This Article Follows the Science: The Most Misused Word of 2020

Let’s use science to unite, not to divide us

Just because someone says to follow the science, it does not make their point automatically true. The phrase itself is arguably incorrect from a grammar standpoint. Science is really a process rather than an undisputed entity. At its core, science is a verb, not a noun. The noun simply refers to the pursuit of relevant activities.

We all are pressed for time, so most of us don’t have time to research scientific claims made by others. Short of conducting our own research however, consider the underlying facts we do know and the agenda behind the claim.

Takeaway #1: Consider the viewpoint or agenda

First things first, I want to be clear that CDC guidance, Dr. Fauci himself, and the law in most states says to wear a face mask in public settings to protect yourself from spreading the virus. This is a good thing to do and please do it whenever reasonably possible. Okay, with that disclaimer, let’s continue.

On March 8, 2020 in an interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Fauci said “Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.” At the time, this seemed extraordinarily odd to me. Common sense would clearly indicate that a face mask should help prevent the spread of germs. I don’t even think science is necessary to reach that conclusion.

“Following the science” then in that context may or may not have been the best choice.

Later in May during a CNN interview, he made it clear to “Wear a mask.” But why did he originally say the opposite? This is one of the most renowned scientists in our country we are talking about.

In July, Dr. Fauci said the following in a Washington Post interview, “Back then, the critical issue was to save the masks for the people who really needed them because it was felt that there was a shortage of masks.”

Aha! Now we understand the agenda of the original statement.

He continued, “Secondly, we fully realized that there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic who are spreading infection. So it became clear that we absolutely should be wearing masks consistently.”

Thus, further data became available. The conclusions, or “science”, evolved as we learned more. Another reason for us as individuals to always use our head and think on our own.

Parents will understand this who have taken their sick child to the doctor’s office only to be told there is nothing wrong with them. In many cases, this is true, however in some it is not. This is because parent’s intuitively know their child and understand better than anyone whether they are feeling well or acting normally.

You may have a similar story where you told the doctor, no, there must be something going on here. Let’s do a different test, or think about what else it could be. In a number of cases, some other ailment is found that the doctor did not first consider.

The point here is simply that science is practiced by humans, who are fallible by nature and have a certain viewpoint. It doesn’t mean they make mistakes with regularity, just that its possible. I believe that they are almost all well-intentioned. Although if I look at Twitter for very long, that belief can sometimes seem naive and be put to the test.

Takeaway #2: Science is a methodology, not an entity

What is science really? It is the process by which we attempt to learn things using repeatable experiments and data. We draw conclusions from the observed results. At the risk of being overly pedantic, the scientific method is:

  1. Formulate a theory (a “hypothesis”) about what may reasonably be true
  2. Define an experiment with controlled variables such that you can isolate the question at hand
  3. Conduct the experiment and capture the data
  4. Conclude whether your theory/hypothesis is accurate within a given confidence level (i.e. 95%)

So, where is “the science” in this?

Takeaway #3: Science doesn’t prove things, it ascertains confidence

One of my favorite philosophers and scientists is Rene Descartes. Descartes pointed out that the only thing you can prove in life is essentially mathematics. We can prove that 2 + 2 = 4, and all essentially agree on this. It is undisputed.

I am a Christian, and I can point you to scientific evidence that the Bible is true. I can reference layers of the Earth’s crust leftover from the flood of the Old Testament. I can give you my personal faith testimony. However, I can’t prove to you that God and Jesus exist. At the end of the day, that’s why they call it faith.

Consider a seemingly uncontroversial topic, will the sun rise tomorrow morning? Can you guarantee it will? Almost certainly in this case, yes. However, I don’t believe you can prove it. Consider some previously unknown celestial body intervenes in the path of the sun’s rays on their way to Earth. This would block the sunlight and it would appear as if the sun did not rise. Now, I am being somewhat facetious to make the point and I wouldn’t bet against the sun rising, but its difficult to prove.

What science can do, and does, it say that there is a 99.9999…% chance that the sun will rise in the sky tomorrow morning.

Takeaway #4: Bad experiment design leads to bad results

It is challenging to design a good experiment. The world is a complex place with millions of variables. Isolating a single variable for causation is the trick.

Consider that I conduct an experiment that concludes with 95% confidence eating turkey makes you take a nap. We can take data points from any of a number of recent Thanksgiving holidays.

Because my experiment concluded this, does that make it so?

Some might be quick to point out that turkey contains tryptophan, a natural sedative. Thus, the conclusion from my theoretical experiment would be correct. However, read this article to see why its not so clear and may not be the case due to other scientific evidence that tryptophan works best on an empty stomach.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there is no chance I am missing out on the stuffing and mashed potatoes. So the likelihood of me having an empty stomach that day is not good. Yet, sitting down to watch the Cowboys play very well could induce a nap. Or two.

What was the problem? The experiment didn’t consider that you likely eat turkey on Thanksgiving, where you also eat a larger-than-average meal with a healthy dose of carbohydrates. Good ingredients for a nap. We didn’t isolate the cause and thus, we only have correlation, not causation.

Takeaway #5: Let’s use science the way it was intended

Science should not be a political sledgehammer. Rather, it seeks the truth through experimentation and data. Conclusions may change over time as new data becomes available, or unfortunately in some cases as the bias of certain practitioners becomes clear.

Let’s treat it as the search for truth. Let’s use our heads and our hearts. Few things are certain in life. Keep that in mind. With such an unprecedented health challenge, we should be working together, not trying to divide each other. That is my agenda.

Starting or running a small business? Darren provides insights and ideas at Freelante

President of The Broemmer Group, technologist, and author. Science enthusiast. A desire to inspire through the written word.

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