Science is application of the scientific method to problems or questions, and then submitting the story to the scrutiny of others. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s self-correcting.It’s LOGIC.
BUT. What if your audience was never taught what the scientific method really is? What if want to teach it to a child for the first time? What if the person standing across from you is a dummy??
Duh, you use poop. Everyone has had experience with poop. People get poop. Poop is universal. (I would use sex, but there’s the thing about the little children and also human behavior is much more complex than poop.)
The scientific process in everyday life OR
Neighborly disputes OR
The neighbor’s damn dog is pooping on my lawn:
Say you think your neighbor’s dog is pooping on your lawn. This is your hypothesis.
Your neighbor has a dog. You don’t have a dog. Your neighbor lets his dog out at night. You see dog poop appear on the lawn. The neighbor’s dog is not significantly smaller or larger than the poop. Those are your observations. That’s how you came to your hypothesis that the dog is pooping on your lawn. But you have no data.
YOU NEED DATA. So you set out to test your hypothesis.
You start to notice if any other dogs are roaming free in the neighborhood. You write down the dogs, when they are out, and their relative size. You note where on your yard the poop appears. You notice when the dog is let out at night and if those nights correspond to the poop’s appearance. You keep a log because you have nothing better to do with your time than ruminate on the neighbor’s dog and its poop. This is data collecting.
If, for instance, you find poop on your lawn on a day when the neighbors are vacationing in Florida, and you know that their dog has been boarded at the vet, then you know that at least their dog is not solely responsible for the poop. Negative data. You amend your hypothesis to include the possibility of multiple offenders. You might hold onto your hypothesis for a long time until you finally stage a stake-out and (!) there Rufus is, right there in front of your window at 11PM, pooping on your lawn. You snap a picture (because you want to record the evidence to show your neighbor). Confirmation!
Well, almost. You still need to put your experiment into the marketplace.
SO. You show your picture to all your friends and neighbors because by now you are really excited about dog poop. And then you learn *gasp* that Rufus died three weeks ago. And your source shows you a picture of your neighbor next to the Rufus D. Dog's headstone as proof. Your theory is shot down. But then you notice that the new family down the street has a dog that looks just like your neighbor’s former companion and you start again...
YOU HAVE JUST EMPLOYED THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD.
But wait, there's more!
We all do this. Lawyers, neighbors, mothers, children, we all test, reassess, retest. This is why I do not understand the thinking behind some adults’ mistrust of the scientific method. It is logic, i.e. the process we use successfully every day.
What I think that these adults mistrust, perhaps, are the conclusions that scientists and then the media report as a byproduct of this elegant system. "Pill cures cancer while helping women to lose weight!" say the headlines. Reading on you learn that in a few mice, a certain drug helped to reduce liver cancers and the treatment had the side-effect of lowering body fat because the mice couldn't stop vomiting. That’s a long way from curing all cancers while turning us all into Fit Magazine covers.
Of course, it is the job of the media to get people interested in this stuff. Without someone saying, "Hey look! This is cool!" we might never know that water was discovered on the moon or that penis extenders might actually sometimes work, or that cats lap water differently from dogs. But what we as scientists and journalists need to do is to look at research with an open, and critical eye, and to portray this to the public, so that when someone really does cure cancer and make us all look beautiful at the same time, there is someone left to pay attention. And I will take it a step further. I think that we need to help educate the public do this for themselves. We need to help educate that critical thinking.
It turns out that Pluto is no longer a planet (blast you NY planetarium!), dinosaurs never really went extinct (hello there, birds!), and that nurture can get passed down to future generations (Go epigenetics!). The facts of today an F on a 20 year old multiple choice test make. Instead, we need to teach how we define a planet and why, what evidence we use to determine dinosaur posture, and that our best biological guesses are really just guesses. The public needs to understand that acknowledgment of mistakes is natural, and makes the process stronger. We need to teach our children (and the public)
1. How to think logically and critically and
2. How to find, and what defines, a credible source of information.
3. That we are all at the mercy of our previous perceptions
Scientists are just people who use logic to solve problems, and then tell their stories publicly. AND Even those who manage to put both pants legs on at the same time, even these, have to poop.
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