Also: Jason Crawford in Bangalore, August 21 to September 8
The word science come from the Latin “to know.” Science is the means of learning about our world. The scientific method is a series of steps followed by scientists studying some aspect of nature. It begins with a question whose answer is unknown. A reasonable answer to this question is generated based on what is known. This educated guess is a hypothesis. From there, an experiment is designed and performed to try to answer the question. Alternatively, observations may be made over time. Based on the results of the experiment or observations, the hypothesis may be rejected or validated. Then the experiment is critiqued and repeated by other scientists to add to the evidence. I think the most important step of this process is the last; scientists openly discussing and debating each other’s methods and results.
Some scientific questions asked today are difficult to answer using the scientific method. Questions regarding climate are especially difficult to answer because scientists cannot perform experiments in which they can control all of the variables that impact climate. Instead, climate scientists use observations and models to see patterns and make predictions. These are unreliable methods for understanding why climate changes, because the data is incomplete and the outcomes of modeling depend on numerous variables. Additionally, most funding for this research comes from the government, whose leaders are pushing climate policies that reduce fossil fuel use. Furthermore, open discussion and debate over climate is virtually nonexistent, limiting public access to opposing interpretations of these observations and models. As a result, we have a society of climate change “believers” and climate change “ deniers.”
Scientists are skeptics. When they get a result, they do not simply believe or trust the results. Rather, they analyze and share their methods and results, debate with other scientists, and repeat their experiments to get to the truth.
Science is the new magic. I have no idea if this is by design, but the social structure we live in supports this.
It can certainly mean all of those things, but I think the people who say "trust the science" most earnestly mean that, if you're not going to verify it yourself, trust that the conclusion was arrived at scientifically.
The problem is that a lot of people cannot (in a literal sense) verify the science, because they simply cannot read scientific papers, and thus they are susceptible to bullshit artists who are preying on people's ignorance. And so people are coached to think that they have a right to an opinion on "the science," but that's the problem--opinions on science are meaningless. It's like if we're both standing outside and a red car drives by, but I wasn't looking: my opinion on the color of the car doesn't matter.
The problem isn't that people don't have access to the scientific literature, but rather they don't have the requisite amount of scientific literacy to understand what's being said. All that being said, I think more often than not what they're saying is, "trust the scientific process, verify what the is being suggested by reading up on the literature if you must." But it's a bad slogan, because most people struggle to read the literature and don't have the adequate scientific literacy.
I'm a little surprised by the rhetorical open endedness of this essay, because it seems the progress and science would be inextricably intertwined. With regard to progress studies, I would be shocked if either population-level scientific history or respect of scientists was (or both) were not correlated with technological and social progress. I struggle to think of a time or society where progress happened in the conventional sense and science was not something celebrated.