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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to Think About Science

I was listing to the opening segment of an interesting set of broadcasts collectively entitled "How to Think About Science" and I thought it had some very interesting points. The one I thought that was most interesting was when Simon Schaffer pointed out that science, while normally celebrated as promoting skepticism and a reliance upon personal evidence and observation, was in reality a systematic organization of trust. You will have to listen to the broadcast for his full argument, but it is essentially that no one can practically witness evidence for everything one accepts as true, but where science excels is in giving a powerful framework for deciding who and what should be given credence.

I thought that was a very interesting and thought-provoking observation. It is quite simple and seems obvious after hearing it, but in many ways those are the best thoughts to have. I found myself thinking about it this morning as I read the news. So many of our world's problems, especially in the political sphere, are based on issues of trust. It is one of the exceptionally messy aspects of politics that makes me want to practically avoid the field. It is also why pseudoscientific things like creationism/intelligent design and alternative medicine continue to flourish outside of the scientific world (in the realm of the popular and political) where there is not that system of rigorous evaluation to keep them in check.