Thursday, June 2, 2011

Science and Uncertainty

Four posts today, all on the topics of what we think we know, what we actually do know, and how we go about distinguishing between the two. And having distinguished, what do we do about it?

First up, recognizing that uncertainty is not an excuse for ignoring probable danger. The context here is global climate change. There is enough evidence to know that the climate is warming. Even if it were entirely natural, we still need to be working hard on ways to minimize the disruption (gentle word) climate shift will cause.  And yet the reaction is all too often complete denial (humorous take on argumentative reasoning here) or accepting it's happening, but not that it will cause problems. Neither response will help. Hence the phrase in Professor Juan Cole's post: "The Big Oil and Big Coal executives attempting to stop efforts to reduce emissions are thus in effect mass murderers of a future generation."

Read also Chris Mooney on uncertainty as a response.

Then there was a delightful post about established beliefs in science. Eventually testing wins over belief. That's why science improves the way we live and belief can't. Without science, we'd all be living in caves eating raw food and dying of simple injuries and diseases. But we'd have our beliefs! Such a comfort. The first hand account by Mpemba is a joy to read. And I loved footnote six. Finding observational information in all sorts of strange places.

Last is a distressing post about how we alter our own behavior to fit perceived stereotypes about ourselves. Apparently the ruling bodies of the Educational Testing Services want to keep women and minorities out of higher education? (don't sue me - change your testing!)

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