Understanding Science

I love Science. I think that sharing knowledge and testing ideas against the real world are great ways to find truth.

But, I think Science is really misunderstood. From the evolution-creationism “debate” to “are eggs good for you?”, Science really takes some learning and education to figure out what’s meaningful and what’s bullshit.

When you see something like “Scientists discover fat gene”, what does that really mean? The average person thinks “oh, fat is genetic”, but is that really true? Sometimes, news people report a headline that says “Scientists discover fat gene”, but what actually happened was that some PhD student noticed that people with a certain gene tend to be fat, and wrote a paper. Doesn’t mean it’s right — it means someone turned in their homework.

This is something that’s bugged me for a while. If I had millions of dollars, I would probably spend some of it helping do PR for Science. Key people like teachers, news reporters, and politicians should not be scientific experts, but should understand how to ask questions of scientists and how to make decisions based on scientific information, without being thrown off by bullshit.

The real problem is that this isn’t easy to do. I don’t think anyone’s really figured out how to make the knowledge quickly digestible. The goal should be to make the principles obvious and unambiguous.

I think this article does a very good job on how to evaluate scientific articles about health, which need to be very rigorous, because they can literally result in life-or-death decisions. A lot of the principles in it can be carried over to other scientific disciplines: http://www.badscience.net/2009/09/how-to-read-articles-about-health-by-dr-alicia-white/

This is a cool resource, but I don’t think it’s useful unless you already understand the point of journals and peer review: http://eigenfactor.org/map/