Monday, August 11, 2014

Science vs opinion

i was just thinking about the Large Hadron Collider. It took 10 years to build, and according to wikipedia
The LHC was built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories.[3] It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres (17 mi) in circumference, as deep as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland.
That's a lot of time and expense and effort, to find this "higgs particle". I have tried and failed to understand exactly (or even approximately) what that is, but you've gotta think if they've gone to all that effort and expense they've gotta be pretty damn certain of success.

in which case... wouldn't that be proof enough? "We are so sure this is what's up, we're going to spend 10 years and however much money it takes to build this thing to prove it". To me that's like... you know what? That's good enough for me. I'll take your word for it.

That's not how science works though. They have to prove it. And from time to time you'll read where they were sure of something, set out to prove it, actually discovered it was something else and they aren't even sure why just yet but they're going to try to figure it out.

You read about studies too, where the result is "a suggestion" that something is plausible enough to warrant a more stringent study to make absolutely sure. And sometimes the more stringent study actually suggests the opposite.That study might be carried out by the same people, or by others. The prime example would be when the researchers who provided key evidence of gluten sensitivity thoroughly showed that it does not exist, in a later study. Still, I've observed several people dismissing the later study in preference of the first one, which better suits their confirmation bias.

So... when you think about all this. When science says "we know this to be true", or "we have established that this is a fact", the standard is really as high as high could be. It's not just "here's the idea we're going to run with" and no one wanting to throw a spanner in the works with an opposing theory. That's the thing, they actually TEST those theories so they KNOW if they're right or not.

And yet...

Whether it is self appointed nutrition experts, anti vaccine campaigners or whoever else... there are so many big mouths out there who'll completely reject all of that on the basis of "well, I thought about it for a few minutes and this is what seems most likely to me". That'd be fine and there'd be a cause for debate, if it was on a topic that had never been tested.

When something has been tested, the method scrutinised, retested again, and the findings are consistent with our observations... there' s no shame in being corrected if you're an untrained person who had speculated on the topic and come to a different conclusion.

To insist that you're still correct though in defiance of the body of evidence though? To insist that your personal speculation be considered as a valid alternative to tested and proven theories? That is sheer arrogance and belligerently willful ignorance.

While we do all have a right to an opinion, in cases where presenting that opinion as fact can impact the wellbeing of others, we have a moral obligation to ensure that this opinion is accurate and factual, based on the best available evidence.