April 24, 2024

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Because we trust the scientific method

Because we trust the scientific method

Science is not infallible. But even during a pandemic, it has been shown to work better than other systems of reasoning. Its success lies in the possibility of verification below, by all

After an article I wrote, which showed that trust in science is one of the most important factors capable of reducing the mortality rate of a pandemic virus such as SARS-CoV-2, I received a series of comments, which I intend to compile here. In the form of one question: Why should we trust the scientific method and the scientific community – or, in simplified form as some have expressed, why should we accept faith in science?

The first and immediate answer already given by some of my readers is quite plausible: because the semantics of the scientific community, just as the work I referred to in my previous article shows, works, so that those who stick to it the most can achieve a better goal—predetermined, as in the case of mitigating harm. An epidemic has occurred. In the past, i.e. we can see again that the model of the world obtained by the scientific project, and subsequent expectations about the consequences of our actions and the behavior of the virus, work better in guiding us about how to act, than, for example, of homeopathic myths, deniers, conspirators and generally in what Concerning the so-called alternative ideas.

Many are satisfied with this answer, but it is insufficient in my opinion: On several occasions it has happened that unfounded beliefs and intuitive or scientific opinions still point to correct behaviour, and there is no reason to exclude a priori that it may not be so in the future, in certain circumstances. Religion, to give an example known to all, can direct our actions towards the common good, and works perfectly in the pursuit of the goals of great social utility, though certainly at its base there is an unscientific view of the world, anchored as it is to side-cases by masonry.

So, despite the fact that science tends to have a higher success rate, when it comes to identifying solutions, it is not infallible – in fact, at the best of times it manages to prove the failure of its earlier theses – and is by no means superior to other ways of guiding work human.

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So why should we trust science more than other systems of thought when it comes to planning our actions toward a goal we set out to achieve? Why should a citizen believe what is written in an article by a group of researchers, perhaps a meta-analysis of the scientific literature available to date on a particular topic, and not a pro-biodynamic thesis?

Here I will try to briefly explain some of the more important reasons. The first reason is that checks can be made on a scientific statement, regardless of the topic under discussion, to check its resistance. In the end, all scientific data have a logical-mathematical structure, so that, starting from a set of scales, a description of a particular physical system and its behavior can be given. Therefore, the first check is to check the rigidity of this structure: Mathematics and numbers must be used impeccably, and every scientific assertion must be reduced to quantitative reasoning which allows, taking certain numbers, to obtain other numbers, corresponding to the sentence (the correspondence is also qualitative or statistical, of course).

This first verification makes it possible to identify a large number of false assumptions, which are formulated as science, but not science; This is what happens to all researchers, when they learn about their mistakes or false or false scientific publications, and then get them corrected or retracted. This is also the reason why ordinary citizens, first of all, ask scientists for data to back up their statements: because everyone, absolutely everyone, should be able to repeat the typical mathematical passages of scientific analysis. , which is something moreover in disciplines such as biomedicine often relying on the use of tools learned during school training. Therefore, the first reason for placing confidence in science lies in the possibility of verifying its internal coherence, from a logical-mathematical point of view, by unequivocal and irrefutable procedures.

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Of course, one could argue at this point: Scientists may be highly skilled mathematicians, but their science may ultimately be wrong because their measurements may be wrong. How can I, as a lay citizen, verify that despite accurate statistics, the data at the basis of scientists’ analysis is present and reproducible, without the time, resources, skills, and laboratory?

There are two items that can be used to check here. The first is that consistency of measures (and not just conclusions) between different, independent scientific groups. If several teams of researchers carry out all the coherent measurements, at different places and times, I have less need to repeat the measurements myself; The rate of reliability of this data is increasing, because the agreement between different people in different points of the world in order to falsify certain measures is, at least, improbable, but mostly impossible. This is also the reason why the analysis of many different scientific works, containing measurements of the same quantities, gives a reliable and agreed indication as to the actual reliability of the data produced by the scientific community; That is why a single function is always prime.

Then there is another element to consider when checking scientific claims: The internal coherence of the entire building resulting from the research is that the false thesis ends up in opposition to other acquired truths, thus revealing itself for what it is.. Conversely, the association of a particular statement with facts obtained in completely different fields can lead, through a formal analysis of a scientific work, to the discovery of its conformity with the consolidated facts; And this possibility of control is an additional guarantee that makes Manifesto of the World preferable and more trustworthy than, say, the Manifesto of Biodynamics.

In addition to these guarantees of reliability, typical of science, one can then rely on social control, at least in some sensitive sectors such as health: Censorship, that is, exercised by independent agencies among themselves, in different parts of the world, which is responsible for the physical verification of the results obtained by scientists. Aifa, Ema, FDA, WHO and other agencies are independent technical bodies: if they reach a unanimous judgment on the robustness of a particular data, it is very likely that the data is solid, and there is no global conspiracy for the agencies. All tool at once.

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False science, due to falsified data, formally poor analysis or a combination of the two, can be continually identified: and even if it seems paradoxical, the persistently emphatic display of errors in scientific assertions is one of the most important characteristics. Reassurance about the reliability of the knowledge produced by the research community.

Finally, there is another aspect that should inspire confidence in science: The social dynamics underlying the formation of what we call the scientific consensus. During the pandemic, we have repeatedly witnessed irreconcilable differences of opinion among experts; And this, in fact, in spite of pathological deviations due to the narcissism of some heroes, is an aspect of the formation of scientific knowledge which is indispensable, because it ensures that there is always some fierce critic of every idea old or new, and no theses which have an impact on society, are accepted without getting hit. This inconsistency among researchers, which sometimes takes the sad form of presentation on talk shows, when presented in the right places, is instead indicative of a healthy, powerful, and sometimes crude intellectual sieve, which is indispensable because the social enterprise we invite scientific production It could go on, without risking becoming a pure priesthood of revealed truth.

In science, as I think it will become evident to most people after these few incomplete observations, we ought not to have faith, but confidence: that is, we ought to know that with a little effort any of us can make at least some of the following. The checks I have referred to are certainly made by quarrelsome researchers, looking for the faults of others.