Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Remember the smart kids in high school...

You know, the ones who always topped the class in science and mathematics (yes, I am equating being good at science and mathematics with being smart... just saying).

Well, many of those kids went on to university to get science degrees. Some of those - the smartest smart kids - went on to get PhDs. They studied like crazy for many years in their area of interest, to become the experts in their field - be it medical research, paleontology, climate science, evolution, particle physics... the list goes on.

Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of these scientists, believe that modern medicine is the way to go, would state that evolution is a fact, and think human activity is changing the climate... the list goes on.

Sure, they might be wrong. Individuals within even this elite group might hold alternate positions. I cannot appeal to their collective authority as the only reason to believe what they say... but

...when you take an alternate position to the modern scientific consensus, the opposite position that over (say) 9 out of 10 experts (the smartest smart kids) and peak scientific bodies hold, and you're not the one other expert, please run this thought experiment.

Imagine you're back in high school. You've just finished a big science or mathematics exam. You're mingling around with other students and discussing the responses to the questions. You get into a conversation with the group of smart kids - the top students in your cohort. The answer they have to the hardest question is different to yours.

Do you:
a) become even more certain you're right, argue with them and tell them they're wrong and idiots
b) reflect on the likelihood of you being right, get a sinking feeling and decide to reconsider your answer?
Most would choose b) I'd guess.

Now, a second thought experiment to mull over for a while. Imagine you're about to post a comment on on a blog that goes against the overwhelming scientific consensus....

I'm not saying you should just believe what all science says, "just because". That we should accept expert wisdom carte blanche. But you need a damn good reason to choose a) over b) when you have a different answer to the smart kids.

Alternate post

Smart kids are smart
You're not
Smart kids also studied
You didn't
Smart kids got the answers right
You didn't
Smart kids became scientists
You didn't
Scientists studied for many years and over time produce overwhelming mutliple lines of evidence that support position X
You do nothing, but choose Y. (Or, you "study" a topic by googling to find the points to justify Y.)

I think I'll copy off the smart kids (this is a rhetorical statement and in no way should be taken as approval of cheating).