How many times have you taken an article for face value just because it claims that “Research says X” or “Scientists say X”? Our ancestors were governed by the rules of religion, where the word of God was the ultimate truth, but have we now replaced the word of God with the word of science?
Having dedicated over a decade of our lives to science – the one thing all scientists know is that no single study can provide any sort of “ultimate truth”. The following touches on a few of the many reasons why:
- Firstly, what we consider to be true and hard facts of science can be disproven years after they have been established. In 1906 the Nobel Prize was awarded to Camillo Golgi who believed our nervous system was composed of one single continuous network. We now know with confidence that the nervous system is comprised of smaller individually acting electrical cells – neurons.
- Scientific studies test a hypothesis, a theory based on insufficient evidence that requires further testing. Typically, we compare the difference between two groups to test whether our hypothesis is correct or not. The statistical “P value” which stands for probability, determines if this difference between two groups is considered “significant” or less likely to be due to chance. In other words, we can only suggest that our hypothesis is correct based on this probability (“P value“). Therefore, results from one single experiment can only suggest the probability of something being likely. It is only when the same result has been scrutinised and replicated several times in independent labs, that it should be considered true.
- The existence of “confirmation bias” (the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that affirms ones existing theories). Even the best of scientists struggle to avoid biases as they often have their own motivation or agendas. Although there are no big bonuses or direct monetary rewards, scientists are constantly under pressure to produce positive and “exciting” results in order to publish their data in top scientific journals and secure funding for their projects. Without funding, they would be unable to afford resources required to keep scientific projects ongoing. This also discourages replication studies and publishing of negative results – which is extremely important.
As scientists, we are trained to critique, question and essentially rip apart every article that has been published. It is only the discoveries that are able to withstand such scrutiny that gain respect and credibility from the scientific community. We rely heavily on this skepticism in order to create accurate and honest “knowledge”.
Unfortunately, this practice has not transpired to the mainstream and the problem in part lies with the way the people perceive scientific studies. In the digital era, where information is highly accessible, where you don’t need a qualification to be able to publish content, where YouTube and social media are used as primary sources of education and news, it is more critical than ever to be skeptical, to question and be aware of the biases of what we read. Through this page we aim to not only keep you up to date with the latest scientific discoveries and but also advocate skepticism and critical thinking!