Sunday, 24 April 2011

Remember - Scientists are People too

A few days ago Chris Mooney posted an interesting article "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science" which looks at the reasons why many people deny the scientific research behind many issues, such as evolution, and global warming, which are in the public eye.I found both the article and the many quoted sources of interest.
     The paper starts with a quotation by Leon Fetsinger - "A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." and I agree. 
     As someone who has worked on unconventional blue-sky research I have often come against the problem - and the "man with a conviction" is a scientist in a specialty where your research is asking questions about the foundation assumptions. The difficulty is that the usual defense used to fend off alien ideas is to say "Exceptional claims requires exceptional proof" - I won't waste time on considering your logic until you have enough data to prove it. If you later come with more information the cycle is repeated - with a request for more data.
   To be realistic most "novel" ideas are actually old ideas which have been dismissed for good scientific reasons - and the expert just doesn't want to be bothered with, for example, yet another proposal for a perpetual motion machine.
    The problem is that there is a real problem with genuinely new ideas getting through - as converting the initial "low-level" idea to a fully scientific case, with supporting evidence takes time and money. The expert scientist with conviction may well end up stifling genuine new ideas in the process of rejecting the "time-wasters".
    I will return to this issue in more detail later

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