Facts About Science, Misinterpreted by Non-Scientists

Posted: December 18, 2013 in science
Tags: , , , , , ,

The story from December 7, 2013, comes from the Associated Press, and it’s one that I think is generally true, but one that is SO easily misinterpreted: “Nobel Winner: Scientists Wrong Most of the Time.” I’ll quote the three paragraphs that WND did:

One of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates says learning how to handle failure is key to becoming a successful scientist.

American James Rothman, who shared the medicine prize with countryman Randy Schekman and German-American Thomas Sudhof, said Friday that doing scientific research almost always means not getting the desired result.

The difference between “a great scientist and a not-so-lucky one,” Rothman, told reporters and students in Stockholm, is the former fails 99 percent of the time, and the latter 99.9 percent.

This is how science works! You get an idea, you test it, and if your test shows your idea was wrong, you suck it up and move on. It’s of course the opposite of how religion works (as a gratuitous comparison — but, this is my blog), where you get an idea, and you check to see if it agrees with the Bible, and if it does then your idea is right.

The problem with a blunt, blanket statement like this is that most people do not understand the process, and a statement like this is very easily misinterpreted. It’s not that 99.0 or 99.9% of scientific theories are wrong (those things that are tested over and over and over again and only when every single test has failed to falsify them are they considered a “theory”), it’s that 99.0-99.9% of hypotheses are wrong (those initial ideas).

Of course, of the two ratings (5.00/5 stars) and 17 comments on WND to this article, the WND readers do not fail to ignore this subtle difference. “bluesky” with 6 up-vote and 0 down-votes epitomizes it:

Let’s see, global warming, evolution, the sun revolves around the earth. Around, and around it goes, where it stops nobody knows. Some times these people are to smart for their own good. They over think things.

Or “kingdad” with 5 up and 0 down-votes:

Seems like the gentlemen has met with many Global Warming types. Since the failure rate there has been 100% so far. Then there are the rest of the pseudo-sciences and their so-called scientists.

This is why we need better science popularizers and better scientific literacy.

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