Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Need For Skepticism 

This article about a scientist who apparently saw what he wanted to see in his data is part of a number of recent reports.  For a lengthy discussion of the phenomenon look here  and for an example of what faulty data can do look here.  These three articles are a reminder that science is not the final arbiter of discussions about nature.  There is need for skepticism at all times.  As the New Yorker article points out, once experiments are done, it is still a matter of what you believe.  Scientists are not immune from seeing what they want to see.  They are human and the scientific method is flawed for that reason.  However, it is hard to argue with a preponderance of evidence over time.  Science that replicates experiments over a number of years is easier to believe, such as detection of global warming.  Where PR goes wrong too often is hailing the latest cure for cancer, for example, that proves to be a marginal advance but not a cure.   It is hard to stand back and look upon a scientist's enthusiastic claims with skepticism, but it is important to do that always.


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