Sunday, August 5, 2012

Beware Charlatan Science

“Science literacy is vaccine against charlatans of the world that would exploit your ignorance of the forces of nature.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

Image credit: Microsoft Clipart
Conscientious scientists do not cherry-pick data to fit their conclusions (that's bias), but allow data and evidence to inform, educate, and guide their research—no matter the unexpected results. Science is challenging and complex; yet we must be cautious of charlatans who seek to infect us with pseudoscience and denialism:

  • Beware of charlatan "scientists" who cherry-pick data and selectively name-drop. Unfortunately, many members of US Congress fit into this category, especially those who subscribe to climate change denialism.
  • Beware of charlatan "scientists" who do not understand what "uncertainty" means in science. Scientists must always consider, respect, and address the physical and statistical uncertainties in their data, measurements, and models, and they must express their results in terms of mathematical confidence.
  • Beware of charlatan "scientists" who misuse the term "theory" (as in, "it's just a theory"). A scientific theory is a well-reasoned explanation based on mountains of evidence—it is not just a guess. An educated guess in science is called a hypothesis, which must be tested for validity before its veracity can be established.
  • Beware of "news" organizations that claim to tell "both sides of the story" equitably. One dissenting opinion does not negate thousands of peer-reviewed, published research papers. One loud-mouthed argument does not constitute a fair balance.
  • Beware of charlatan "scientists" who short-circuit the quality assurance and rigor built into the peer-review process. Scientists themselves are their own worst critics and very effectively weed out questionable science.

In an age of charlatanism, it is important that science education remain vigilant and true to how science really works. A good science curriculum teaches students about the nature of science and fully engages students in the complexities of scientific thinking, knowing, and doing. For more about How Science Works, visit Understanding Science, an amazing website developed by the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

No comments:

Post a Comment