Consensus Is Part of the Scientific Method

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

A recent study concluded that the consensus on climate change is real. As stories like this usually do, it provoked a lot of outraged commentary. One of our Facebook commenters, however, responded with a perfectly legitimate question: “And how does consensus fit into the Scientific Method?”

This question, or something very similar to it, is always asked when the issue of scientific consensus is raised. Yet, it might surprise the commenter to learn that scientific consensus is real, and is even a vital part of the scientific method!

I like to imagine the scientific method as resembling the solar system. The planets, traveling in perfect orbits, represent the pillars of the scientific method: Observations, hypotheses, predictions/experiments, and continuous refinements. Continue reading

Why Psychology and Statistics Are Not Science

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

A few years ago, I caused considerable weeping and gnashing of teeth among psychologists for a piece I wrote explaining why psychology isn’t science. It was predicated upon a lengthier argument, which I co-authored with physicist Tom Hartsfield, on the difference between science and non-science. RCS Editor Ross Pomeroy followed up with his own haymaker, explaining why Sigmund Freud’s ideas — from penis envy to psychoanalysis — were not just whacky but unscientific and wrong. Continue reading

How Yellowstone Revolutionized Biotechnology

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Life is capable of thriving in the most inhospitable places. The photograph above, which I took on my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, shows Morning Glory Pool, a hot spring that is a short hike from Old Faithful. It’s named after the purplish-blue morning glory flower, but theĀ pool no longer has that color, which was due to a particular type of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbe. That is because ignoramuses threw coins and other debris into the pool, blocking the vents and lowering its temperature, which allowed microbes of other colors to grow.

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The Great ‘Monkeys on Mars’ Conspiracy

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

There exists the distinct possibility that monkeys live on Mars. In the year 2015, it is not possible for scientists to completely rule out the scenario. So, imagine a hypothetical conversation between the monkey-on-Mars believer (we’ll call him “Monkeyman”) and an astrobiologist. Continue reading

The Smartest Person Who Ever Lived

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Who was the smartest person to ever live? There are certainly many worthy contenders. Today, the very name of “Einstein” is synonymous with genius. Others may suggest Stephen Hawking. Those who appreciate literature and music may proffer William Shakespeare or Ludwig van Beethoven. Historians may recommend Benjamin Franklin. Continue reading

Is Anything Certain in Science?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Last week, I was at a coffee shop working when a lady approached me and invited me to attend a science discussion group. The topic was the “limits of science.” Intrigued, I put away my laptop and joined the group, which consisted mainly of elderly people who were thoughtful, well-spoken, and seemingly intelligent. I had no idea what to expect in terms of the tone of the conversation, so I listened eagerly as the discussion leader (who has a master’s degree in geology) started the meeting.

“Science is subjective, though we like to think of it as objective,” he began. “When I speak of ‘facts,’ I put them in quotation marks.” He elaborated that things we once thought to be true were later overturned by further study.

Right away, I knew I was going to be in for a ride. While the geologist didn’t clarify exactly what he meant, we can deduce one of two things: Either (1) he does not believe facts are real or (2) he believes facts are not accessible to scientific investigation. Continue reading

What RealClearScience Is For and Against

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

One of the hazards of science journalism is the regularity with which we are called names, by both the Left and the Right. “Shills for Monsanto,” “lackeys for the pharmaceutical industry,” “enablers of the global warming hoax,” and (of course) “Nazis” are some of the nicer things that have been said. But just like an auto mechanic who spends his day with oily, greasy hands, we too don’t mind getting a little dirtied up for the sake of science. It’s all in a day’s work. Continue reading

Not Every Disagreement Is a Logical Fallacy

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

All too many people behave as if they are experts in everything. The internet is partially to blame. The widespread availability of information is both a blessing and a curse. Indeed, the adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” has never been more true, especially as it has become painfully obvious that some people believe that reading the first paragraph in a Wikipedia entry will quickly bring them up to speed on complex topics. Really, who needs a PhD when you have five minutes to kill and access to Google?

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