Now that the election is technically over (although the process of counting the absentee ballots is still ongoing) there is one thing I saw in during the campaign which annoyed me, not in a political way, but from my background in getting my degree in physics; the notions of “believe in science” and “follow the science.”

First, we need to settle on the question of “what is science?” Science is defined as a system of knowledge. It is derived from the Latin word scientia, meaning “knowledge.” And not just any knowledge, but knowledge obtained through the “scientific method.”

So, what is the “scientific method?” To quote Wikipedia, “It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings.”

Notice the key words here, “rigorous skepticism,” and “experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions.” These things seem to be lacking in many of our so-called “scientific debates” these days.

Thus to “believe in science” or in other words the results of science is contrary to science where everything is subject to rigorous skepticism. We should neither blindly accept nor blindly reject experimental data. Rather we should adopt the famous saying of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.” Let us keep “belief” to matters of faith, not science.

Likewise, the idea to “follow the science” is vague and meaningless. Science is based on the perpetual verification of both the hypotheses and the data. What was thought to be perfect today may be significantly adjusted in the future. A good example is the physics of Newton leading to the physics of Einstein.

The claim to “follow the science” unfortunately means “following the last study I heard a while back ago.” A good example is the whole mask issue. A recent study suggests that a simple gaiter scarf may we worse than nothing at all. Again, we need to look at that with rigorous skepticism as well. But the simple answer of “just cover your face and nose” isn’t “following the science” because with what becomes just as important.

We need to apply this rigorous skepticism to everything; from the benefits and dangers of solar power panels to the benefits and dangers of various proposed development projects; not blindly rejecting everything nor blindly accepting everything but testing everything with rigorous skepticism. In this way we not “following the science” but “following the scientific method.”

Christopher Beattie
Wading River

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