My friend was correct – scientists ARE biased! Scientists are human; they have their pre-conceived ideas and perhaps even driven by conscious or unconscious motives. But the assertion that, therefore, science has little in the way of our seeking of truth is a greatly erroneous conclusion.
Let's take for example my analysis of my personal astrological horoscope. I admit that I am biased; I have investigated astrology sufficiently to conclude that it is bunk. However I had never had the opportunity before to have my own personal horoscope done. This presented me with a rare opportunity to conduct a first-hand analysis. Of course, recognizing my own preconceived bias, I had my wife also complete an analysis independently (though she is not a believer in astrology either). However, I am like most scientists, open to changing my view in the presence of new and convincing evidence. [Skeptics like to say we maintain an open mind... but not so open that our brains fall out.]
Unfortunately the horoscope failed to present findings different than what I already knew about these types of pseudo-sciences. In fact, the results of my personal horoscope fully confirmed that horoscopes simply engaging purely psychological ploys. But more to the point, my bias had no effect on the outcome of the data or the only obvious conclusion drawn from it.
There can be bad science, junk science, sloppy science, voodoo science and occasionally out and out fraud. BUT all this science has one shared fate: it is subject to scrutiny, parallel experimentation, duplication of results, in short – Peer Review. For every scientist hoping to promote a cherished theory, there are dozens others waiting in the wings to challenge their conclusions. If others conduct the same experiments under similar conditions and arrive at different outcomes, the theory can be called into question.
Recently news media has been in a frenzy about the declaration by the World Health Organization that cell phones can increase the possibility of a certain brain cancer. This issue had been brought up years previously; we probably had thought this issue had been laid to rest. These types of reoccurring controversies: caffeine is good for you, caffeine is bad for you; red wine is good, red wine is bad – these sorts of dichotomies can drive the non-scientific public nuts. What can you believe?
Of course the answer resides in the consensus of corroborating scientific evidence. Still, even though an overwhelming number of scientists conclude that Anthropogenic (human-caused) Climate Change or Biological Evolution are well established facts, the public is often presented with a contradictory impression (primarily by the media) that there are two opposing positions of equal footing.
Political as well as economic forces often (intentionally) skew our perceptions of what that scientific consensus is. Our own personal biases can color our acceptance or rejection of science's conclusions.
As I have explained in previous posts, our perceptions are often deeply flawed. Our eyes are not video cameras; our ears are not tape recorders. Everything we conclude from our perception is first interpreted by our brain… filtered along with its biases, expectations, motivations, fears and anticipations swirling unconsciously in the background. But science done often and done well can help us sort through what we wish to believe and lead us more closely to conclude what is likely true.
- Perception experiment: Take a few moments to watch the following video. Be sure to comment on what you saw - but leave your comment before reading the comments of others. Enjoy!