Science and Evolution

I had lunch today with a friend who told me about the university professors up north.  They can’t wait for winter, she told me, when they can actually SEE their words of wisdom emerge from their mouths in a frosty puff of air.

Been there, done that.  Scientists can be very irritating, pompous, puffed up and egotistical.

Fortunately for us all, there is a method that tends to rein in the scientific ego.  More importantly, this method draws a sharp, strict line between the scientific opinions of scientists and their personal opinions.  This of course involves the scientific method, and specifically the part that requires publication in a refereed journal.  Refereed means other scientists evaluate the paper before it can be published.

Basic scientists (I’m not talking about technology here) — science requires that people who engage in research must publish that research before their efforts are recognized as valid.  That’s not like getting a poem published, or a letter to the editor.  It requires that the article be reviewed by other scientists who do the same kind of work.  Competitors.  The reviewers read the research very carefully, looking for mistakes, misinterpretations, or inappropriate use of data.  This is for the benefit of the author and of the reviewers and for the progress of scientific knowledge.  If any bad science or mistaken opinions make it through the review process, everyone would be embarrassed.  It has happened – and they were.

This system, believe me, is tough, but I have made it through a few times as you can see by Google or PubMed.

And my point is?  Besides blowing hot air.

My point is, when you are trying to evaluate conflicting claims about things that are scientific, public debates usually are not very useful.  It’s already been debated firmly and politely, and I will say wonderfully collaboratively,  in the review process.  If you want to go to the trouble to understand the scientists’ results, and you want to discuss these results with the scientist, most scientists are located in universities.  Their job is education.  If you are genuinely well informed and if you have an original idea or an important question, scientists are usually accessible by email.

If you have been hearing someone in Austin ranting and raving over the past few weeks, and trying to debate important issues that we all should be working together to solve for the benefit of the community, you can be pretty sure there is some kind of Misdirect going on.  Look them up on google and PubMed, and check out their record of publication in peer reviewed journals before you decide whether or not their opinion is equally as well informed as that of the scientists.

This advice applies only to peer reviewed science published in scientific journals.  Other methods of inquiry, other than science, do not use the scientific method, and many do not enforce a peer review system.

Then you will still need to decide which is more important, the short-term power of the loud stump speech or the long term power of raising up a generation of students who are competent and competitive because they know the difference between science and other things and they know how to use the scientific method to evaluate fact-based reality.

Because when nearly all the published, peer-reviewed biologists agree on something — it’s not “just” a theory.

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