Just Say No to the War on Science

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts” Feyman 1999

I beg to differ. While Feyman meant his words to guard against confirmation bias, believing in the ignorance of experts now days has devolved into the War on Science. The political aisle has been split by people who trust in facts and people who trust in emotions as fact. Just check out this clip of Newt Gingrich in 2016 declaring what people feel is a fact is more important than the validity of the fact itself. (Excuse the wrong headline from CNN)

The fact that politicians would rather go with how people feel than the statisticians tells you that the general population has stopped believing in experts- the very thing Feyman declared as the definition of science. Well Feyman you’re an expert and you’re wrong, science is not a belief, its a practice, and ignorance is nothing to be celebrated by a field which desires to constantly learn more about the universe. Science is not a belief system, or if you wish to define it as a belief system, it is one that’s only tenant is to believe nothing and prove everything.

Saying that one believes in science and fact is really saying one believes in the practice of using logical reasoning rather than belief to come to conclusions. Science is about actions and results, hence it is not something to believe, rather it is something that is practiced by people who adhere to the scientific principles of observation and deduction.

The fact that a Presidential Candidate had to say that she, “believed in science” as if it was part of her platform, such as ” I believe love is love” or “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” was frankly ridiculous and a sad signal of the state of our society. Clinton said it as a joke and jab at her opponent for his statement, “Climate change is a hoax by the Chinese,” but in retrospect, her 2016 statement only seems to have given fuel to the war on science by more clearly drawing the line and identifying “believers” in science and doubters.

“But even if Clinton understands how silly it is to conflate belief in science with belief in the products of the scientific method, her line is still problematic. Clinton’s target is Donald Trump, who has claimed that climate change is a hoax—that the evidence for it isn’t real, or true. But Republicans could hear her tone as mocking not their candidate, but them.”-  https://www.wired.com/2016/07/cool-catchphrase-hillary-science-isnt-belief/

There are people who, Feyman included, get confused by the difference between believing in the use of the scientific method, and believing in science as a belief system itself. The line can be difficult to draw when it comes to literary analysis of quotes, especially those that may have been taken out of context. Maybe when Feyman wrote his words the War on Science was not as prevalent in society, or the connotation of what he was attempting to say “that science continually disproves experts as technology advances and experiments can be more specific and controlled,” would have been more understood. But now his statement conflates the scientific method with a belief system and discredits experts who dedicate their lives to following the scientific method.

A better way to write what Feyman wanted to say would be “Science is the practice of questioning experts and their conclusions.” 

We as scientists need to be careful to do our part to present a united front against the War on Science. We cannot fall into this rhetoric that science is something you can believe in or not believe in, or we play right into the war by creating two sides. We need to present to the public the truth about science- that it is a method used for discovery and that its findings can support or reject a hypothesis, or theory about how the universe works. The next time someone asks if you “believe in climate change,” engage them in a conversation that addresses the fallacy in their initial question.

For example: “I don’t believe in climate change, as it is not something that you can believe in, for instance do you believe in the chance of rain? Rain, just like climate change, is a natural event that happens. I accept the fact that numerous studies have found evidence to support that the climate is changing, so I would say it is highly likely that the climate is changing and that we should act to prepare ourselves. Just like the weather report says 80% chance of rain tomorrow, I plan to bring my umbrella, so that should I experience rain I won’t get soaked.”

Maybe that’s too long of a monologue to say, but you get the point. The next time someone asks if you believe in a product of the scientific method, make it clear to them that you believe in adhering to the scientific method and its ability to produce statistically likely results. And that one cannot believe in science, or climate change anymore than one can believe in the sky, however one can observe that the sky looks blue, and therefore that person can believe that the sky is blue.

And when it comes to giving fuel to the War on Science:

What do you guys think we can do to end the War on Science? How would you engage in a discussion with a “non-believer”? What are your thoughts on rhetoric?

-You know you love me. xoxo Ethics Girl


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