by Philip Yaffe
Many people believe that understanding science requires a special kind of thinking, i.e. that your brain must be wired differently from other people. According to Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about it, “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”
In other words, scientific thinking is just an extension of the way you already think. This is excellent news, because it means that people who say they are incapable of understanding science are probably wrong. They do understand science, but were never aware of it.
Realizing this is extremely important, because most people who think they don’t understand science are constantly being called upon to vote on issues about science. To cite just a few examples:
- · Should we be so concerned about global warming as to spend billions and billions of dollars to fight it?
- · Should we ban nuclear energy as being too dangerous and too untrustworthy? Are genetically modified foods potentially so damaging that they should be prohibited even if they may be the best hope for feeding the world’s burgeoning populations?
- · Should homeopathy and other alternative medical treatments be recognized as legitimate, and paid for by government and private insurance plans?
What distinguishes the scientific mind from the ordinary mind is only that scientists do ordinary thinking in a more rigorous way.
Almost everyone has heard of the scientific method and understands that it has something to do with setting up hypotheses and then running experiments to test these hypotheses. This is essentially correct, and not difficult to understand. What seems to cause most of the problems is lack of understanding of the scientific approach, without which the scientific method would be useless.
The scientific approach is a set of fundamental principles to which all scientists should adhere. These fundamental principles are the intellectual raw materials from which the scientific method was fashioned.
There are 16 of these principles or “character traits” of the scientific approach. Don’t be put off by this apparently unwieldy number. Many of the traits are closely interrelated — and all of them are just common sense. So remembering and using them should present little difficulty.
1. Science is based on faith
Don’t be shocked by this statement; it has no religious content. It simply means that science relies on assumptions. If you remember your high school geometry, you will recall that everything depended on a handful of axioms, i.e. accepted but unproved assumptions on which geometers rely to built their proofs. But geometry is not the only branch of mathematics that depends on unproved assumptions. All mathematics does — as does all science.
The fact that science is based on faith (axioms) seems to be a mystery to people who should know better. A few years ago, a leading international newspaper ran an editorial article by a “thinker” denouncing science for not admitting that, like religion, it is based on faith, which evoked the following response.
Re: Having …Read more