Caleb’s Concepts: Many worship it. Too bad science isn’t a religion!

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Caleb Garbuio, Editorial Page Editor

“The science says this, the science says that,” drones a pundit from a news station that only cares about viewership. More pathetic than the display of poorly presented empirical evidence are the comments on social media pertaining to climate change. “Science is wrong,” some say. “Well, science says,” respond others. The profound ignorance of many, including educated members in society, is astounding. To think that some body of evidence is infallible and devoid of human bias is, well, ignorant. 

Most scientists will quickly point out that good science is built on the notion of skepticism, where something can only be scientific if it can be proven. Many worship it, saying science will save humanity. Clearly, mainstream culture has misconceptions about science, perceiving it as an unchanging body of evidence devoid of change.

So what exactly is science? Better yet, how can science be defined? In his 1959 book “Logic of Scientific Discovery,” Austrian philosopher Karl Popper described science as “falsifiable.” Put simply, science is a question that can be proven false and predict a wide range of behavior. The first step in the scientific process is to ask a question about a certain event. One particularly famous question asked by Isaac Newton was why does an apple fall? The second requirement is that there must be something against which the hypothesis is being tested against. For example, in statistics we compare the effect of a new hypothesis against an old hypothesis called a null hypothesis. The null hypothesis implies no significance, however, we reject the null hypothesis if the evidence of the new hypothesis shows statistical significance. In other words, scientific ideas can be proven false if new information is presented. 

Now, let’s define pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is any idea that cannot be proven false, like psychoanalysis. In his 1899 book “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Sigmund Freud claims men seek maternal approval out of an unconscious desire to sleep with their mother. This is called the Oedepus complex. According to Freud, if a man’s mother dies and he does not cry at her funeral he is repressing his Oedepus complex. However, if he weeps over his mother’s passing, his Oedipal desires are coming out in the open. Spot the problem yet? Freud’s Oedipus complex cannot be proven false! 

Now, that we have defined what science is, let’s return to the present. Why are people so divided about it? There are political consequences to accepting consequences. This is why many people will deny the severity or existence of climate change because it has serious political and economic consequences. However, ignoring climate change will make it worse, and we will cause irrevocable damage if we don’t act now to fix the damage caused by humans, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found. If we do nothing, the spillover will change the world as we know it. Unfortunately, climate change has become politicized by both Democrats and Republicans, and will remain this way while the world burns.

History shows us that politicians politicize science to justify their policies. Look at the disastrous economic and social consequences brought to the world by politicizing COVID-19. Though it is unclear whether or not lockdowns work, it is clear that mask requirements do. One study from the University of Toronto found that lockdowns were not associated with mortality per million, while another study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found common mortality patterns wherever COVID-19 was present with or without lockdowns. However, current empirical research suggests that mask wearing is effective in reducing COVID-19. While wearing a mask reduces the risk of contracting COVID, it only works if you and others are wearing a mask. It is still possible to contract COVID-19 at home from a loved one or from friends if you go out. Thus, there is a mathematical positive effect for mask wearing, if people actually wear them when they go out. Though, as Einstein put it, “human stupidity is limitless,” meaning people probably aren’t actually going to wear their masks effectively 100% of the time.

While wearing masks does seem to work, lockdown effectiveness is questionable because the mathematical analysis is inconclusive. This highlights the problem with science: worshipers flock to its altar when it agrees with them and use it to justify their political ideas, yet abandon it the moment its usefulness expires. 

Being a good scientist means educating yourself with the tools needed to understand it, or humble yourself and admit you do not understand it. Never point to something you do not understand and say it is wrong, simply because you do not understand. At the end of the day, science is a testable philosophy about the observable world. It does the scientific community a disservice pretending science is more than that. Do not use science to confirm your own worldview.