Saturday, January 16, 2010

First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All The...

      In Shakespeare’s play, King Henry VI, Dick the Butcher says, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” In the play Dick was a follower of Jack Cade, who planned to overthrow the government and install himself as king. Taken out of context the quote appears to denigrate lawyers; coming from disreputable characters such as Dick and Jack, the quote is actually a compliment to those who are the first line of defense against disorder in society.
      But over the past few decades the same sort of attitude seems to have become popular about scientists, and it comes from people who should know better. One of the drawbacks of the information explosion is that everyone thinks his or her personal opinion is as good as the next person’s. And perhaps it would be if not for two problems: 1.) Not all the information received over the internet is accurate, or even true, and 2.) Not everyone is trained to correctly or logically process the information received.
      It would seem obvious that Joe Sixpack’s opinion on a subject about which he knows only what he gets from the internet, is not as good as the opinion of a scientist who has spent half a life-time studying the subject. But Joe Sixpack thinks it is, and there are a lot of Joes out there. And the more dubious opinions that are floating around, the more likely it is that the reliable information gets lost in the shuffle.
      Of course, there are always people who have an agenda, and the more their agenda flies in the face of true science, the more faulty is the information they spread.
      For example, currently there is a discussion among scientists regarding some of the detailed workings of evolution, but very few legitimate scientists doubt that evolution is the way the biological world works. Nevertheless creation scientists (an oxymoron) are preaching that scientists “disagree” on evolution. And rightly or wrongly, most scientists refuse to stoop to arguing about a “disagreement” that doesn’t exist.
      Perhaps some of the problem stems from the definitions of “theory.” According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, the definition of a scientific theory is, “A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena.” But there is also a non-scientific definition which says, “A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of fact.”
      Persons with an anti-science agenda argue that “Evolution is just a theory,” thereby applying the second definition to the first situation.
      And because Joe Sixpack does not have the experience or training to evaluate the overwhelming amount of information he receives, he believes them. Thus the distrustful attitude toward scientists.

No comments:

Post a Comment