Sunday, May 19, 2013


Over at The Austin Atheist Experience, there is a long thread dedicated to one guy. What I wouldn’t give to have an internationally known organization dedicate a thread to me. This guy has the opportunity to ask the entire world whatever he wants, and he is using it to play the “why” game like a little kid.

And he is losing the game.

At one point he even calls one of the responses a “book”, and tells the responder he didn’t bother reading it. The response is about 3 short paragraphs long. I admit it is rather long to read the entire thread at this point, but if you were Corey, you would have had these responses come in over a period of days. Alright, I don’t think I need to point out the ridiculousness of this thread.

So why am I blogging about it and why did I add my comments to it? Under normal circumstances, if you determine someone is unreasonable, you ignore them. Exceptions to this are, if it is your boss, and you don’t have good prospects of getting another job soon; if it is your child and they have not learned how to be reasonable yet; if it is someone who is around your children or maybe just your friends and could potentially influence them negatively. Each of these requires a measured response.

Internet threads are carried on by people who think a person like Corey deserves a chance to be heard and a chance to consider other opinions. Also, the internet influences many people, so leaving an unreasonable statement unaddressed gives the impression that it has merit. All of this is a matter of degree and you have to decide for yourself if you are someone who should participate.

What I’d really like to address is how we end up with people like Corey. He apparently has some level education, some free time, and a computer. Where did we go wrong? My personal theory is that we don’t teach the history of science correctly. Mostly we don’t even teach much history past 1776 or so.

When we teach the history of scientific innovation, we teach the heroes, Einstein, Newton, Galileo, that guy who cross bred peanuts. Obviously I should have been paying more attention, but look at a curriculum of any public school and show me where it talks about the tedious work done by grad students sifting through data. Show me the words “peer review” used anywhere.

If you remember science class, you probably remember being given some flasks and a Bunsen burner and told how to do an experiment, and you were told how it should turn out. That’s not scientific investigation, that’s a demonstration of what science has already figured out. What you weren’t told, or at least this wasn’t highlighted, even though it is what science actually is, were the thousands of failed experiments someone did before they proved whatever it is you were learning that day. If it hadn’t been proven yet, it wasn’t being taught. That was real science in the making. That’s what scientists do, not High School kids. If you got to discuss ongoing science in your class, you were lucky.

Corey is really stuck on the word “prove”, so I have to stop and address that. You can skip this paragraph if you are a reasonable person. Math has proofs. They are absolutely proven, WITHIN THE DEFINITION OF MATH. 1 + 1 = 2 because we define those characters that way. Science, history, and just about everything else can only deal with probabilities. You don’t need to understand the entire theory of probability to understand that 99.9% certain is better than a 50/50 chance.

The history of science is full of people who made claims based on sitting in a room and thinking something through. They also did a few experiments, but we generally only teach about the ones that were successful. It is also full of people stealing other people’s ideas. It is full of people manipulating their data and making claims that took years to disprove. It is full of people who were very right about some things and very wrong about other things. None of that matters when you are discussing what science really is.

What’s important is that a major value within science is: question everything. This includes your own work. If you discover something that no one else has, the first thing you do is ask others to check your work. If you don’t ask, they will anyway. If you don’t publish your data and your methods, you shouldn’t be listened to.

Anyone can find flaws with how science is done. The difference between a scientific approach and just about any other approach is that science welcomes those questions. It refines its methods based on that input. Anything else would be unreasonable. Corey.

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