Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Popular Misconception About Science

An excerpt from In Evidence We Trust (Hale, Not yet published) 

Science Roundtable:  Discussing Scientific Matters 

What is the biggest (or at least one of the biggest misconceptions) misconception about science?
Andreas Zourdos has a BSc in Human Nutrition. He works as a nutritionist and has also translated Jamie Hale's Knowledge and Nonsense into Greek. His website is www.metavolismos.com .

Zourdos: A big misconception is the use of the word theory. In a scientific context a theory is something that has been proven many times as a fact, and therefore it has become a theory. In a non-scientific context people use theory but they mean hypothesis. People that are not scientifically literate will go and say "theoretically speaking" but they mean hypothetically speaking. Scientific theories are facts, not a hypothesis. This reminds me of  "Newspeak" in George Orwell's 1984, which was pretty much the deterioration of the english language in order to limit free thinking.
Kurtis Frank is a recreational bodybuilder and powerlifter.  Kurtis has a passion for dietary supplements due to a desire to harmonize the discord between the preventative and rehabilitative potential of some dietary supplements and the seemingly lack of interest of the medical community in incorporating dietary supplements in to preventative medicine.  He is the lead researcher for www.Examine.com. 
 Frank:  Probably the biggest misconception is the idea that science proves things, or that we can fully and absolutely answer a question. That is definitely not what science does, and how science answers questions can be sort of viewed like: 
1) What is X? (ie. you're looking at a new molecule) 
2) How does X interact with Y (seeing how this molecule works in humans)
3) How does X interact with Y assuming Z (seeing how this molecule works in humans who are diabetic)
4) How does X interact with Y assuming R (same as the aforementioned, but with hypertensives) 
When we refer to the 'body of evidence', we refer to a large amount of studies that look at certain drugs or supplements in certain situations. A well researched drug or supplement is one where we have investigated the particular question and can use that evidence as proof that it should work as the study says. 
That being said, there are too many possible combinations of variable to really prove all possible combinations and situations (which is what many people think science 'does', provide an absolute answer) and all we can do is replicate the above data and research most situations in the hopes that eventually most or all questions will lie in the collection of studies we call the 'body of evidence'. 
To be concise, science does not give 'the answer' but rather whittles away bit by bit getting closer to the best answer we can give at this moment in time; each whittle towards the impossible and ideal goal will refine our answer a bit more and make it a bit better so even if we don't get 'the' answer we still find a pretty damn good one en route.
Scott Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  He received his A.B. at Cornell University, and his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota; and he completed his clinical internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinics in Pittsburgh.  He is the co-author of “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior” and most recently, “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience.”
Lilienfeld:  That science is a body of knowledge; it’s not.  Science is a systematic approach to knowledge; specifically, it’s an approach that tries to minimize human error in an effort to get us a bit closer to the truth.  So, for example, chemistry itself isn’t a science, and neither is psychology (so when some people say that “Psychology isn’t a science,” that’s a tip-off that they don’t know what they’re talking about).  One can approach the study of chemistry or psychology either scientifically or unscientifically. If one uses finely honed research methods designed to rule out alternative hypotheses for findings and to minimize the risk of human error, one is doing science, regardless of what one is studying.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, named a Young Global Leader in 2012 by the World Eco­nomic Forum, is the CEO of Sharp­Brains.com, a lead­ing inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well-being appli­ca­tions of brain science. A sought-after national speaker, he has been quoted by The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, CNN, Reuters, and Asso­ci­ated Press, among oth­ers.

Fernandez: That science is what only scientists can do. Instead, science is a powerful system to ask questions and get answers, and every person in the 21st century should be science-literate, same way we learn math, reading, foreign languages...

Thanks to everyone who participated. On a final note, in addition to what Frank said, science doesn’t claim to prove.  Science does not make assertions of absolute certainty; rather assertions are stated in terms of probabilities. Science is tentative and is ready to make changes when evidence indicates changes need to be made.  This is one of science’s strongest characteristics. Science has no need for claims of certitude.  The process of science allows claims to be tested and often interpreted by statistical procedures.   

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