To arrive at certainty, you need to start from a skeptical posture. The best scientists are impartial, not swayed by their own beliefs. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
The subject of this comment is the Scientific Method. Throughout the history of science, people have made claims of many sorts. Often the results were not repeatable, sometimes even the data and methods were hidden from other researchers. These actions (or lack thereof) violate the principles of the Scientific Method.
Most of the people who violate the terms of the Scientific Method have put their beliefs, their hopes and/or their egos ahead of proper methodology. They have sacrificed a healthy skepticism of their own theory for fame, fortune and research grants.
Why is skepticism important?
Skepticism is at the heart of the Scientific Method. If you are looking for ways to prove you are right, you will find them (even if you have to make it up). Any other researcher in your field could easily prove your theory wrong with the application of a little science, backed by a healthy dose of skepticism. Show me! Prove it! I don’t believe it!
In the Scientific Method, you come up with a theory, you design some experiments to test or to challenge the theory (not to prove it) , and you share all of your information with other researchers. Then they repeat your experiments, verify your data, and start trying to break your theory. If it survives, you have a good start, and research continues. If they break it, you go back to the drawing board.
Too many people put their desires ahead of the true path of the Scientific Method. They cut corners, they hide data, they fake results. Then they announce something big, something important, and then the controversy begins.
The results of experiments can’t be repeated. Models and estimates won’t give the same results, or can’t even be replicated. Battles of egos, flaring of tempers, and world wide shouting matches ensue (none of which belong in the discussion of science, by the way).
It’s a terrible injustice to all the hard working and honest scientists who are busy doing true research and following proper methodology. The bad behavior of the few ends up giving all the rest of the scientists a bad name. It makes us question the integrity of the entire scientific community.
Where can I apply this in my life?
If you aren’t doing research, you might think this doesn’t apply to you. I would say you were wrong. Skepticism belongs in everyone’s tool box. Most of us use it when a telemarketer calls us, or when an e-mail from a Nigerian Bank appears in our in-box.
If someone makes a claim that you can make thousands of dollars from home, you have the right to ask if it’s repeatable, or if that’s the outlying data point, a one in a million chance. You should be able to find others who have also replicated the results. You should be able to get the basic information and try it for yourself, in an attempt to repeat the results. Just make sure you get a money back guarantee.
When you ask your kids what they were doing, or where they have been, are you skeptical? Perhaps your kids are angels, but sometimes a little skepticism goes a long way. The same goes for dealing with anyone trying to sell something, from beauty products to used cars.
That said, it’s possible to overdo it. When you start getting paranoid (or others start mentioning that they think you are), you might be going too far. If you interrogate your kids every time they come through the door, you’re likely to alienate them a lot sooner than would otherwise happen.
The only place for a lack of skepticism is in the field of faith. In faith, there is certainty, but it is not science. In science there can be certainty, but only if it comes from skepticism, not from faith. Faith and science, both can exist in your life, but they cannot exist in the same theory. If you believe something based on faith, don’t claim you can prove it. If you can’t prove something, don’t claim it’s science.
You don’t have to be from Missouri to ask someone to show you. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim, and until they prove it to your satisfaction, you have every right to be skeptical. Keep your guard up, but know when to let it down.