their whole world view on other questions like abortion and sex without marriage up for debate by their own parishioners. The less of a grip religion has on people the less power the various Churches have over them.

In the case of global warming you are bringing into question how some of the most powerful corporations on earth operate their business'. GM and Standard Oil were founded first and for most to make profits for their stock holders. Making cars and gasoline is a 'dirty' but highly profitable business's. The owners don't want anyone interfering with how the conduct their business or making decisions on any basis that interferes with profitability.

2
Anonymous over 4 years ago

One traditional model of the scientific method is:

1.Define a question

2.Gather information and resources (observe)

3.Form an explanatory hypothesis

4.Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner

5.Analyze the data

6.Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis

7.Publish results

8.Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

The iterative cycle inherent in this step-by-step method goes from point 3 to 6 back to 3 again. (Wikipedia)

While I don't know anyone who questions "climate change," I am aware of scientists and common people who disagree that we are in a period of "global warming" or that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that global warming and cooling trends are the result of human activity. I think the facts are not reflecting the theory, so the scientists are refining they theory. It's absurd to equate this theory with the existence of electricity.

Socialist Worker - A cursory examination of Catholic teaching contradicts your premise that the Theory of Evolution directly contradicts Judeo-Christian Dogma.

I agree that financial interests can often pervert science to meet their own ends. I am sure that the companies you refer to do this. However, let's not presuppose that scientists are above financial motivations.

The people primarily responsible for the tarnishing of the credibility of scientists are scientists themselves. They need to make sure they don't overstate their claims (like the author in this article did) and can replicate their experiments.