Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I do not like this word.To me it is a word that has been too often used by the religious to mean or imply faith without evidence. It is not a word that I think should be used to explain science.

I do not like this word. To me it is a word used to denote the religious beliefs in their texts, revelations, personal relationships with their gods, etc. I do not like the implication that if one uses it in the context of science, that scientists use similar means to come to scientific conclusions.

Facts and evidence are means by which scientists explore their worlds. Faith and belief are the tenents of the religious. I do not think that faith and belief are part of science.

When I discuss science I do not like to use those words. I use words like know, or trust. I cannot be an expert in all fields. There are thousands of scientists out there, many of whom are experts in their fields. I trust their knowledge because their knowledge is reportable, checkable, falsifiable, understandable within the greater context of the whole. If a scientist makes a claim, I can check it. I can ask them how they know that. I can ask them to explain and I can verify their facts.

I have a responsibility as a scientist to discard ideas in the face of greater knowledge. If 1 paper came out about how mammograms detect breast cancer early, was published in a top-tiered journal by scientists and researchers with good credentials and no conflicts, reviewed by good scientists, I would be hopeful with the caveat that it was later confirmed. If 5 papers came out saying the same thing, I would be less skeptical, and more willing to accept it as fact. If 100 papers came out, then it would most likely be an established scientific fact and would (and should) be implemented in hospitals as part of a diagnostics regimen.

But if our knowledge began to point in the direction that it may have fewer benefits than previously thought (due to better technology or more sensitive screens) then I should understand the reasons and cases where this might be the fact, and change my protocols accordingly.

In all of these cases I have the ability and knowledge to do research on all of the conclusions elucidated by the papers and come up with facts. I can check their numbers, carefully comb their conclusions, and decide whether the research is sound and solid. These facts can either refute or agree with the papers.

Does any of this rely on faith or belief? I do not think so.

Other people use faith and belief to mean what the dictionary definition of the word means, and I sometimes have a difficult time making that leap. I should make a point to ask people what they mean by their use of that word.

I think that where this pure and reasonable pursuit of knowledge breaks down is when we as people cannot leave our egos or own dogma out of the discussion. I am not very good at that. I sometimes cannot see other people's perspective over the sight of my own navel. I get offensive or defensive. I color the argument. It took a very heavy cluebat from my husband for me to understand how I was approaching the problem.

I am making a very concerted effort to take much more time to listen to other people's perspectives and to fully understand their argument before I say anything. This has gotten me into trouble recently, and I need to correct that.

As a scientist, I should always be open to reconsider or re-evaluate what I know. Ego (which I have in spades) should be left out of the equation. My being right isn't nearly as important as fact, and I should have known this already.

In Reason,

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