You are a scientist

Now obviously I just don’t get the anti-intellectualism thing or really any aspect of anti-science, pseudo-science schtick or anything like it. Part of this comes down to the fact that all people are, at the real heart of things, logical beings. Or at least they are capable of acting logically and of doing so completely unconsciously.

Science is really just a set of rules for producing logical deductions and assessing evidence. Obviously at the academic level it becomes rather complex and fiddly, but day to day life throws up all manner of situations where logic rules and the basics of science – testing ideas and eliminating possibilities is really at the crux of what is happening.

If your light goes out you check to see if the TV is still working. If it is, then the electricity if fine, but a quick check of the fuse box also shows nothing has blown). You get a bulb from another room which you know works and swap that with the other one. It still doesn’t work. To make sure you put that vacated bulb into the now vacant socket and it comes on. So the electricity is not the problem and the bulb is not the problem. It’s going to be the switch, so time to take that out and check it.

You don’t even thing about this, but these are hypotheses being tested one at a time (power, bulbs, switches) and keeping the others the same as a control. Some things are back-checked to ensure that there are no mistakes and to add more evidence. This is the scientific process in microcosm, so how people are unable to appreciate it at a simply larger scale is utterly beyond me. But it does beget a small crumb of smug satisfaction that I know that anyone who attempts to disparage science or claims not to understand it or that the process is flawed is, deep down, a scientist themselves.

2 Responses to “You are a scientist”

  1. 1 Mark Robinson 18/11/2010 at 7:24 am

    Dave, I disagree that most people are scientists (even deep down). Those logical steps for trouble-shooting a non-working light might seem obvious to you and me, and probably pretty much anyone who reads your blog, but I have conversations with people every day that clearly demonstrate that they haven’t much of a clue about this thinking process.

    This is especially evident where they are faced with trouble-shooting something with which they are not familiar or comfortable. For a lot of people (still) computers and printers would fall into this category. You might be surprised at how often a problem is solved by plugging in a cable or closing a lid properly.

    I think that a lot of people would not do the double test of connecting a known working device (light bulb) in the thing (socket) to be tested *and* connecting the possibly faulty device (light bulb) to a know working other thing (other socket). Some would do either / or, but not both.


    • 2 David Hone 18/11/2010 at 9:01 am

      I do know what you mean, but I was taking one example. I don’t know *anyone* who doesn’t look for their car keys by first checking where they usually keep them, then a jacket or trouser pocket etc. That is still a logical sequence of eliminating possibilities in the most likely (parsimonious?) sequence. It may not be quite as science-y, but I’d claim it’s ball-park similar. Still, I would say that at the upper end there are still an awful lot of people who would do as I describe but then seem to fall apart as soon as this impinges on their exact convictions (be that religious, pseudo-science, etc.): they can function as a scientist, they just don’t.

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