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Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts (lemire.me)
189 points by zdw 25 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 205 comments



Society has a long history of using the work of a scientist while persecuting, dominating and discarding them. And it will continue thanks to the personality trait distribution in the population. Not everyone cares about Science nor will they. People who care about other things will either see Science as a tool and use the Scientist, or see Science as a threat and take out the Scientist.

It is better to teach kids (with a scientific bent) this fact and train them how to defend against certain realities than to sell a story that if we just train teachers better and improve the curriculum everyone will get interested in Science and everyone will treat Scientists ignorance and shortcomings with the patience of a grandmother.

They wont and they will continue to take advantage of the "ignorance of experts" to sideline, control or bury them.

The opposite happens only when the Scientist takes power. See Merkel.


I think you could easily make a similar argument about anything really. Just swap "science" by "politics", "philosophy", "religion" or even "witchcraft" for that matter and you would get the exact same generic argument.

Let's start by acknowledging that "science" as a concept already is understood in widely differing, fractured meanings which are fiercely contested. See: Epistomology [1].

I hold a very sceptical view on a purely utilitarian view of schooling as a way forward. Your argument - "let's teach kids with a scientific bent how to defend themselves" - a priori excludes everyone else which, paradoxically, creates this exact division. If anything, an education isn't just about teaching kids particular skills or knowledge that match their field of interest, equally important is to teach human values such as compassion, empathy, understanding,... towards themselves and each other.

Yes, it's bad when ignorance and superstition end up disparaging those who are willing to look at the world from a different perspective. But equally, there's good reason to show scepticism towards those who disregard the human experience of others while pushing positivist views and an unwavering belief in progress onto the world in the name of science.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology


A good friend of mine, who actually dropped out of Academia after 10+ years teaching, always likes to remind me that 'Science' is just a tool. It's a great tool for being descriptive about the natural world around us, but it's a very poor tool for being prescriptive about what to do with those answers.

Also, I appreciate the nuance in your response given your username. Epistemology is such an interesting topic of discussion.


> The opposite happens only when the Scientist takes power. See Merkel.

I keep seeing this brought up. What specifically about Merkel's brand of politics is because of her scientific training?


I look at how Trump, Bolesanaro, Modi et al view Science. You don't see Merkel saying the stuff they say. They see admitting ignorance as a weakness. They don't do it as a rule. If you are a scientist and have to work in an institution funded by such people how would you feel?

Plus there are these kind of articles as a reaction to what populist leaders say every 2 days - https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/04/an...

And finally a close friend I have in Europe who had an option to move anywhere choose to stay in Germany the past few years because he feels its much saner and stable than anywhere else right now. I don't see that as an accident.


I think we should be careful with conflating being a "sane" politician with a scientific education. I don't think Merkel seeming more "scientifically sane" has anything to do with her scientific education. If anything it has to do with the political system of the countries in question. In fact Merkel certainly got into the position she is in, not by following scientific advise, but by being an extremely talented "Machtpolitiker" (a politician who knows how to play for power).

She was actually well known for never taking any clear position and it was even a bit of a running gag, how she would never say anything that would position her so that someone could attack that position. The 2016 refugee crisis was the big exception. She is also a very strategic thinker and it is known that advisers in the CDU essentially looked at the democraphics of voters and showed that if the party does not take a more liberal position on gay marriage, the environment etc., the party will be irrelevant within the next 15 years.


so...she didn't have an opinion until the data was in, and then let the data form her opinion?

That's almost the definition of a good scientist.


It is also a trait of any rational actor.


What's the difference between the two (genuine question)?


I would think the difference is one of motivation (or maybe intent).

Relating the two terms in various ways helps me to see this more clearly: a "good scientist" is necessarily a "rational actor" but a "rational actor" is not necessarily a scientist.


> And finally a close friend I have in Europe who had an option to move anywhere choose to stay in Germany the past few years because he feels its much saner and stable than anywhere else right now. I don't see that as an accident.

Germany is very conservative, and some people like things to stay mostly as they are?


If you look at what is happening in the rest of the world you will see destructive change. I want to make the world better not "change the world". I'll take careful and steady over that clusterfuck any day of the week. I also moved back to Germany from Singapore last year. Three years ago I renounced my US citizenship. I work for an Australian company. I could literally have chosen to live anywhere and chose Germany because Germany values pragmatic reality driven policies and quality of life. There is no better country to live in globally if you're not a hyper-competitive sociopath.


Or France, let's don't forget France :)


It seems to primarily be something that people feel in comparison to other politicians in the handling of Covid-19, though I don't know whether that's super accurate - Germany is very different from e.g. the US, it's not the person in charge that makes the big difference. In other areas (e.g. digitalization, nuclear power etc), I never got the impression that she was ruling as a scientist.

Her governing style in general is pretty normal for a career politician in my opinion. She'll wait for the debate to lean heavily to one side and then add her weight to that side.

Did your friend consider that differently in e.g. the early 2000s? Stability has always been a major driving force in Germany, and previous chancellors have not been scientists, so I'm not so sure that it has any influence, really.


>Stability has always been a major driving force in Germany

I just wanted to take that out of context.


Good point, I shouldn't say "always" when I don't mean always always. It's been a major driving force for the BRD, that is for Germany post WWII.


I mean, they're probably bad examples, in that they're populists, in Trump's case in particular of the "know-nothing" school, and they're basically the poster children for bad governance. And Merkel is _one_ example of a politician trained as a scientist. But there are plenty of reasonable politicians who aren't scientists.

In an alternate universe where Obama had run 4 years later and was thus presiding competently over this crisis, and where Germany had elected some sort of weird hotelier with silly hair who had screwed up their response, that would argue for _lawyers_ being good at science by this approach.

I think all you can really take out of the example of current world leaders is that competent leaders are better at dealing with science than incompetent leaders. Mostly because competent leaders are inclined to listen to expert advise rather than making it up as they go along. But you don't need to be trained as a scientist to be competent. (There is probably an argument that scientists, and indeed lawyers, are more likely to be competent than business scions or newspaper columnists, but it's going to be a difference of degree).


I completely agree with Feynman and the blog post. However, I want to point out that today this sentiment is also used incorrectly, to bash the experts, or their discussion.

For example, some people dismiss things like evolution, global warming or mask wearing, under the guise of "we just want to have a debate" or "we just ask questions". But they don't understand even the basics of the existing theory, and don't want to understand it.

I think you can only have a meaningful debate with an expert if you are humble and you have done your homework. That is not to discourage anybody from asking questions, as Feynman said, just understand the experts are at a different place and probably asked these questions at some point as well.

And that's why there is value in expert consensus. Becoming expert is hard and nobody can be expert in everything. So the expert consensus is a good first heuristic for a layman.


>I think you can only have a meaningful debate with an expert if you are humble and you have done your homework.

Would the symmetrical statement, that you can only meaningfully agree with an expert if you are humble and have done your homework, be true?

I don't generally get the sense that "skeptics" of whatever color are less informed than the orthodox. To take myself as an example---I don't really know how vaccines work. I know the broad strokes---the immune system reacts to the dead pathogens and is better-prepared when I actually get infected---but that's just, like something someone told me, I'd have no idea how to verify that specific mechanism of T-cells and B-cells, oh my. If I were to argue with an anti-vaxxer, I would be "right," and they would be "wrong," but it wouldn't be because I was pro-science, but because I was pro-expert.


I'd say that believing experts is more an act of philosophy than an act of science. In an area where you're not an expert, you can't meaningfully agree with the experts – but you can meaningfully understand the limits of your own knowledge, take notice of the track record of science in general, and conclude that, in the absence of more specific knowledge, believing the experts is a good Bayesian prior.

And the same applies in the other direction. In the absence of knowledge, you can't meaningfully disagree with the experts, but occasionally there are enough warning signs that you can meaningfully choose to be skeptical. (For example, a lack of rigor in the field.)


>And the same applies in the other direction. In the absence of knowledge, you can't meaningfully disagree with the experts, but occasionally there are enough warning signs that you can meaningfully choose to be skeptical. (For example, a lack of rigor in the field.)

You have put is well. Medicine is one such field which generally lacks rigor in my opinion, this is largely true of both mainstream and alternative medicine.


>I'd say that believing experts is more an act of philosophy than an act of science.

Not philosophy. Faith.


Whatever, I don't have time to become an expert in everything, much less the desire. I choose to focus on my small area (which has changed over time, both because my interests change and because my next job needs me to learn something) and trust the rest.


But isn't this part of the point? Philosophically science is about being interested and studying broad range of topics and areas to judge everything for yourself and make your own conclusions, not trust expert opinions. In my experience, whenever I have to rely on an expert opinion I usually feel bad later when I acquire more knowledge in the area myself, as those opinions are almost always wrong.


This statement doesn't even make sense, where are you acquiring this knowledge if not from experts? Are you out there doing field research and conducting your own scientific experiments on every subject you're interested in?

I'd love to hear a couple examples of which "expert opinions" you've disproven for yourself and where you acquired the supporting evidence.


>I'd love to hear a couple examples of which "expert opinions" you've disproven for yourself and where you acquired the supporting evidence.

I have one that's related to nutrition. But what's the point if you don't do it yourself, how will you know if I'm right?


You are confusing opinions with evidence and facts. Obviously you acquire knowledge by reading papers where people are doing research and experiments and presenting evidence, analytics and all the facts from which you can make your own conclusions.


OK, I don't think that this delineation is actually as black and white as you're making it out to be, given most subjects are complex enough to require nuanced interpretations of data/facts, but I'll give you that in some instances there is a fine line, and there are certain areas where there is a lot of disagreement even amongst experts.

Still, an expert, by definition is just someone that has "comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of a subject." You could argue that as soon as you've acquired enough knowledge on a subject to form an accurate opinion, you have yourself become an expert.

Although I'm guessing when you're referring to "experts" you mean "establishment experts." For example, your average doctor whose spent decades studying medicine as opposed to your online research on how to best treat/prevent a certain ailment (you didn't provide an example so I am just referring a fairly common one). What's the difference between your expertise and theirs? On one hand, they have decades worth of rigorous academic study and personal experience over you, on the other hand, you may have a "fresher" perspective that may be devoid of certain institutional biases. I would just strive to stay humble.


I may have looked more in depth into my condition (though that may imply listening to crackpots) than doctors who despite years of study may not be as in depth as me. There is a lot to the entire human body (which is why doctors refer people to specialists, but they need to choose the right specialist which isn't always easy)


except that papers rarely give all the data these days, or even enough to verify the conclusion


"Philosophically science is about being interested and studying broad range of topics and areas to judge everything for yourself and make your own conclusions, not trust expert opinions."

Not quite. It's observation of the world around you. It doesn't preclude experts' opinions, it takes them into account. Reinventing the wheel isn't the goal of science. The goal is to understand why a circle might be the best shape for rolling and under what circumstances it might not be.

More specific to current times, ignoring the advice of epidemiologists with respect to masks and social distancing is proving to be costly in life and economy.

"In my experience, whenever I have to rely on an expert opinion I usually feel bad later when I acquire more knowledge in the area myself, as those opinions are almost always wrong."

Care to share a specific example from your life?


How are you informed about the experts' opinions. If it's via the news, then what your are getting is almost surely warped.


What you're describing was true in the Renaissance, but it's incredibly, achingly difficult for someone to gain expertise in multiple areas of science in this era.


Have you read about the Munchausen Trilemma? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma


I’ve always found that very boring since it seems obvious to me that logical truths require the axiomatic argument, scientific truths require the regressive argument, and reductionism doesn’t allow for complex supernatural claims to transcend from merely needing axiomatic support to affecting scientific truths.

It feels like one of those things in philosophy that religious people greatly exaggerate the importance of.


Well, no - it's the foundational problem of knowledge/epistemology.

How you choose to "solve" it is up to you.

The solution computer scientists like a lot is coherentism. You pull yourself up by the bootstraps - like we do with self-hosting compilers.

Of course, it's just a conceptual game (like all philosophy). The idea of "prove to me that you know..." seems a bit like "Jump for me... Higher!"


I agree that in the modern world, many people may find it somewhat "obvious" (or rather, they have a similar belief intuitively), but I think it's very relevant here: of course doubting science requires some kind of faith. So does believing science. Everything requires faith, we can't actually know anything without faith in something.

(I personally am very aggressively areligious, so "faith" here does not necessarily refer to a spiritual faith.)


I think the difficulty with making an equivalence between “faith” and this type of fundamental epistemic limitation is that no matter how well-intentioned you are, religious people are going to take the soundbyte and claim it’s “proof that science can’t explain everything” which will then be “proof that god is possible” which will then mean oppressing people whose beliefs they don’t like.

We need a much different concept than faith.

Faith means continuing to believe something that is massively contrary to the evidence, to preserve some type of fidelity or loyalty to a previous belief commitment.

I think this is massively different than acknowledging the fundamental deductive limitations of reasoning about epistemic metatruths.


>Faith means continuing to believe something that is massively contrary to the evidence, to preserve some type of fidelity or loyalty to a previous belief commitment.

You've just defined faith in a way that wins your argument, but that is not any kind of consensus definition of faith.


I don’t agree. I’m saying there exists a difference of kind between the act of belief in inferential integrity of experts despite fundamental epistemic limitations of philosophy, and the separate act of continuing to believe something contrary to the evidence.

The ubiquitous notion of religious faith is similar to the second thing, and is not similar to the first thing. It’s not a matter of consensus or definition.


>It feels like one of those things in philosophy that religious people greatly exaggerate the importance of.

Appropriately named then!


Faith implies there is no mathematically sound reasoning underlying the belief, at least a little

The hypothesis "Expert consensus is more likely to be correct" is falsifiable and thus not purely blind faith


>Expert consensus is more likely to be correct" is falsifiable

That's one of those things that sounds like it should be falsifiable, but in practice it's not. The statement is far too broad to conduct reasonable experiments, and if you narrow the scope to the point where you can conduct experiments, then your experiments won't support a conclusion that's broad enough to be a sound foundation for "expert consensus is more likely to be correct".

I happen to think expert consensus is generally useful, but there's still an element of faith in my opinion.


To put a finer point the phrase "expert consensus" is circular itself as we tend to take away the "expert" label from anyone whose position diverges too far from the consensus.


Of course it's not 100% black and wide and there is an element of faith.

The consolidated statement is way to wide, but if you take consensus to mean "a large majority like 66%+ portion of the scientific literature within the field(s) relevant to that specific instance" that becomes a lot more testable for an individual issue.


> there is an element of faith

That's exactly my point.

>if you take consensus to mean "a large majority like 66%+ portion of the scientific literature within the field(s) relevant to that specific instance" that becomes a lot more testable for an individual issue.

Yeah we can say that for some specific issue like choosing what time of year to plant tomatoes, expert consensus is useful, but that doesn't generalize, which was also my point.


Unfortunately, the recent reproducibility crisis amongst expert ‘scientists’ has damaged this hypothesis greatly.


Belief in experts is itself sound scientific reasoning about the available evidence on experts.

It’s like a chain of custody in legal evidence. If someone presents evidence in court and states that there are logs, seals and timestamps proving the chain of custody and disproving tampering, it is not “an act of faith” to believe the evidence was preserved accurately, even though you only observe details about the chain of custody, not the state of the evidence itself at all times.

It’s similar with expert opinion. You can think of the evidence (which you don’t personally observe) as passing through a series of chain of custody transactions - initial data collection, data preparation, actual study or research, proposed models, fact checking and testing correctness, presentation of results, use in an application / prototype / clinical trial, etc.

Believing in the fidelity of this chain of events is itself amenable to scientific and inductive inquiry.

Just like some rare case where police or attorneys lied about chain of custody with evidence that did get tampered with, sometimes this model of continuing trust at each step of the chain is wrong. Sometimes the chain of events that led to an expert opinion is untrustworthy - someone falsified data or lied, or there was an undetected error.

But that means it is a statistical process with an error rate, not that it contains any aspect similar to faith.


It seems to me that "belief in experts" or not is kind of analogous to the longstanding conflict in Western culture between Catholicism vs. Protestantism.

I mean, philosophically, both sides have good points about fundamental flaws of the other.


The difference between belief and faith is that belief may be substantiated by evidence and can change with new evidence.

I believe that kangaroos are real. If there were suddenly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I would say okay and start believing that they probably aren't real, not stay firm in the original belief and dismiss the new evidence as a test of my faith.


> Would the symmetrical statement, that you can only meaningfully agree with an expert if you are humble and have done your homework, be true?

Yes. But agreeing or disagreeing is not the only option. In [1] the authors suggest that the crustal anisotropy is decoupled from horizontal basal tractions and, instead, created by upper mantle vertical loading, which generates pressure gradients that drive channelized flow in the mid-lower crust. Do you agree or disagree? The truth is, you probably don't have a position on the issue.

If pressed, you might defer to the expert opinion that crustal anisotropy is created by upper mantle vertical loading. But that's not the same as agreeing with it. It's just saying "I don't know, but here's what somebody else says".

Of course, agree/disagree/defer is still too rigid: you can humbly tend to agree (based on some homework) while mostly deferring, etc.

[1] https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/28/eabb0476


> but it wouldn't be because I was pro- science , but because I was pro expert.

They do the same but they pick different 'experts': priests, politicians, bloggers, media pundits. We can't escape the fact that we need to rely on other people's opinions to make our own, we can't understand everything from scratch.


The difference is that choosing experts is itself amenable to scientific analysis.

If you assume people are acting with good intentions, this differentiates the case of experts with scientific knowledge vs experts without.

If you assume bad intentions, then all possible expert panels can’t be trusted anyway.

I think when people try to elevate non-scientific experts to the level of scientific experts on a scientific issue, really they are trying to make it tribal and specifically remove objectivity and evidence, when they perceive it as a threat to their tribal commitments and ways of life.

You can of course subvert scientific experts to do the same, but with science you have the option to let objectivity win. No other way of constructing expert panels has that option besides scientific inquiry.


Undoubtedly, one of the largest problems since the dawn of humanity is the refusal to admit "I don't know". This is what is most frustrating to me regarding a variety of subjects including religion (and atheism for that matter), climate change, economics, and others. My formative experiences that communicated the scope of this problem were my time in high school and college when my fellow students seemed to be absolutely terrified to ask any questions. Even the smallest admission that "I'm sorry professor, I didn't understand that. Could you explain it again?" or something to that effect was not ever even considered for probably 80% of students. I believe this is intimately related to how commonly people hold very strong opinions, while either understanding absolutely nothing about the subject when there is plenty of information available (economics, climate change), or where there is no evidence to even address (religion, atheism). They seemingly adopt the popular view of their peers, and rarely consider questioning anything. I won't pretend I have some way to solve this problem, as it seems inherent to humanity, but I believe this is causing the effects that Feynman is lamenting in the article, and I'm also not at all convinced that this problem is peculiar to modern times.


I think it's an inability, rather than refusal. It's not outright impossible to say "this is unknown," but it does conflict with the way our mind naturally works. We don't leave "i don't know" holes. We don't think in terms of degrees of confidence. We think in terms of facts, abstract theories... at least "we" as groups.

There wasn't really a time in the past when people didn't know what the stars were. They always had a view of the world that was complete internally, including "what are stars" knowledge.

Even science, in the philosophically ideal sense, works by theories overtaking earlier theories. We don't go from unknowledge to knowledge. We go from bad knowledge to better, truer knowledge over time.

Interestingly, science in the squishier sense does have more ability to recognize holes in knowledge. Physics has distinct holes in its knowledge base that they are trying to answer. As a human, deciding to do an experiment or study something requires a "we don't know" posture. Epistemologically though, science doesn't have this posture.

It totally falls apart as you distance from hard sciences though. They don't tend to have "quantum theory of gravity" like holes that they are trying to fill.


I disagree. It would be because you’re pro-science. Even your simplistic explanation about reacting to dead pathogen, and something about t cells and b cells, is a model. It underlies at least some class of hypotheses that are amenable to be proven wrong or augmented with further evidence.

To believe in science is not to “know” static facts of a mechanism. It is to constantly reevaluate your best available hypotheses under the requirement of evidence.

Memorizing facts often leads people into trouble. Creationist authors for a long time have given exhaustive biochemical accounts of the blood coagulation cascade as their own form of evidence of intelligent design. The statement of the facts has not much to do with science, rather it’s the choice to propose beliefs drawn from them, and whether this remains rooted in disconfirming your own hypotheses with intellectual honesty or becomes an unfalsifiable just-so story to reaffirm a believe you’ve otherwise arbitrarily chosen for non-scientific reasons.


> Would the symmetrical statement, that you can only meaningfully agree with an expert if you are humble and have done your homework, be true?

Not really, because the experts agree on millions of details that I can look up -even if I don't fully understand them- meanwhile the other side (e.g antivaxxers) don't agree in anything significant and asking them simple basic questions unmask they know nothing about the subject (e.g. ask an antivaxxer some highschool chemistry questions about mercury). So unless you believe it's a giant conspiracy involving every expert in the world plus your highschool teachers plus a lot of books it's easy to claim that I meaningfully agree with the experts even if I don't understand the subject as much as them.


One side of an issue being coordinated doesn't necessarily mean what they're saying it's true, just that they've managed to coordinate their beliefs more. Medieval monks agreed on many details of theology.


Medieval monks couldn't even agree on 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_t....

Why were there so many sects, religions and religious wars if they agreed so well?

On the other hand, the speed of light is the same under any system of reference, any regime, culture or religion.


Ah yes, the angels on hairpin.

The debate was about inifinite vs. finite, not about a particular number. It was couched in the terms of angels rather than physical items specificaly to avoid preconceived notions about our physical world - notions which were limited, and recognized as limited, back then. Do we even recognize our notions as limited in our beautiful early XXI century...?


They disagreed on details, and yet agreed on much. Modern scientists agree on much, but disagree on many details, including many questions of great importance. There's even a good old schism in the interpretation of quantum mechanics!

The universality of an object-level truth has little to do with the coherence and marketing of groups claiming it, and worse, claiming ownership of it. To not realize this is to worship the false idol of Science, rather than the scientific method.

All indicators of things that are good and right and true eventually become disconnected from the things they originally indicated, and become tools of power. 'Science', as a word and an idea, is as much a buzzword and cudgel of politics as it is a reference to the search for truth. There is no escape from the inevitable transmutation of our words and symbols into political weapons: the only thing we can do is mitigate the problem by pre-empting it, inventing new words, changing categories, speaking in new metaphors that haven't been turned into applause lights yet. You have to stay a step ahead of the churning masses.


‘true’ is hard to define. If we stick to scientific truth, that domain is a small part of people’s day to day existence:

e.g. science can’t prove ‘does this person love me?’ ‘which flower arrangement is better?’ ‘what color should I paint my walls?’


As the comment one level above mentions, trusting experts is basically just a heuristic.


I might be thinking about this wrong, but does one have to "agree" rather than be indifferent with an expert?

I mean I don't agree or disagree with wearing face masks, but it's very clear the consensus among "experts" is that wearing masks is a good thing to prevent spreading a virus such as covid-19.

My point is more, to me wearing a mask is the "way it is" because the scientific community thinks it is through peer review etc. In my kind disagreement / agreement does not come into the question? I'm more questioning if the consensus is based on proper peer reviewed articles. And if was really concerned about the question I might research these, hopefully, publicly available papers.

In the case of vaccine / anti - vaccine my opinion is not really relevant (whether I agree or disagree), but the consensus is that vaccines helps us. If you think this consensus is wrong it's on you to prove otherwise instead of simply saying "it's my opinion". And the way you do this is to pursue research that can disprove vaccines are good?

The point of science is opinions don't matter, results do?

Maybe I'm being too academic about everything.


On the face-masks, the majority of experts do think it's a good thing, but there is not really any solid evidence. The WHO June 5th statement on this:

At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.

Indeed, interviewed on BBC Radio 4 last week, Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society (the UK "academy of science") declared that to ask for such evidence would be "methodological fetishism", we are expected, no demanded, to accept the opinions of experts.

So I'll stand with Feynman on this.


There’s at least as much double-blind scientific trial based evidence of face mask effectiveness as there is the effectiveness of parachutes.


I've heard this a couple of times, it's a bit trite, a little anti-science, but worth some analysis. Suppose your analogy holds: which of mask-wearing and non-wearing is the parachute and which is the empty backpack? I ride the London underground regularly, masks are mandatory and 90-95% of people wear one. I'd say 20% of people let it drift down from their nose while they play on their phones, more than that are constantly adjusting it, touching their face with the hands that are also touching the seats and the hand-rails. Is this more or less dangerous than not wearing one at all? Are we really saying that this question is outside the realm of science?


Not at a community level. Only a droplet level. There's no measures on if stopping droplets compensates for the fact that people touch their face every 10 seconds due to wearing a mask. Numerous places with mask laws have skyrocketing case counts.


No there isn't. If there was, why is the British scientist demanding faith rather than presenting evidence for mask wearing? "Methodological fetishism" isn't a real thing, is it.

Here's the mask science reality: there is none. There have only been two studies that looked at whether masks stop a sick wearer infecting healthy people (the other way around to how masks are normally used), one was underpowered and the other concluded no impact. There's plenty of studies on whether masks stop a healthy person being infected by a sick person, but that's not how mask requirements are being justified at the moment.

If you think about it, designing a study to test this hypothesis wouldn't be possible. You'd have to ask for volunteers to specifically hang out in rooms around a sick person who was definitely shedding virus. But you aren't going to get permission to do that over and over again, probably you won't even be able to get volunteers. It's effectively unfalsifiable: exactly the kind of problem that makes for bad science.

It's possible that a simple mask can reduce transmission a bit, if someone is literally coughing phlegm into their mask. If they're not coughing up virus then how is a mask meant to work? The virus is too small to be directly blocked. It can only stop fairly large droplets.


>It can only stop fairly large droplets.

What is your basis for this statement?

If I wear a regular dust mask, without edge sealing, and glasses, my glasses fog up when I exhale. Seems to me suggestive evidence that anything at all deflects normally invisible breath that would travel outward onto the surroundings.


Well, that's pretty well known. There are different tiers of mask. This article looks at the evidence for them:

https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/04/commenta...

Some kinds of masks can stop much finer grained objects than droplets, e.g. gas masks, but the kinds of masks people are actually wearing are just regular cloth masks and there's no evidence they accomplish anything and plenty of evidence they don't: the article goes into this.

It's logical: your glasses fog up exactly because the hot air is exiting the mask and travelling outwards, that's why it's hitting the cold glass of your glasses.

But it's not sufficient to merely deflect a small amount of air from each breath in a different direction. That's not permanently trapping infected air; obviously it can't be because otherwise CO2 saturated air would build up inside your mask and suffocate you. The air has to be able to circulate. The mask is meant to let air through whilst blocking ... well, whilst blocking what? Virus particles? They're far too small. Water droplets that contain virus? Maybe, but only if you're actually spreading water droplets around and if you're asymptomatic then clearly you're not. Yet everyone is being forced to wear masks even if they're visibly healthy, on the basis that "you might be infected without realising it". The science behind this is garbled nonsense, being pushed on people because something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done.

Stopping stuff travelling out is a different matter.


The other thing that's being missed is even for proper masks there are time limits to their effectiveness. That doesn't matter so much for health care professionals who should be frequently replacing the masks, but it is relevant to members of the public walking around.

Either they're keeping the mask on all day and it stops being useful after an hour, or they're taking it off and putting it on as they go in and out of shops.

https://www.ijic.info/article/download/10788/7862/

> This study was conducted to check the efficacy of face masks in limiting bacterial dispersal when worn continuously in Operation Theater. A comparison was done to find out difference between fabric and two ply disposable masks. The first sample was collected prior to wearing the mask, using cough plate method holding a blood agar plate approximately 10 -12 centimeters away from the mouth. The personnel were asked to produce “ahh” phonation. Participants were then asked to don the face mask, continue routine work and report to the study center located inside the theater for further sample collections at designated intervals of 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 minutes after wearing the fabric mask made of cotton. The study was replicated on immediate next day using two ply disposable mask keeping all the other conditions and personnel exactly the same. Bacterial counts before wearing the mask were 5.36±4.38 and 5.7±2.99 on day 1 and day 2 of study. Bacterial counts were 0.96±1.06 (P<0.001) and 0.7±0.87 (P<0.001) at 30 min; 2.33±1.42 (P<0.001) and 2.36±1.03 (P<0.001) at 60 min; 3.23±1.54 (P=0.007) and 4.16±1.78 (P=0.011) at 90 min; 5.63±4.02 (P=0.67) and 4.9±1.98 (P=0.161) at 120 min and 7.03±4.45 (P=0.019) and 5.6±2.21 (P=0.951) at 150min respectively for fabric and two ply disposable mask. Counts were near pre-wear level in about two hours irrespective of the type of mask. There was no significant difference between cotton fabric and two ply disposable masks. Face masks significantly decreased bacterial dispersal initially but became almost ineffective after two hours of use.


There is a key part of that phrase "of healthy people". The problem here is that lots of people dont realize they are sick, or are in the earily stage of the sickness with low symptoms yet still infectious. The evidence for this position increases daily.


I agree with you here that, that is definitely an issue. One should never be ridiculed or looked down upon when asked for scientific evidence. But I guess that is a completely different subject of "scientific elitism" or "scientist elitism",

Not that is of any help but the government in Denmark has done sort of the same. If you question their policies and responses to COVID they say “It’s based on advice on scientists and professionals”. You ask what professionals and science for long enough they say well it was a political decision. And this circle go around in till someone gets tired


On the topic of masks, unfortunately people are forgetting that initial spread of SARS-COV-2 was through the eyes.

We will learn a lot from the post mortem of this pandemic...


How you get infected is irrelevant unless you are spending your time in a COVID-19 hospital ward. The question is how you avoid infecting others, in the world as it exists, where most people are not infected but you might be.


Well, the stats on life expectancy over time, cases of infectious diseases and analysis of vaccination programme efficacy are acceptable evidence.

You don't need to understand the mechanism of vaccines, to see data of the effects. Luckily the effective application of science frequently allows us to see that the consensus did in fact improve something, and that even if it's not 100% correct or you don't understand all the nuance, the fact that repeatable and extensive datasets are available for many scientific claims will work in its place.

Of course there are huge exceptions to this, but it's not always true that you need to understand to have an opinion else it is simply faith. It can be knowable and verifiably effective.

You don't need to understand combustion engines to know that they transfer energy. You don't need to trust that scientists made them more efficient when you can measure distance travelled and volume of fuel required.


> Would the symmetrical statement, that you can only meaningfully believe an expert if you are humble and have done your homework, be true?

Yes and no.

Yes, because as you point out, you need to be able to verify if you are to really trust someone.

No, because the society is largely built on trust anyway, and as long as you can trust other people to verify the claims then you don't need to verify everything yourself.

(That probably explains why so many libertarians have certain anti-scientific beliefs, if you don't have trust in the society at large, there is no way you can verify all the research.)

> I don't generally get the sense that "skeptics" of whatever color are less informed than the orthodox.

I get the sense of that a lot in the global warming debate. If the deniers understood the basics of the theory of global warming, for example, that it predicts (and we observe) stratospheric cooling and polar amplification, they could never claim that it could be the sun.

With vaccines I think it is similar. I don't know much but I would bet there are classical experiments and observations that establish how the immune system works, and these pretty much lead you to the current theory.

Which brings us to a point - if someone argues too much against a scientific theory, but are unable to create a decent competing alternative, it is probably a sign they either haven't done their homework, or they don't understand that scientific theories are supposed to be only the best available explanations, not anything more.


Check mate.


The real definition of "expert" isn't "knows stuff you don't" but "reliably does stuff you can't."

So when an expert makes accurate predictions about climate change, they're not believable because they're in a political category called "expert".

They're believable because they've done what they've claimed they could do. And your opinion is less relevant than their opinion, because you literally don't know enough about the details to even start doing what they've done.

If you look into the pseudoscience of denialism, you'll find that not only are the same "experts" rolled out to challenge climate change, tobacco dangers, and so on - but it's incredibly rare to find one with a credible paper trail of accurate and useful predictions about the topic they're holding forth on.

But populists aren't interested in the science, they're interested in pandering to public narcissism. No one has a problem believing dentists know more about teeth than they do, or that mechanics know about cars.

But populists like to use sideswipes - like claiming climate science is all about funding - which are personal smears and not about the facts. And they add a strain of anti-intellectual pandering by suggesting these domeheads are looking down at regular honest Americans, and how dare they be so insulting?

This is like honey to narcissists, and the debate stops being about reality and becomes about feelings and identity - which is exactly what the denier farms want.

The mechanics are thinly varnished bullying, similar to some of the drivers of misogyny and homophobia - "How dare you be different, and how dare you even have an opinion? Shut up and stay in your place. See - all these good folk here agree."


Can you actually cite someone who is both a climate change skeptic and believes tobacco isn't harmful? Or is that a strawman you invented?

Your definition of "denialism" is botched. Of course skeptics don't provide their own theories. They are pointing out bad science. It is not a requirement to present an alternative paper to point out that a paper is flawed. Many skeptics are people who believe the state of the art is inadequate to understand or simulate whatever some 'expert' is claiming they can simulate, so obviously those people aren't going to present some alternative 'expertise'. That would be in defiance of their own beliefs.


As an aside, you're using the word 'populism' like it is the same thing as demagoguery. Populism isn't always dishonest and anti-intellectual, just like elitism (its antipode) isn't always honest and benign. I think using populism that way is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Populism can cleave to rational well-researched ideas in the face of an elite establishment that is opposed to them, although since it is often used dishonestly it's something to be wary of, it shouldn't be rejected on its face in all cases.


Does this apply to blue-tribe denialists, too?


It's funny you use mask wearing as an example -- when the CDC told us that masks would not protect us[0] there was no theory to back it up and no homework to do, it was just a realpolitik lie. Be cautious of experts wearing the skin of science.

[0]: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/01/corona...


It's been +6 months of Coronavirus, and still people don't get this right:

Wearing a mask (for the most of us not working in healthcare) prevents you from spreading the disease. It's not for protecting yourself, but for protecting others.

Since you can spread the disease even without having symptoms, and showing symptoms can take up to 15 days, then you should wear a mask, specially in closed, crowded spaces.

There is no hidden agenda, conspiracy or whatever satisfies your imagination.


>It's not for protecting yourself

It does protect yourself, also.

>There is no hidden agenda, conspiracy or whatever satisfies your imagination.

Early on, the CDC and WHO were both saying NOT to wear masks. The hidden agenda at that time was to prevent a run on masks that might prevent health care workers from having enough. That was the lie.


Thank you. The amount of experts who want to suppress that they lied about masks is so powerful it's easy to doubt one's own sanity on this point.


Your claim is that CDC / WHO lied about the efficacy of masks.

CDC / WHO claim that they didn't have good quality evidence that they could use to recommend mask wearing.

It should be really simple for you to prove your point: post a link to any meta-analsis or RCT of mask wearing that shows a benefit. This would be the evidence that WHO or CDC should have used to make the recommendation but chose to sit on. Before anyone says these studies don't exist: they do, there are lots of studies of mask wearing.


They didn't just make no recommendation based on weak evidence. They recommended against wearing them [1].

I'm not sure what your last paragraph is supposed to say. Are you claiming there are lots of studies of mask wearing and the preponderance of evidence is that they don't help?

[1] see e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYI6ngjDUBo


CDC said "don't wear masks". CDC said they had no evidence they could use to recommend mask wearing.

You're claiming they did have the evidence, but they hid that because they were lying about the efficacy of masks.

If you're right it's really easy to prove: post a link to the evidence that masks work. Post a link to any meta-analysis or RCT that shows a benefit of mask wearing.

> Are you claiming there are lots of studies of mask wearing and the preponderance of evidence is that they don't help?

You're claiming that there are studies; that the studies show that masks help; and that the quality of the evidence is strong enough to make a recommendation that everyone should wear a mask.

Post a link to one of these studies.

(This, btw, is a common theme in these threads. Everyone says these studies exist, no-one ever posts a link to them. The only time someone did post a link i: the study was published June 2020 and ii: it didn't say what they thought it said).


The synopsis of existing evidence I formed my opinion on, conveniently enough for you, was on Slatestar Codex.

If these studies don't exist, why are there recommendations to wear masks now? Were they done in the intervening months?

Edit: And why, when I ask you to clarify what you mean, do you instead try to tell me what _I_ am saying?


> It does protect yourself, also.

True, but not 100% accurate. You can get it also through your eyes, or by touching something infected like a door knob and touching your eyes or mouth.

> CDC and WHO were both saying NOT to wear masks

I believe they were saying to not rush and PURCHASE masks, that is different to say "NOT to wear masks". It was the period they were appealing to common sense: to keep a distance from others and cough in a kleenex or in your arm, and stay at home.


Quote from WHO in May:

>If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19," the WHO guidelines read.

That was the early advice, countries with experience in pandemics like Korea knew this was bad advice. Seems to have been generally common knowledge that wearing masks reduces the chance of both contracting and spreading, which is why doctors wears masks


I think you refer to this: https://www.facebook.com/WHO/posts/2953744821337548

Also: "Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing"

They don't say "NOT to wear masks", as you said earlier. These are 2 different messages.


Various local administrations (at least here in Canada) did, justifying it by saying you'd be more likely to touch your face to adjust it. It was simply a misinformation campaign to avoid supply shortages but the resulting erosion of trust is hard to counteract.


To clarify:

There are many different types of masks. Masks in the health care context are designed to protect the wearer. N95 masks block 99.9% of incoming nanoscale particles, but are designed to be easy to breath, so have valves or release-seals on the perimeter so that you can breath out with no resistance.

i.e. they are not at all designed to protect others from yourself, but they do help.

Cloth masks provide <10% filtration efficacy for breathing in, so they are not appropriate for the industrial/medical arenas.

Anything in front of your face helps stop large droplets.

Medical people wear eye protection because covid enters through the eyes as well.


Thanks. Yes, I clarified some points in other answers.

My message was intended to be as simple as possible, because a healthcare worker won't be even questioning all these facts after six months of life/death struggle.


> Wearing a mask (for the most of us not working in healthcare) prevents you from spreading the disease. It's not for protecting yourself, but for protecting others.

This is true for surgical and cloth masks but you can also buy better masks that also protect the wearer.


I am not sure science is clear about "you can spread the disease even without having symptoms". I've seen a couple back and forth arguments but nothing conclusive. Also, 15 days to get symptoms is an extreme outlier. Median is around 5 days.


> science is clear about

Have you read OP's article, and what is about?

Anyway, being able to spread without or very mild symptoms is the main thing of this disease, and this is why it can saturate hospitals in no time. Otherwise, if you are just contagious when in bed and with fever, the spread will be lower.

> 15 days

I said 'up to'. And most countries use 15 days to measure quarantine effects. In Italy we had a very high peak (~5K infections/day), and because of those measures (and some good sense) we managed to lower it to 200/day, totaling 13K infected.


> Wearing a mask (for the most of us not working in healthcare) prevents you from spreading the disease. It's not for protecting yourself, but for protecting others.

How does the mask know in which direction it is providing protection?


I'll stick to the guidelines and assume your message is in good will....

It prevents your spits to reach other's noses and mouths. If all of us wear masks, then no spits flying around = no spread.


From what I understand, it is the size of the droplets. The ones leaving the wearer's mouth are much larger, therefore higher chances of the mask stopping them. The ones that are lingering in the air are smaller, which most face coverings (ie, not proper fitted masks) have lower chances of stopping from entering a wearer's mask.


I get that, but mask usage is not 100% for many reasons. Larger droplets hitting the wearers mask from the outside are also possible for many reasons.


Mask usage is good enough. Even better if every person in the world uses them. Want 100% effectiveness? Then stay at home.


Sorry, I didn't mean that it isn't 100% effective, although that is true too.

I meant that not everyone will wear them. The improvement is still >0 in protecting oneself.


The CDC is full of doctors. Who, when asked "does <x> help against <y>?" always think of bloodletting or lead-against-malaria and answer "no", unless they have empirical evidence (studies) rejecting this so-called "Null Hypothesis".

That approach wasn't particularly smart in this case. But it's so fundamental to medicine today, precisely because the alternative killed an untold number of people over centuries, that people steeped in it were not able to overcome these priors.

The idea of this having been a strategy to ration limited supplies is rather widespread, obviously. And if you look at a timeline, you will notice that it was mentioned in the mainstream press in the very first articles reporting about the guidance on masks.

So I believe what happened actually went the other way around: experts were looking for arguments to support their guidance against mask usage. And because the argument above doesn't satisfy many people, they came up with their own conspiracy theory about their "true" reasons. Mentioning it, with a wink, allowed them to use the one argument that people would understand. And everyone ate it up!


> That approach wasn't particularly smart in this case.

Woah wait where did that come from? Yes it was smart. It looked bad but they were behaving correctly. And before you argue that masks don’t have any downsides (which I was saying when I originally started wearing them) it’s really easy to accidentally contaminate your mask and now you’re breathing through whatever got on it. I’ve done this by mistake at least once now and was sick for a week because of it.


It's true though, the mask does not protect you from coronavirus, only a FFP3 respirator will. It prevents you from touching your face and coughing/breathing at others, which is the most common medium. They obviously shouldn't have discouraged the public from wearing masks, but it was not a lie - preventing spread of disease and contraction of disease are very different things. I wouldn't want my doctor to only wear a mask.


I think in times of crisis (and in general to some extent), it is difficult and non-advantageous to aim SOLELY to be technically correct because not everyone is willing to pay attention to details. I agree that everything you have mentioned is technically correct but people need and look for simple guidelines and thumb rules from expert.

There has been a huge debate about the goal of statistical tests. Is their purpose to (i) find the truth (the effect you noticed in your experiment and the hypothesis you propose to explain it being true or not), or (ii) help an experimenter in making a decision what future experiments should they do to get closer to the truth.

I see this same debate re-occurring pandemic times. And I would argue that we must aim for the latter because in the end people want to know: Should I wear a mask or not? The former truth can be sought out in non-pandemic times with well-defined studies that are not under time pressure to churn out a publication.

WHO expertise failed to cut through this superficial chaos of "scientific expertise" to help people make that decision early on.


Note that, due to "researcher degrees of freedom", statistical tests are a lot more effective at stopping you from fooling yourself than they are at stopping you from fooling others. Preregistration helps with the latter problem, but there's ultimately no substitute for actually replicating the results.


Two nitpicks: an FFP2 should also work pretty well with its 94% filtration capacity. Second, I assume you're in Europe, because USA-spec N95 or N100 masks would also work. Doesn't affect the point you're making.

Reason and recent scientific evidence, however, does affect your point that nothing but the highest-rated respirators prevent contraction. The FFP2/FFP3/N95/N100s of the world prevent contraction much more effectively than lower-rated masks or respirators, but it's wrong to say that other masks don't protect against this coronavirus.

Common sense suggest that homemade masks prevent the contraction of COVID, just to a substantially lower extent than the higher-end respirators. Even before the scientific studies came out showing that homemade masks could reduce contraction, it wouldn't be dumb to wear a mask for purely selfish reasons. A bandana blocks some particles. A Chinese spec KN95 is likely better. Even if the bandana only blocks 25% of particles that could cause COVID, I'd definitely wear it if it was all I had and I had to go to the grocery store.

But you don't need to take my word/logic for it. Here are a few pre-prints I found on the great medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.14.20065375v... https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.06.20093021v... https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.07.20093864v...


I agree with everything you said except about the protection thing. I would except things that are supposed to protect me from a thing to be capable of it - a bandana, a mask, or a lower-rated respirator protect me from most droplets containing the virus, but have no capability of protecting me from the virus itself. However this is, as another commenter said, probably too much technical correctness.


just to make sure that I'm understanding:

- If using X reduces the probability of contracting P. then X protects you from X. right?

- If a mask prevents you from touching your face and that reduces the probability of contracting the disease. Then masks do indeed protect you.

> I wouldn't want my doctor to only wear a mask.

I feel that this is a strawman.

- - -

but even if we ignore the face-touching, I don't understand how is it possible for masks to make things worse.

if we were talking about bacteria, then yes the bacteria can fester there.

but if the virus is carried by droplets, and a part of these droplets end up on the mask instead of in your nose. then surely that would reduce the probability of being infected right?


I never said masks make things worse (with the exception of the doctor) - I think I said the opposite.

My doctor should wear something that has a filter capable of catching the virus, such as FFP3 respirator. When you breathe in, droplets get through the mask (this gets progressively worse as the mask gets wet) - and if the mask is not a FFP3, you're making a bet that none of the droplets that get through are contaminated, because the mask does not protect you from the virus, it merely protects you from some of the droplets around you; only the correct filter will protect you. The virus is around 50-100 nanometers.


It's probabilistic, like everything, but N-95 masks do protect the wearer from particles that small. The CDC purposefully lied to you so that you wouldn't stockpile masks they (understandably) wanted to use elsewhere.

/https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Filtration-Performance...

>Consistent with single-fiber filtration theory, N95 and P100 respirators challenged with silver monodisperse particles showed a decrease in percentage penetration with a decrease in particle diameter down to 4 nm.


If the mask stops some droplets (which it obviously does, as it gets wet over time) and some of those droplets carry the virus, then obviously the mask protects against the virus - not 100%, but some percent (just like condoms!).


Nope. It protects you from said droplets, not from the virus, which it is incapable to protect you from, unlike a FFP3.


But as far as we know, the bare virus does not travel through the air, it only travels in droplets. Although there is some disagreement on how large those droplets are.


I feel like I have a wrong model of how things work.

I'm thinking that for each virus there is a chance that it will infect a cell. The higher the viral load, the higher the number of chances that you will get infected.

a lower number of droplets -> lower viral load -> less chance to be infected.


What is the physical explanation behind this fact, and how come normal masks protect others if a carrier wears it?


The physical explanation is simple, the gaps between the strings of the mask are significantly wider than 50-100 nm. The mask protects others through preventing you from breathing/coughing on them, which it does way better than preventing you from breathing contaminated particles in.


so you're saying that the gaps are so wide that almost no contaminated particle (getting in) will get stuck on the mask?

but somehow (some of the) particles going out will get stuck.

how is that simple?


if masks don't make things worse, then they can only help.

(to explain more: there is a mechanism by which they help. so for them to not help (in total) , there must be a way in which they make things worse)


It baffles me you're being downvoted for this.


The quote from your link, from March 1st:

- "CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19," the CDC says. "Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others."

So, March 1, CDC already said: "Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others."

What have we learned since? That even the people who don't show symptoms indeed spread the disease to others. So the advice was based on the false assumption, and had to be corrected.

Where the false assumption comes from? There were other infections where the infected were able to spread the disease to others only once they show symptoms.

What follows from the new knowledge? That the facemasks should be used by people who can spread COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. Which means: everybody.

And that is scientific process: when you learn something new, you admit to yourself and everybody else that the previous handling was based on the wrong assumption, and you adapt. You don't keep claiming that the Earth is in the non-moving center of the Universe, just because you claimed that before you learned more.

The problem is that the broad population is not only not used to adapt to the new knowledge, it's that the religions and political parties want the people to keep the same "group" identification and fix beliefs, is spite of anything.

Unfortunately, it's also true that there was an aspect of "temporary policy of what is possible." And there was a real, hard and sad reason for that: the whole western world was woefully unprepared, including not having enough masks. A lot of Asian countries were much better prepared, and had enough masks and had the policies that required them in spite of whatever was fashion in the west and had the people ready to follow the policies.


Imo, it is entirely fair to criticize CDC on its handling of this point. The asymptomatic transmission was possibility before March. It is not a shocking new possibility, it was possibility all along.

There were countries that mandated and propagated masks long long before CDC stopped claiming masks do nothing.


> There were countries that mandated and propagated masks long long before CDC stopped claiming masks do nothing.

The first country that immediately used masks was, of course, China. Followed by Taiwan and many other Asian countries.

But saying that was not popular, politically, because "we are different." Not to a virus.


In one direction this is true. But there is also another one: There is no scientific theory that humans are useful, on the contrary, they are probably very detrimental to other forms of life and countless studies underline this fact. But every time it is suggested to get rid of humans, the responses are quite mixed.

I think the essence of the statement is to highlight the limits of science.

Where science can have negative effects can be frequently shown in economic theories in my opinion. They are reductive ad absurdum and I think it highlights sciences tendency to be approximative at best.

And global warming might be a scientific fact, the response is undeniably political. We had experts to COVID-19 and they are furious about how they were depicted in media as authoritative voices, since scientists value the relativity of their statements. Mask are one example. If someone declares that he just takes the risks of not wearing any, science has no answer to that. If you think it unethical to endanger others who do wear a mask, science has no answer here either.

This was the point here: to be aware of the limitations of science and not succumb to idolatry of scientists or experts. It may still be wise to listen to them from time to time. Didn't happen on anything related to informational technology and politics in my opinion.


“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”

— Charlie Munger


Related to this, Rule 1 of Daniel Dennett's four rules for critical commentary:

> You should attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/28/daniel-dennett-rapo...


One of the duties of an expert is explaining things to the public. Yes, the public is not perfect. It's argumentative, uneducated, intolerant and has all other unpleasant traits one can think about.

Sorry, dear experts, we don't have another public to offer you. You will probably have to deal with what you have and explain that the earth is not flat over and over again. This is normal. Please don't be snobbish and please descend from the skies to the level of laypeople.


So true. Thanks for echoing what many of us immediately thought about. Personally, this recent anti-expert fad is neatly capture by this 2016 cartoon => https://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a20630


> And that's why there is value in expert consensus. Becoming expert is hard and nobody can be expert in everything. So the expert consensus is a good first heuristic for a layman.

Corporate Lobbying has also eroded that trust.


I agree, but there is a simple recipe to counter that. Simply stop talking about the free speech being only an issue with respect to the government. People who work for corporations need to be able to publicly criticize the corporations they work for as well.


I don't think you agreeing with the article at all. You seem to be specifically saying that experts must be treated like high priests and only approached in a special way.


Nobody reveres St. Richard more than I do.

But to be clear: Believing the experts are ignorant is a necessary condition for science. It is not a sufficient condition for science!


Maybe because formal education didn't provide the science to ask questions scientifically? Bad education leaves generations vulnerable and exploitable.


I think that bigger issue is the inability to admit gaps in own knowledge and admit that they matter.

There is also part where people dont understand how science works. It is not just about making hypothesis and experiment, that is science fair simplistic thing that is not science.

People dont understand ambiguity, that you need many studies till consensus forms, that studies sometimes contradict each other and figuring out why is part of work. There is also aspect that the science fair level of experiments is usually not actually good science. That is asking "scientific questions" that lead to bad results, because people asking them dont understand context.

I mean, we have even PhD in one thing assuming that since they know that one thing, they now better then people studying completely different area. Because they asked simple question and did not bothered to check existing litterature.


In order to run, one first need to crawl. People are asked to have faith in authority, even when said source flip-flops. This is according to the article, non-scientific. Instead people need better explanations about how we know what we think we know, and associated uncertainties. People and leaders need to embrace ambiguity, as you say. If school or personal experiments can be used correctly, it is a superior learning tool, and more scientific than learning any facts by rote.

This is by no means natural, and need to be taught and modeled from good role models.


No one can become expert on everything. At some level, you simply need to have trust, because you just wont be able to independently learn and verify everything.


And here we have the root of the problem.

I can look up how to change my car's alternator on youtube, yet I am not an expert at cars.

I can look up how to take cuttings and pot geraniums on youtube, yet I am not an expert in horticulture.

I can look up how vaccines are harmful and masks interfere with my breathing on youtube, yet I am not an expert in infectious diseases.

People believe the three things I have listed are equal, and that their research on youtube/facebook/twitter/the web in general is just as valid as an expert opinion. We have been taught that we CAN learn anything online, and that we CAN be an expert on everything, or at least we can feel like an expert on everything.


> But they don't understand even the basics of the existing theory, and don't want to understand it.

How much homeopathy do you need to learn before you can dare to question it's validity?


You need to know what it claims it does and proven examples when it does not work. Then the opponent should present examples when it works reliably.


I claim homeopathy cured [X] person's sickness.

You can't disprove this example, ergo homeopathy works. Repeat ad nauseam.


You cannot claim this without any evidence. I can present scientific papers showing that homeopathy does not work better than placebo effect.


Sure, my evidence is that there are multiple friends in this situation that were cured by [X] homeopathy treatment. Your scientific papers are simply the result of expert's ignorance because they're not willing to examine homeopathy with a non-critical eye.

Disregard your examples, replace them with my own. That's how these sorts of arguments work and they can use faux-science in the same way you use proven science. They can link to 'experts' in homeopathy which have done studies on their own proving the vaunted benefits of crystal empowerment. It's your truth against theirs. You can't fight things like homeopathy with evidence because ultimately they don't care about your evidence, only theirs. And if you catch them in one spot, it's easy to lie and force you to search for more evidence to disprove it. Forever.


I never said it was an easy discussion. But it is important to fight such ignorance, because it affects us all in a bad way.

Scientific papers show that the curing effect is not caused by the homeopathy, but by the belief that it works. Scientists confirm that it actually helps, i.e. cures some illnesses, just not for reasons homeopaths claim. Now show me some evidence that it's homeopathy, which is important, not the belief.


Actually, homeopathy was a pretty decent theory when it appeared, in 1820s. What questioned its validity was two centuries of progress in physics, chemistry and biology.

So its validity was challenged a long time ago. All you need to know to question it today is that homeopathic principles haven't changed in the last 200 years.


Oh please, you're just throwing up chaff because I contradicted your point. Pick some other whacko theory (crystal power, personal auras, whatever). You don't need to be an expert in bullshit to question whether something is bullshit. You're just pretty sure that you get to be the arbiter of what's bullshit and what's irrefutable without a pedigree.

Not all fields of science are on as good of a footing as physics and chemistry, and there is almost certainly something you currently believe which will be shown to be false in the future. This is exactly the problem mentioned in the article:

> “I defer to the experts” (said with pride).


I am not really sure where you disagree with me, I would say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and so the whackier the theory, the easier it is to disprove.


> was two centuries of progress in physics, chemistry and biology

Well, also _medicine_. The application of the scientific method to medicine more or less killed off homeopathy as something that could be taken seriously. It wasn't a scientific theory.


The peer-reviewed article is like a sacred text.

Peer review came about in a certain context and that context no longer exists. Our current peer review process is flawed.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23280372

The fundamental defining characteristic of science, the one that Feynman explicitly identifies, is that we do not decide whether something is true or false based on authority but rather based on experience.

Science never decides that anything is "true." Science is defined by the exploration of ideas which can be falsified. They can be tested to check if they are untrue.

What we call science is our current best understanding, which can be overturned if new evidence comes to light. To claim that this is something "True" is a fundamental misunderstanding of science.

This is why religion is outside of science: You cannot prove God does not exist.

There is a huge body of mental models and philosophy developed by scientists who were Christian and trying to explain to the world why their belief in God does not contradict their role as a scientist. We use these mental models a lot, often without understanding the actual origin of the rule. We use them because they have become generally useful mental models and the origin story that some Monk or the like who was also a scientist was trying to argue "My belief in God is irrelevant. I can believe in God and also be a scientist." gets forgotten.

Science is not about what we know to be true. It is about what we cannot yet manage to prove is untrue, though we have tried. Our failure to prove it untrue -- so far -- makes it the best mental model we have for the moment.


> He is credited with identifying the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Feynman demonstrated it. Feynman didn't identify the cause himself.

Morton Thiokol engineers[1] had been saying that NASA should not be flying on those conditions, because O-ring problem was not solved. Sally Ride (member of commission) informed USAF Gen Donald Kutyna (also member of commission) about the O-ring problem. Kutuna invited Feynman for a dinner and pointed it out to Feynman so that he could bring it up.

Everyone knew how politically sensitive the issue was and how there could be whitewashing attempt. Kutuna figured out that Feynman was the best person to bring it up. And he did so brilliantly.

---

[1] Allan McDonald (director for Morton Thiokol) refused to sign the launch recommendation over safety concerns https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_...


I'm surprised that no one has yet pointed out the irony of using Feynman as an "expert opinion" to make the case that you should question authority and don't "just believe the experts". I'm pretty certain Feynman would have gleefully pointed this out himself.


I agree with the blog that science is about doubt/falsification.

But if we want to be pedantic, we should make some distinction between scientific models/theories and the scientific process. A model is some description of reality. The scientific process is making a model, experimentation, falsification. Statements like "science says x" are referring to models or theories -- the best knowledge at the moment (but people shorten the language?). Learning "facts" are learning useful models which are accurate to some degree.

If you are studying some sort of science like physics, you have to build some intuitions. You need to start somewhere. So you need to learn the various models, but they should be treated as various approximations. Doing science applied to understanding reality, is the formal process of taking some limit in the category of scientific models I guess.

It turns out reality is even stranger than our every day experiences. QFT/relativity are useful models. They seem to capture a lot of information about how the universe works. They are not the end of the game but you need to build familiarity, because you definitely do not start with some deep intuition about how these things work. You can be skeptical but you need to do experimentation. I'm sure the same can be said about ideas in biology/chemistry.

I then wonder what the point of this post is because they gloss over that aspect, and they want to emphasise being skeptical. I feel like this appeals to the pseudo intellectual "rationalist" crowd which if you unfold it, is really just some subtle attempt at dogwhistling.


Telling people that they can verify science themselves is dangerous. I understand the need for peer review and critical thinking but I keep thinking of the flat earth lady with the ruler at the beach. She thinks that she can prove the horizon is flat because someone taught her literally anyone is qualified do debunk all science due to a widespread "ignorance of experts". Part of science, the important part, is accepting that others know more than you. It is possible for something to be true despite you yourself not understanding why.


You actually can tell if earth is curved with compass, automobile, stick, ruler, and maybe a clock.

And math, of course. You need a little bit of trigonometry to do that.

There is nothing dangerous telling people they can verify things themselves. That is how next generation of scientists is born. It is dangerous to tell it is dangerous.


I love Jacob Bronowski's take on this from The Ascent of Man:

"Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."

NB My parents had me watch The Ascent of Man when it was first broadcast when I was ~8, it left a deep impression even though I clearly didn't understand much of it!


This has been on my to watch list for a while! Saw the first couple of episodes. Wholly different pace to documentaries today!


That particular scene, which I vividly remember after over 40 years, is on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltjI3BXKBgY


I WISH THERE WAS MORE TV LIKE THIS TODAY /screaming


Anti-intellectualism no doubt has been given a bad name by its adherents. By its very nature it attracts the ignorant and opportunistic. But anti-intellectualism, in and of itself, is a positive good for our society. Ironically, we just need more intellectuals to embrace it and to give it more rigorous foundations.

Science is a process not a body of knowledge. A scientist, outside of the scientific process, is just a hobbyist. An interested layman. I can't tell you how many "science-denial" stories start and end with "such and such said so and so in an interview -- this is wrong according to this research paper". And of course, the "science-denier" is correct. But the problem in this situation isn't science. Its the belief that doing science gives you credibility outside the narrow scope of the science you actually do. Even if the topics are related.

I know enough scientists to know they are human. They make mistakes. Science as a process helps correct that. Science as a belief system turns them into false prophets.

The belief in the "expert" needs to die. "Experts say [...]" is such a common refrain in American media its become a cliche. Experts can write a peer-reviewed paper under all the rigors of the scientific method and then they may summarize it for broader consumption. But to extend that ethos any further than the recitation of knowledge already produced is to do a disservice to science and the progress of humanity.


I think there is a case for (for want of a better word) "practical wisdom" in assessing scientific claims as well.

For instance, if a scientist's every finding matches their political views, that's a "smell". Or a track record of their previous predictions. Or how viciously they attack people who disagree with their conclusions. Or whether they lie about being a nobel prize winner.


I actually don't agree with this and I think Feynman had a very personal feud with authority that dominate a lot of his philosophical takes.

For the layperson, but even for the average scientist, science is never just, or even primarily, the unmediated experience between some individual and some experiment. This is because the domain of knowledge or even the domain of methods has become so large, that not even the most zealous scientifically minded person can understand or participate in all the science going on.

This necessitates hierarchies and social networks that don't primarily rely on experience, this has some issues of course but it enables science to take place at a level of complexity that no individual can achieve.

I think doubt, in particular untrained doubt is not a virtue. The motto of QAnon is "question everything". The stereotypical conspiracy theorist is not a blind believer but someone who asks "why, why, why" over and over again like a child. Of course a sceptical mindset can be healthy, but taken too far it's not englightening at all. Today if anything the world has a bigger issue with virulent sceptics than it has with too much trust.

Experts make mistakes and the separation of concerns can lead to science being done incorrectly, but collectively it's still a system worth placing trust in. And that's not a technical trust but a social one that we should not get rid of.


Most certainly trust is missing, but I think this is a wrong approach. You cannot enforce trust anyway, but there are countless topics where more questions would indeed be accurate.

Russian collusion is an example. One of my favorites since this scare has been used all political sides by now. Some people still believe it to this day. Propaganda is in place? Should be easy to get an example because it is directed at the public at scale. Questions about contents were never asked.

But given the contents, too much trust seems a bit too naive. Our media is at fault since many decided that they need to frame stories so that readers get the correct impression. Maybe it is honest fear that they could reinforce prejudice, but I doubt it. With their deeds they are responsible for it and basic psychology can tell you why that is the case. That behavior warrants zero trust and we now live with the consequences of this hubris.

Sure, everyone and their mothers currently blame the media for everything, but there is a degree of truth to it and I would think that degree is pretty large.

Trust isn't taken, trust needs to be earned. We certainly aren't living in a time where the public asks too many questions.


> taken too far it's not englightening at all

That statement is almost universally true, no matter the subject. But in general, if you’re going to err, erring on the side of skepticism seems reasonable, given the alternatives.


Interesting comment, I would also add that this in general is a very scientific mindset. My partner pointed when we first met pointed out her observation, that myself and my other science friends/colleagues (I'm a physicist) ask a lot of why questions when we talk, on one hand to better understand things, but also out of scepticism. Generally as scientists we are trained to first look for flaws in any theory (which can also be quite annoying for someone you're talking to).


The phrase "science teaches us such and such" is funny in the same way Zoidberg saying "I'll have one art" is funny.


> Then I asked “how do the scientists know this?”

Plug for the wonderfully entertaining A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which he wrote just to answer this question and fill in the gaps that education misses.


This is one of my favorite quotes. I personally take it to heart and interpret it to mean someone being an expert only earns them the right to be listened to. It’s the arguments that matter - they still need to make a good case if they want me to believe them.

Often though, scientists never make convincing arguments to the public - you need to find specialist forums and blogs where they argue amongst each other.

So it’s no wonder we have such an issue with the public’s lack of trust.


Most of the public is unable to understand scientific arguments and discern science from bullshit. I also think it's unrealistic to expect all scientists to also be professional PR gurus. I would like to see a publishing industry sub-sector emerge that deals with translating papers into articles. Any article must be edited and signed off by the papers original authors. Any derivative article would have to link to both the approved article and the original paper. This would solve a lot of issues.


The point of the quote and science in general is that "you", a member of the public, need to treat scientists as ignorant, because they are. An argument you can't follow is useless; they need to be made at a level you can understand.

This is possible with many things - for example vaccines. There is very little evidence for harm and overwhelming evidence for large numbers of lives saved. There is no need to get too technical.

If the only available arguments are too complex to follow, there might be someone you can trust who is more technical and can follow them. But you shouldn't trust a stranger just because they say they're an expert.


I don't treat scientists as either ignorant or knowledgeable when discussing ideas through a science lens. I remove the person from the equation completely as who did the research is mostly irrelevant unless they have a track record of fraud. Science is about explaining and replicating real world phenomenon. It's purposefully technical and if I have a vested interest in a topic I'll read the papers and make up my own mind. I know most people don't operate like that which is why I suggested what I did.


I was researching this topic once and found that two related keywords in epistemology are "epistemic peers" and "peer disagreement", although arguably having a different focus. I guess some may be interested, so I'll just leave a comment here.

I don't know if there are other discussions on similar topics in other fields. Finding the right keywords is always hard for outsiders.


There is science the method, epistemology, etc. There is science, the human institution. The epistemology of science is pretty solid, but in our interaction and understanding of science as people we tend to struggle keeping these separate.

For example: science_the_epsitomologist can only make statements about the scientific nature of a theory, experiment or such. An untestable theory is unscientific. Many experiments can be unscientific.

IRL we want to make wider judgements. Is economics a science? That's not something the Science can properly comment on. A field is not a unit that is scientific or unscientific, strictly. Only specific things economists do or say can get that designation.

This isn't just people being stupid. Scientists are experts, and scientific expertise has gained prestige for a reason. A scientist's unscientific opinion (a more generic form of expertise) carries weight, because science is respected. That respect doesn't conform to the narrow Popperian definition of science. It applies to individual, institutions, etc.

We also sometimes need to make decisions when we need to make them, not when science has a breakthrough. The economy is in recession, what to do? At the point were are in now, it's hard to do anything if you don't claim or imply a scientific merit to your decision. This is another reason why pseudoscience proliferates.

We tend to think of pseudoscience relative to real science. Intelligent design instead of darwinian evolution. Head-on disputes with science. IRL pseudoscience is most prevalent in areas where science doesn't have good answers. The human mind, history, etc. Pseudoscience fills an empty space we can't/haven't filled with science. We abhor those empty spaces, it's how our mind works. Since science is both required and absent, pseudoscience is the outcome.


Seems to be the physics way of looking at the world. Don't trust potentially accidental empirical observations, because they might fail you in a relativistic universe in which there isn't even such a thing as simultaneity (all swans are white until one isn't).

Only trust fundamental truths / laws of nature, as they govern what works / doesn't and prescribe fubdamental constraints on how the world works - most likely anytime, anywhere and independent of a particular context.

So the expert looks at the world and says: everyone is doing agile, so what you have to do is agile. Replies the scientist... It depends!


The key word in Science is Observation. Making close observations and communicating the results. Use tools to help the observation and mathematics to hone and sharpen the description.

If you want to teach science, start by teaching careful observation. Otherwise, in my opinion, it's not science being taught but awareness of science. Knowing what came before, learning about the observations and science made to build up to what we have today, is important, but should not be mistaken as the central point of being a careful observer.


When you observe, you will discover (and not invent). It is interesting that corporations want to patent new discoveries (things which they didn't invent, but just observed)...


Underdetermination is the idea that evidence available to us at a given time may be insufficient to determine what beliefs we should hold in response to it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underdetermination

This is closely related to the is-ought gap - now that I know the facts, what am I supposed to do with them?


Science is engaging with the data, engaging with the experts, understanding and addressing what that all really says, while keeping in mind that the experts are ignorant and I am ignorant.

Just sitting in my basement grumping about how the experts are ignorant is not science. People did that long before science became influential, and they will continue to do it long after science dies out (god forbid).


"The peer-reviewed article is like a sacred text"

Not sure at what level of education he is claiming this to be the case but from M.Sc.and up, my experience is that students and researchers regard articles as containing claims with varying degrees of supporting evidence to substantiate them, rather than as facts.


I would go even further, the more scientific education one has the more sceptical one regards scientic articles and often we try to find flaws even in published articles, leading to attempts to, for example reproduce results. Unfortunately there is no reward for reproducing others results.


Science is not a "belief", science is a process, which conists of generating testable hypotheses about how the world works, then using objective observations and real-world data to modify or change these hypotheses.

Science does incorporate the ignorance of experts, but that's also conflating ignorance with acknowledgement of uncertainty. Scientists are usually the first ones in the room to hedge their statements, saying "Well, this is not my area of expertise, however..." or "...not my area of research...". Does this make them ignorant? Well, in the reductionist sense, yes, everyone is ignorant of things about which only 3 people are experts.

So, stating "Science is belief" is an extremely over-simplistic view of science, which may play straight into the non-materialistic, non-expertise loving right-wing which has taken over the US and led to anti-vaxx, anti-mask, denial of basic facts, etc.

So, those opposed to science are people who believe very dangerous and negative things for society, and now we're calling science the mere belief in ignorance of experts? That's just bad strategy, science is so much more nuanced and rich than a belief in expert ignorance.


Totally agree. Science is about knowledge of experimentally verifiable, repeatable and objective facts. Beliefs are neither objective nor verifiable.

I never went to India. I never went into Space. I never saw a human or a blood cell in a microscope. Still I know India exists, that Earth is not flat and that vaccines work. This is because I've been taught so many different facts and theories that all fit nicely together in a way I understand and that I can verify myself, and that are continuously and regularly confirmed by all the echoes I received from reality.

As for scientific mistakes, this is very well incorporated in the scientific process, new theories and facts replacing previous ones. However, as science progresses in a domain, new theories and facts are usually less and less groundbreaking than the previous ones. If you think Earth is a sphere, you're wrong, but much more right if you'd think it's flat.


I prefer to think that science is the method to avoid lying to yourself about reality.


He's right about science education. Way too much of it is about learning facts and calculating numbers from equations. Basically, things that are easily examinable.

I've found the most enlightening science courses have been the ones where you get a story like this:

1) Someone was wondering what shape DNA has, because this might answer questions about how it is copied, how proteins are eventually made from its code, and so on.

2) One way to look at is through x-ray patterns. And this can be as shallow or as deep as you like, there's certainly enough math here if you want to go that way. You can also look at other historical attempts to uncover the structure, ones that failed but nonetheless were considered a reasonable thing to investigate. Plus auxilliary experiments like where it was discovered that phosphoros was part of it.

3) We looked at the x-rays and someone figured out that it is consistent with a double helix, because (evidence).

4) Further questions arising from this double helix hypothesis seem to confirm the structure, and opened up new questions, which we can look at in the same way.

I like the Bill Bryson way of explaining things. He mixes in the people along with the existing ideas, evidence that needed explanation, the breakthrough, and so on.

But my main point is science teaching shouldn't be about the subject so much. You benefit more from understanding how the Krebs cycle was discovered than from memorizing all the parts of it.

For most people by far, the point of learning science it to learn how to apply that style of thinking to all your judgements (should I vaccinate my kids? What do I think of modern monetary theory? How safe is my car?), rather than learning specific things that were discovered in scientific fields.

If you learn how to think the way the article says, you will also be better able to judge how certain you should be about various claims. You'll be asking more what evidence the claims rest on than what are the claims themselves.


My high school experience (in the UK three decades ago) doesn't really fit with this blog. We were taught quite a lot about scientific methods to the point where we often wanted the science teacher to just stop with meta-teaching and throw some science facts at us! Maybe it means they didn't really succeed in getting the point across :-/


See also: Argumentum ab Auctoritate

A very useful word to know as it can quickly shut down people using this very common fallacy


m.twitter.com/ProfFeynman


At some points in history, communism, racism, bloodletting and alchemy all were scientific theories.

I wonder what our descendants will be laughing about when looking back at 21st century?


[flagged]

gadders 25 days ago [flagged]

Well, they can see for themselves the empirical evidence that socialism fails, so they seem very science based.


[flagged]


Your post does not really say anything, so it is somewhat difficult to know what exactly you're talking about. However the way this is written is very similar to the usual globalwarming sceptics, skin color intelligence crowd etc.. The general argument is always "we are just questioning the status quo, just want to look at all angles..." the reason why these positions are being called anti-scientific is because they are always politically motivated and try to prove this political ideology, while at the same time ignoring any counterevidence.

Similar to the documentary of those flat earth guys that try to disprove the earth is round, but all results show that it in fact is, so they dismiss their own evidence. That is what is unscientific.


Name a single group of skeptical dissenters who you think are right. You can’t. But science is always proving itself wrong and just as it has always been, groups of dissenters will overtake the people who preside over convention, scientifically. So which one is it? Is science “finished?” Has everything been figured out or are you just not able to differentiate between dumb people and legitimate dissenters, as I pointed out above?


I'm not sure I understand why you think I can't name a group of critical dissenters that I think are right. For example I do believe that the "dissenters" who criticise string theory (google "not even wrong string theory" ) are at least correct in their "political" arguments that the focus on string theory funding might has painted us into a corner and held back scientific progress. Note I am not a particle physicist so don't know enough to judge any "unifying theory" as correct or incorrect. Similarly the people looking for a theory underneath quantum theory might be correct (I'm more sceptical about this, but again not enough of an expert to judge), and the Copenhagen interpretation is not everything.

So no science is not finished and yes our understanding of science still progresses. However, two things first it does not need "sceptical dissenters" to progress science. There are many areas in science where there are many "known unknowns" and where there isn't an established theory.

Moreover, even acknowledging that there are areas where "sceptical dissenters" might be right and change the established understanding, those will not come from a direction of questioning and ignoring the scientific method.

In other words someone ignores the scientific method he/she is not a legitimate dissenter.

But you need to be more specific ("butter bei die Fische" is the German expression), what are legitimate dissenters and how do you judge them as legitimate?


I dont even know which dissenters are supposed to be wrong or right. Are you talking about climate change or vaccines or racism as something that has role in shaping society? Or something entirely different?

Are you talking about dissenters that argue by politics and own wishes? Or dissenters who have alternative explanation of history? I dont know.


11186171, so I can't say I agree with every point, at the risk of feeding a troll, I have some suggestions and observations. Take them as free advice, which is, of course, worthless. An opening statement of calling out the mods is never going to be successful. You're cranky and it feels good, but I think deep down you know it's not an effective tactic. I think in this case you're trying to be even handed, that's admirable, but even acknowledging the existence of mods is a faux pas. A lawyer does not address the judge. The judge is there, the lawyer should address the jury. I understand you may not like it, but that's how it is. much like code can't escape the type checker, there are meta-rules to follow. The vague intonation of "certain political group" is a bit confusing. It winds up being something like soothsaying. Take a stand, say what you mean. Anyway, I think we only learn things from mistakes. Science is nothing more than a huge collection of mistakes. Or perhaps, cookbooks for avoiding those mistakes. I'll go with Edward Gemming here, "In god we trust, all others must bring data". You got a good reason, you can prove it, or at least show current models don't reflect reality, or you're dumb. I can get on board with that system. Perhaps, hell probably, some worship science as though it were a god. There are always crackpots. Bring your data, fix the model.


Just wanted say that your reply is much better than mine. You just engaged with what the person said, without interpreting the insinuations (like I did). Thanks!


I feel personally wronged by people who stagnate science. I have medical problems that fall through the cracks because of it. I have suffered immensely because of it. Tons of people have I bet. I feel so personally wronged. If it weren’t for that, why would I ever bother caring about this? I wouldn’t have so much venom for slackjaws otherwise...


And yet you're still alive and kicking. Rejoice.

I'm a literal lab rat. Late 80s, my disease and the treatment had 95% mortality within the first year (BMT for aplastic anemia). I've had dozens of complications, some life threatening, all miserable. Most recently, I was the 3rd patient to undergo a novel way to use whole body radiation to beat back an autoimmune disease (TBI for chronic GVHD).

Sure, a lot of my care providers have sucked. And insurers would prefer I'd just die already. And I've definitely been grumpy.

And yet I'm still alive and kicking.

Life is a gift. Every day is a celebration.

It's very, very hard. But if at all possible, I encourage you to find a way to transmute your anger and outrage into action.

For a while, I channeled my energies into healthcare IT and election integrity. Before that, I cosplayed as a treehugger, trying to save endangered salmon. Maybe I did a little bit of good, nudged the needle.

Was it worthwhile? No clue. But everyone needs a hobby, so at least the work kept me distracted.


>I have medical problems that fall through the cracks because of it. I have suffered immensely because of it.

Not surprising at all, this is generally the time when people see the incompetence, arrogance and lack of integrity of the 'experts'. From then on all expert opinion is suspect.


There’s truth to what you say, but prefixing it with a comment about dang is unnecessary and detracts from your point. I think almost all of us here are sympathetic to and appreciative of dang, so your opening remark does not appeal to me, and thus puts me on the defense against the rest of your comment.


Fair and true


This "political group" does science a huge disservice.

At different points in history, different political groups were stuffing their ideas down people's throats claiming it all is based on science, religion or bright ideals of democracy as given to us by the founding fathers.

More often than not it was bullshit. What a pity!

[EDIT: slightly reworded]


There are way too much politics and partisans in science, and that is the leading driver behind people ignoring science and scientific evidence.

Just consider why a conservative or skeptical person would not trust Covid information. Fauci and the US Surgeon General knowingly lied about the efficacy masks and then now they are treating people who don't wear masks as pathetic morons. Health care policy "experts" chastise people for attending rallies, protests, or gatherings... but then come out and say anti-racism protests are okay. Apparently Covid-19 will not infect you if you are at a "correct" rally... but if you are at a Trump or conservative rally then you better watch out. Come on.

That's not science. Get politics and partisanship out of science.




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