Science, Not Anecdotes Please!

Science is a method of testing ideas that can be verified as true or false and those methods can be replicated repeatedly, yielding nearly the same results time and again. Science is based on observations and inferences about the natural world (empirical evidence).  Science is a creative human endeavor that is socially embedded.  Scientific knowledge is always tentative as it is subject to change with new knowledge.  Laws and theories are the products of science.   Thinking scientifically and analytically is crucial to attenuate thinking errors.  The scientific method, when used appropriately, can yield some amazing findings of our natural world.  It was the scientific method that led us to the laws of gravity, the discovery of penicillin, the invention of the light bulb, landed us on the moon, etc.  The beautiful thing about science is it does not care what your beliefs are or what you expect or want the outcome to be.  Appropriately applied, science yields discoveries and leads us to the truth, even if it is not exactly what we are expecting.  By using the scientific method, we will continue to make inventions that hopefully will improve our lives and give us all more insight into life in general and our natural world in particular.

Anecdotes are stories about things or events people experience that are unique to them.  Anecdotes have some merit and I’ll explain how later in this blog.  We all have anecdotes (or life stories) to share.  Some are amusing, charming, witty, entertaining, or simply explain something we experienced.  That being said, anecdotes are not reliable scientifically.  Obviously, not all anecdotes need to be reliable scientifically if they are just stories about things we have done in our past or stories about places we might have visited.  However, anecdotes do not cut it when we make extravagant claims about some phenomenon we experienced.  For example, a person claims to have ‘encountered’ a ghost.  Many people believe in ghosts and the supernatural.  The thing is, regarding such a claim, it is only unique to the one person that experienced it and is very unlikely that there were any witnesses.  Let’s say that someone truly believes they saw Bigfoot, the Loch Ness, a chupacabra (a creature of folklore told around the Americas that drinks the blood of livestock, especially goats), or a UFO (like one you would see in the movies), etc.; it is highly unlikely that there were any witnesses during the spotting of these creatures.  The legends of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness, the chupacabra, UFOs and alien abductions can all make for some great fictional stories but they are nevertheless fiction.  There have not been any formally documented cases of the above-mentioned fictional species or anything paranormal even in spite of the plethora of personal anecdotes given by so many people.  In science, in order to prove, for example, that one of the above-mentioned creatures exists, we would need to be able to have numerous witnesses of the events and be able to repeat the findings of such creatures over and over for everyone to see.  Otherwise, scientifically speaking, such events never happened.  

Anecdotes have their places though.  For example, in clinical trials for medications, anecdotes are important in that experimenters need to know if there are any negative or unpleasant side effects for a particular experimental drug and the severity of the discomfort will need to be documented.  That being said, for medicinal clinical trials, the usual setup is the double-blind placebo trial where there are experimental and placebo control groups set up with all participants being randomly assigned to the conditions of the study where neither the participant or the experimenter knows which conditions each participant is assigned to.  But, in this case, the anecdotal evidence comes in when each person logs their symptoms (or lack thereof) while participating in a clinical trial.  This is an example of where anecdotal evidence comes in handy.  Where anecdotes matter less is when people make wild claims about experiences they had, such as what I referred to above or when they claim to experience the supernatural.  Such claims cannot be verified and replicated and thus are not considered science.

I will touch base on these topics again in later blogs.  Please feel free to comment on anything mentioned above or feel free to add to what I came up with.

 

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secularcharlie

I am a college student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I am a psychology major but plan to earn a Master's Degree of Meteorology after graduating. I have always been fascinated by weather and what causes weather to change. I have always wanted to make meteorology my career and to help change it to make it more accurate to save people's lives. Plus, this is the field that interests me most as well as brings me the most pleasure. I have several hobbies. I love flying airplanes (although haven't in several years due to financial reasons) and traveling. Both of these hobbies obviously are impacted by weather, which makes the field even more pertinent to me. I enjoy hanging out with friends and family. I have a wonderful girlfriend who I love dearly and will one day merry.

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