The Problem With Science. . .

The Problem With Science. . .

Just venting here in response to seeing these horrible arguments concentrated in a heap somewhere else. There may be others, but these are the ones that make me particularly irritated.

1. “Science doesn’t consider the bigger picture!” This implies that there is a “bigger picture,” and that science should concern itself with researching only what fits into it. This isn’t science. Science is not designed to confirm what we want to know, but to find out what we don’t know, whether it comes out the way we want it to or not. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that comes in a giant plastic garbage bag. We don’t have the big picture. Even if we start working on putting together just the edge pieces, we might find some edges are straight, some are curved, some of the angles are acute and some are obtuse. We can gather together all the pieces that have the same shade of blue, but that doesn’t mean those pieces will fit together. You can’t consider a “bigger picture” unless you already know what the picture is, so science works on putting the pieces together and building from there.

2. “Science doesn’t answer questions about the soul/mind/spirit/etc.” Science is the study of the physical world. It is a method by which we can observe and study objects and phenomena that exist in, affect, and are affected by the physical world. Complaining that science is flawed because it doesn’t study the supernatural is like complaining that a bicycle is flawed because it doesn’t fly. It does what it is designed to do. Just because it doesn’t do what you want it to do doesn’t mean it’s broken. In fact, it means it’s working.

3. “Science is inaccurate because it’s being done by humans.” First of all, science has methods of self-correcting. Evidence has to be predictable, repeatable, and falsifiable. Human error might result in flawed evidence, but the scientific method provides a way for other humans to verify or overturn that evidence. Second of all, this complaint comes most frequently from people who tout ideas that are built on anecdotes and wishful thinking, promulgated by charismatic leaders of cults of personality. Magical thinking is fraught with human error, yet its proponents are the quickest to complain about human error in science. The mind boggles.

4. “Science is being financed by big business, so scientists don’t really care about discovering the truth!” There are certain problems that arise from what research is financed and what research flounders. But this doesn’t mean that science is corrupt. Scientist is not a glitzy, high-paying position, even if you’re doing pharmaceutical research. Again, though, this view is expressed by people who believe in things that are being sold by companies that make broad, sweeping statements about the efficacy of their products without having to worry about regulatory oversight, and individuals profiting from the sales of these products, or non-evidence-based practices, whose faces you see on book jackets and TV talk shows. The hypocrisy seems evident only to people who haven’t been taken in by the purveyors of anecdotal proof.

5. “Science says one thing one day, and then something entirely different later.” Part of that is the nature of science. Remember that mention of falsifiability? The idea is that you don’t close off your options by setting something in stone. The knowledge we have and the tools to gather that knowledge are constantly improving. If we learn something new, and it disproves the old idea, we let go of the old idea. The other part is the dumbing down of science for the layperson that happens in the media. New evidence is presented by journalists as proof of one thing or another – when proof is only for math and whiskey, and when the studies they’re pointing to actually say nothing at all like what they say in the news. Remember that big picture reference? The scientists finish a corner, and the journalists declare the puzzle complete. That’s not a problem with science.