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Help! How do I know?

How do you tell a scientist from a non-scientist? Where does science end, and propaganda, politics, and opinion begin? You only need to know one thing:

Image: The Aim of Science

Straight away, this sorts the wheat from the weeds. We don’t learn about the natural world by calling people names or hiding data. We don’t learn by chucking out measurements in favor of opinions. We don’t learn by suppressing discussions, or setting up fake rules about which bits of paper count or which people have a licence to speak.

A transparent, competitive system where all views are welcome is the fastest way to advance humanity. The Royal Society is the oldest scientific association in the world. Its motto is essentially, Take No One’s Word For It. In other words, assume nothing; look at the data. When results come in that don’t fit the theory, a scientist chucks out his theory. A non-scientist has “faith”, he “believes” or assumes his theory is right, and tries to make the measurements fit. When measurements disagree, he ignores the awkward news, and “corrects”, or statistically alters, the data–always in the direction that keeps his theory alive.

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TURN THE PAGES (Links in red will become active as pages are published). You are on the page in the Red Square.

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This is page 15 of The Skeptics Handbook II. A 20 page PDF

NOTES: This page was created as part of the booklet Global Bullies Want Your Money (The Skeptics Handbook, vol. II). It was inspired by requests from people who were obviously frustrated. They wanted a formula, a checklist, or a table: a way to know which side was right. The people who normally like to trust authority are the ones most likely to run into a brick wall in this debate. They trust the scientific method, but also trust the institutions, the processes, and the politics that have risen up to supposedly carry this method from it’s pure form into it’s practical output.  And the two sides are at loggerheads.

I trust the scientific method, but not the human institutions (they are subject to ambition, personality, money, and conflicts of interest).

In the end, the only real way to decide is to look at the evidence. But, if you have to figure out who to trust, if that’s your chosen short-cut, then at least this is a more systematic approach than trying to weigh up the resumes on each side.

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