I thought I would share a post on climate change that caught my eye:
This showed up in Slate today, and is itself just a short writeup on this post:
Both articles make an important point that is relevant to all areas of science: if a concept, finding, conclusion, or study SHOULD be called into question, it WILL be called into question in the PEER-REVIEWED literature. Well, that is at least the way it SHOULD work in any functional scientific discipline. The authors of the posts linked above make the point that in the context of climate change, a vanishingly small number of scientifically robust articles call into question the concept of climate change (24 out of ~14,000 analyzed articles). In any field, this strongly suggests that the majority conclusion (i.e. climate change is real) is the accurate conclusion. If this were not the case, then the literature should contain well constructed counter-arguments that rely upon plausible alternate data analysis methods, or different (but still valid) experimental approaches that reach a different conclusion. In the absence of such papers, it is difficult to arrive at a conclusion that is contrary to the majority opinion.
So, why should we worry about such things in the comparatively mundane field of polymer chemistry and materials science? The answer is easy and it relates to something I have discussed before. Even when the stakes are low, the good scientist will continue to question everything. The good scientist will be aware of WHAT the conventional wisdom is and HOW that “wisdom” was constructed. Has that wisdom been carefully challenged via high quality scientific approaches? Are the conclusions we have arrived at worth reconsidering in light of new developments? Would further experimentation actually teach us anything regarding the answers to a field’s “big questions”, or is the field “mature”, meaning that further experimentation is focused on filling in the blanks and obtaining a deeper understanding of a fully accepted paradigm? All reasonable questions to ask as you tackle scientific problems, no?
This post was not meant to be a commentary on climate change. Its intent was to ensure that we continue to reevaluate not only where we are going, but also where we have come from. The world is a complex place being understood by mere mortals. We owe it to ourselves as scientists to maintain a healthy level of skepticism in all facets of our learning.