Spinning The Numbers

Some numbers are easy to visualize. If someone tells you they see three ducks on the lake, or that they just bought a dozen eggs, or that it might snow ten centimeters tonight, you probably have a good idea of exactly what that means. Other numbers are difficult or impossible to get an intuitive feel for. You’ve never seen 30 trillionths of a picogram before. You’ve never driven two and a half million light years. You’ve never spent $7 trillion. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 2

Science is able to answer questions about current issues that are important to the general public, but much of the public discourse is being dominated by sources who are either ignorant or who are intentionally misleading the public for their own purposes. The science being done isn’t trickling down to the general public, and much of the reason why has to do with the way the internet has changed the nature of journalism. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 1

The world is an enormously complicated and interconnected place. As we all searching for ways to know and understand it, there are lots of people who have answers for us: politicians, religious leaders, industry lobbyists, marketers, con men, cult leaders, and of course, scientists. Carl Safina wisely warns: if scientists don’t make their answers accessible to the public, someone else will. Continue reading

How To Disagree with an Expert

Appealing to an authority only carries weight to someone who doesn’t understand the reasoning behind the authority’s belief. If you know and understand the authority’s reasoning, then only that reasoning counts, and their authority no longer carries any weight of its own. Knowing and understanding someone’s argument undermines their authority. Continue reading

Knowledge and Confidence

Experts are experts precisely because they have more information, they’ve absorbed the relevant theories, and they’ve had their ideas critically analyzed by other experts. They have cultivated a deeper understanding than laypeople. Consequently, they are more entitled to their opinions than laypeople are. Continue reading

Entitled to Your Opinion

“There is no royal road to geometry”, said Euclid to King Ptolemy. The King was trying to learn mathematics from Euclid, but he found it too difficult and had asked Euclid for an easier way to learn it. And of course, Euclid was right. There are no oracles, no shortcuts to knowledge, no quick trick for telling a truth from a lie. There is no substitute for an actual understanding of a subject. And an understanding is what entitles one to an opinion. Continue reading

Fighting for Your Beliefs

When someone disagrees with you it can feel like they’re attacking you, so it’s a natural tendency for humans to think of debates as a conflict. This is a most unfortunate human tendency. If you think the goal of debate is to defeat the people who disagree with you, then debating is not an attempt to determine who is correct, but merely a contest of argumentative skill. Continue reading

Fake Science

To people who don’t understand English, fake English sounds just like real English. If you don’t understand Swahili, fake Swahili looks just like real Swahili. And just like fake languages, to people who don’t understand science, fake science sounds just like real science too. Continue reading