Saturday, 27 August 2016

Science Shamers--It's time to Take it Down a Notch

The scientific method is not perfect. Any good scientist will tell you that. It's subject to flawed methods, imperfect experiments, societal pressures, at times it sells itself to the highest bidder, and it is planned and executed by fallible humans on dynamic situations—just like everything else. It is for these reasons, and for many others that I haven't touched on, that I respectfully ask the science-shamers (that is, those who use science to shame others) of this generation to take it down a notch.

Science-shamers? You know who you are.
You litter my newsfeed with things like, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not.” You are the mommy-gangs that constantly deride the 'anti-vaxxers' (oooo…two X's!) with facts and studies in support of your position.  You are the jerk who during a conversation last week laughed in the face of a woman who said she thought the whole 'carbon-thing' was a bit of a cash-grab. You make no pretenses about shaming those who access 'alternative' health-care services. You roll your eyes at anyone whose ideas or practices appear to contradict the going scientific trend. Need I go on?

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight…I am a self-professed 'science-person.' It is my university major, my kids are vaccinated, I believe in evolution, I utilize the best of modern medicine. I think what science has done for mankind in terms of quality of life is nothing short of miraculous. I am not anti-science, and I believe that it is a fine, even exceptional, tool for humanity. Science is what we use to make our best guess at any point in time, but I think it is important to remember that our 'best guess' today is not what it was 50 years ago nor is it what will be 50 years from now. To give you an example, consider the evolution of health care, specifically child-birthing practices, since the 1970's... If you're a thirty-something woman like myself, your birthing experiences were probably quite different from your mother's, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your experiences will probably be very different from those your daughter will have. Science probably had a lot to do with that. In the area of health care specifically, science uses information to inform best-practice as it always has, but science is not complete. ‘Best-practices’ in health care are not fact in themselves. They are merely guesses based on the pieces of fact we currently have at our disposal and they will continue to change. Perhaps that is something the science-shamers among us need to keep in mind. 

When I say science is not complete, I say that for a few reasons…One is that the inherent nature of the scientific method is to study variables in isolation. Of course this has its purposes, but as we know, NOTHING on this planet happens in isolation. Every tidbit of discoverable scientific fact is just a piece of a much larger picture. I do not think it is uncommon for the public or even prominent members of the scientific community to draw incorrect or overly broad conclusions based on a scientific study or two. Remember in the 1980's when cholesterol was the metaphorical anti-christ? There were some convincing studies linking blood cholesterol to heart disease, and suddenly everyone and their dog stopped eating eggs and minded their cholesterol and the food industry jumped on the opportunity to sell low-cholesterol-this and no-cholesterol-that. Of course science has gone on to create a more complete picture of the function of cholesterol in our diets and bodies, and, of course, everyone's eating eggs again, but the lesson for science-shamers here is: 

blood cholesterol linked to heart disease ≠ eggs are bad for you

I can just imagine the science-shamers of the 1980's in their acid-wash jeans citing all kinds of evidence to their egg-eating friends about what a poor dietary choice they were making.
Perhaps this type of shaming is not unlike those who recently turned their noses up at me when I opted not to take a course of antibiotics for a throat infection. (Antibiotics! Ha! If there is a better example of science being incomplete, I can't think of one!)

Finally, science is incomplete for another reason. Mockers, mock if you may. Haters, hate if you will, but in the words of Shakespeare, 'There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' There are countless items which have yet to be studied, whether that be because science hasn't gotten to them yet or because there are matters in this universe that are simply un-study-able. There are factors that we may never be able to observe through the scientific method--love, hope, reason, and spirit, to name a few—if these un-quantifiable forces don't have an impact on the physical, then I am a monkey's uncle! There are forces at play in this universe yet undiscovered and perhaps never measurable…even a scientist will tell you that.

Science-shamers, I get it. Sometimes the actions and choices of others are utterly baffling. They may counter your instincts, challenge your sense of reason and everything you think science has ever told you. I have certainly been among your ranks from time to time, but please, the next time someone’s ideas offend yours sense of scientific decency, consider that they may not be denying the facts. They may simply have used them to reach a different conclusion, or perhaps they are accessing a different set of facts entirely. Who knows? Or maybe, just maybe, they have not based their ideas on science at all (gasp!) They are allowed to that.