Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Science Works

There's one argument denialists have trouble facing when it comes to science: Science works. Pragmatism is one of the key virtues of science: Either your theories make accurate predictions or they don't. Good science is about getting down to that issue. Many denialists, however, won't let reliable, repeatable, independently verifiable data get in their way. In this post, I'll explore some of the tactics they use to ignore the robustness of science.

Let us imagine we have encountered someone who denies the accuracy of quantum mechanics. Any informed layman should know that QM plays an extremely vital role in our current civilization. Transistors, for example, are ubiquitous in our computer-driven infrastructure. If QM wasn't reasonably accurate, you wouldn't be able to read this blog post.

Given my experience with other forms of denialism, there are a number of standard arguments presented at this point:

First comes the argument that all the experts are in on some kind of sinister plot, knowingly lying about QM to students, and only allow the top students to be in on the "real" theory that actually drives our technology.

How would this conspiracy maintain itself? If they distributed information that they know is false, how would they maintain the illusion of its accuracy? How would they prevent any curious person from experimenting and finding the "real" answer? How could they silence him? And how would they pay for all this beating around the bush? WHY would they set up such a conspiracy? What would they have to gain?

Next, there's the idea that mankind just stumbled on the technology without any understanding of the underlying mechanics. While there are some examples of such luck, it wouldn't last long. The false theory would stumble on more and more wrong predictions as time went on, and solving an unexplained anomaly is how scientists gain prestige. You don't get research grants for maintaining the status quo.

And finally, one of the most common responses is to remain ignorant of the theory's successful predictions, no matter how many times they are asked to account for it.

This story is the same for just about any major scientific theory. Evolution was how we breed animals and plants according to our desires. Evolution also gives us an understanding of medicine. Heliocentrism and gravitation give us the ability to send probes into deep space. Relativity gives us the Global Positioning System. If science didn't produce reliable results, we wouldn't have these things.

Science. It works, bitches.


Anonymous said...



Dark Jaguar said...

I'm afraid your link is dead. Could you put in your own words the general argument you were wanting to make?

Anonymous said...

mr. Nonsense on stilts


MWchase said...

I agree with Von Zipper in that thread. I'd go into more detail, but I'd have to use mabus-ese, which has more video in it than I think Blogger's comments support.

Suffice to say, [Elephant's Dream], [SpaceChem - No Ordinary Headache (2435/2/77)], [Drama Prairie Dog].

MWchase said...

Oh man, I completely forgot: [My Little Pony Friendship is Magic - Call of the Cutie].

Okay, I think that covers all of my bases. I ought to get to advising and such now.