The First Law Of Teaching Science

I like the way this particular post begins, with a quote from Star Trek – The Next Generation. It is something all those who teach and study science should memorize, and something all scientists should remember.

Science, whether teaching it or performing it, should be driven by one particular directive: Search for the truth.

Notice I did not capitalize 'truth', as 'Truth' is something entirely subjective and is far too often driven by political or ideological beliefs. Lower-case truth is something that can be measured, proven again and again by others, and is not changeable depending upon the aforementioned politics or ideology. It can be ignored, it can be buried by innuendo, or decried by those whose political beliefs or ideologies won't allow them to believe it because it will weaken their positions in society.

In science, if the facts change so should any conclusions drawn from them. But that has been short-circuited on an increasingly frequent basis because the facts don't fit in with the narrative du jour of one group or another, and therefore must be discredited or dismissed out of hand. Call it modern day Lysenkoism.

If you at all love science — and I mean really love it — you’ll understand immediately that science is two things, simultaneously:

1. A process by which knowledge is acquired, assembled and synthesized about the world, and

2. The sum total of all that knowledge, and the best conclusions we can reach based on it.

Although it’s slow, and full of missteps, blind alleys and spurious results, science is the process that drives the human enterprise forward.

This is something that has been forgotten by a lot of people, particularly many so-called climate scientists who are neither scientists or in any way qualified to demand draconian actions to solve a climate 'crisis' that shows no signs of being a crisis. (As Glenn Reynolds has stated many times, “I'll start believing it's a crisis when the folks calling it that start acting like it's a crisis.”)

This problem extends itself into a lot of other areas, too, like the many claims about the evils of GMO's, the validity of the much hated Renewable Fuels Mandate, and the pseudo-scientific blather about a link between vaccines and autism, just to name a few.

Science is for everyone, and anyone can learn about it, talk about it, or even teach it to another.

But before you tell that story to the world, make sure you’re getting it right. The opposite of knowledge isn’t ignorance, but rather misinformation posing as knowledge.

Too often the “misinformation posing as knowledge” is deliberate, a means of pushing an agenda that most folks would see as harmful, deceptive, and self-serving under normal circumstances. But once it is wrapped in the mantle of some kind of scientific 'principle', it's used as a bludgeon to force the people to do things they otherwise wouldn't do of their own free will, all under the guise of 'saving this, that, and the other thing'. It isn't science, it's propaganda and should be devoutly ignored. The only response to such things should be “Sod off, Swampy!”

The problem is that too many people can't tell the difference between real science and pseudo-science/junk science. And there lies the problem. It is now what drives many of our policies, from energy, air and water pollution, agriculture, medicine, and a whole list of things that affect our everyday lives. As such, it can mean government at all levels will make the wrong decisions about a wide range of issues based upon misinformation and rumor masquerading as science. They will ignore the true problems and waste time, money, and lives upon problems that are, at best, minor if they are problems at all.