How (and why) To Change How You Think About Science

Its so funny. At one point I really wanted to be a historian. Of science! This is the town center of metropolitan nerd-villebergington. You can’t get in the door without an elbow-patched tweed jacket and a vaguely distracted blankness to your face.

My neuroscience thesis required a couple of basically throwaway paragraphs on the background of the research. Once started though, I ended up with (no lie) over two hundred pages drawing a line from my work back through Descartes. Out of that came multiple publications, an award, and a book. I never got to “be” a neuroscience historian, I was just playing one in my spare time, LOL.

Channeling my inner goober, one of the things I really loved was how science operates. Having been in the middle of it, the science-is-truth idea or even that science is the steady march toward truth, rang just as hollow as the old low fat idea. Great in principle, horrible in practice.

One of the many reasons for this is that science changes its mind very slowly — whether in chemistry, physics, biology, neuroscience, whatever. It takes decades for a body of research to lurch off in one direction, double back, think its on a good foundation, find out it was TOTALLY wrong, start all over, rediscover some past gems, inch forward, and finally land on a solution that makes just a bit more sense.

That is how science works. That’s what happens.

But what we see today in health is like a 24 hour news cycle of sites ravenous for clicks and page views and the ad revenues they generate. This system we have in place today causes us to think science has THE solution every other week (miracle! revolutionary! xyz solved! never diet again!), and all of these claims quote some science study.

Even, mainstream health voices plant the click-bait in their articles that exaggerate the importance and meaning of a result. This unfortunately happens all the time.

The outcome for us is feeling like science makes no sense, with its Olympic caliber backflips in dietary recommendations month by month. But it’s not science itself that is the problem. It’s the misrepresentation of individual science studies, in the service of their someone else’s goals.

Bottom Line:

Scientific consensus changes slowly, and it normally takes years and decades to cement a new conclusion. So if you see something new, exciting, revolutionary, and unbelievable … you can’t trust everything you read, but you can probably trust that its unbelievable.

2 thoughts on “How (and why) To Change How You Think About Science

  1. Excellent summary pointing to the sad state of the general public’s understanding of science as a process and “way of knowing”
    We see it all the time in the misuse of the word theory as meaning merely one’s opinion.

    1. Thank you Phil! I know, and the central irony is that the media market science as the absolute authority (because it gives them their clicks etc), but their very way of doing it makes their communication less reliable.

Comments are closed.