Friday, March 28, 2008

Doggerel #146: "[Famous Scientist] Said...!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

If there's a common symptom of being a woo, it's putting authority in the wrong place. When it comes to scientific investigation, you do not put authority in the hands of individual scientists: It's the experimental results, observational data, and reasoning that has the authority. I can really appreciate the Darwins, Newtons, and Einsteins out there who come up with brilliant theories, perform experiments, and collect data that end up changing the way we look at the world, and improve our ability to deal with it. But they're not individually important to the process. If Einstein didn't exist, someone else would likely have come along to work out the math and do the experiments, eventually. It's quality work that our knowledge comes from, not the (very cool, but still replaceable) people who do it.

When I celebrate a scientist, I do it the way some people celebrate sports stars (well, maybe not that fervently). There's nothing religious about it. They're people who discovered cool things, just like some athletes did cool plays. If a scientist fowls up on something else, it's still a mistake. They're human, and they're judged by their performance. Scoring a point in a manner that gets a century worth of replays doesn't make the scientist a god or a prophet. One point does not affect another. Scientists are fallible creatures, just like the rest of us. Don't dwell on what they say. Dwell on what the evidence says.

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