San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Do You Doubt Science?

Before I traveled to Phoenix for a vacation a couple of weeks ago I read a series of Letters to the Editor of the Denver Post dealing with the topic of science and why so many people apparently doubt the alleged truths emanating from it.  Three letters were published under the headline, "Why do so many Americans doubt science?"  I was intrigued by that headline.  What does it mean to "doubt" science?  To me doubt is a religious term.  When I say that I have doubts about something it is almost always in the context of some sort of faith proposition.  At the very least it is in the context of a proposition that cannot be scientifically or logically proven.  I doubt that Troy Tulowitzki will play all 162 games for the Rockies this year.  I can't prove that belief logically nor can I prove it scientifically.  It is a faith proposition that I hold based upon my own experience.
The fact that the concept of doubt is so closely associated with science is truly confusing.  The scientific process has no place for doubt.  We all remember our grade school instruction about the scientific method, don't we?  Remember how some person comes along and proposes a hypothesis in order to explain something that he has observed.  He tests his hypothesis, valiantly trying to prove it wrong, and eventually comes to the conclusion that his hypothesis must be correct if he is incapable of proving it wrong.  He publishes his results and invites others to prove him wrong.  Other scientists examine his conclusions and also try to prove him wrong.  With enough time and energy being expended investigating the matter at issue it eventually comes to a point where it is safe to say that some sort of scientific consensus has evolved because nobody has been able to prove the hypothesis wrong. 
Most people believe in gravity even though it is an invisible force and even physicists have no idea how it actually works.  But gravity has been tested so many times, with no examples that I am aware of where it did not operate as predicted, that scientists have come to call the operation of gravity a law.  There are not many laws in science but there are a few.  When the newspaper asks the question as to why so many Americans doubt science I would expect that doubt to be related to things known to science as laws.  It is truly absurd to doubt the law of gravity.  You are certainly free to do so but I would also expect you to live your life as if gravity does not operate the way it does.  You will not be alive for long.  In that case doubting the law of gravity is really stupid.  But that is not what the letters written to the editor were about.
Robert Ferene, of Longmont, writes, "The common element that corrupts clear and truthful scientific process is money.  So much scientific research is bought and paid for by corporate special interests....This has been true especially in the case of GMO research, and now, increasingly with oil industry shills who falsely claim a dearth of substantiated science demonstrating the environmental and human health dangers of fracking chemicals and processes.  The sooner we can get corporate money out of science the better of we will all be."  Well, Robert certainly makes his position clear.  The fact that GMO foods are inherently dangerous for human beings and the fact that fracking is hurting the environment and making human beings sick is a law of science that cannot be denied by anybody except those blinded by corporate bribery.  I must ask Robert a question.  Is it really true that the belief that GMO foods are harmful to humans is a scientific law?  Is there really no place for debate about the role of fracking in our world?  Do you truly believe that I will soon end up dead if I eat GMO foods and allow an oil company to drill a horizontal well on my property, just as I would most certainly end up dead if I denied the law of gravity?  Robert, I have one more question for you.  How can you be so stupid?
Guy Wroble, of Denver, writes, "The logical outgrowth of a nonjudgmental heterogeneous society is that it ultimately leads to people saying, 'Your facts are not my facts.'  This goes a long way to explain why water fluoridation opponents, vaccine avoiders, and deniers of human-caused climate change all flourish.  In the absence of acknowledged authority, there may be no avoiding a return to beliefs based on random occurrences, spurious correlations, ignorance and superstition."  Wow, Guy is certain filled with intellectual pride, isn't he?  Who is to fill the role of this "authority" he so adamantly believes we so desperately need?  Although he does not answer that question I suspect it would be "scientists" who are paid by the government.  We all know that money from government is always free of taint and always guarantees scientifically objective results.  We all know that global warming scientists who are on the government dole are in no way influenced by their paychecks when they make their authoritative pronouncements about man-caused global warming, don't we?  It reminds me of that wonderful period of time in our history when government scientists universally agreed that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  Anyone stupid enough to disagree with those ironclad laws of science was generally captured and left to rot in some horrendous dungeon somewhere.  It also reminds me of a period in my life when there was a total scientific consensus, or at least a consensus among scientists on the government dole, that the earth was getting colder and we were doomed to a future of ice and cold if the government did not spend billions of dollars fighting it. 
Martin Allen, of Centennial, begins by listing the things he believes are scientific laws prior to drawing his dubious conclusion about our doubts.  He writes"...this issue highlights misconceptions such as; 1) climate change does not exist; 2) evolution never happened; 3) the moon landing was fake; 4) vaccinations can lead to autism; and 5) genetically modified food is evil....One of the reasons for the public's doubt originates from right-wing conservatives who constantly berate science to pander to their constituents."  For Martin it all boils down to a vast right-wing conspiracy.  How convenient.  Well, at least Martin gets three out of five correct.  But Martin, please tell me when the theories of global warming and evolution became laws.  I know a lot of credible people who present many credible arguments against the twin theories of anthropogenic global warming and evolution.
Perhaps the religion of evolution is the best way to end today's post.  I began asking why we use the word 'doubt' when discussing scientific issues.  We now have an answer to that question.  What many people present as scientific laws are really nothing more than religious beliefs.  The religion of evolution undoubtedly serves as the best example of this truth.  Since evolution is a religion it is entirely proper to describe those who oppose its tenets as doubters.  Just don't call us unscientific as that is completely untrue.

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