Because we trust the scientific method

Science is not infallible. But even during the pandemic, it has been shown to work better than other thought systems. Its success lies in the possibility of verification from below, by everyone

After an article I wrote that showed that trust in science is one of the most important factors that can reduce the mortality of a pandemic virus like SARS-CoV-2, I received a series of comments, which I want to group here. in the form of a single question: why should we trust the scientific method in the scientific community – or, in simplified form as expressed by some, why should we accept to believe in science?

The first, direct answer that some of my readers have already given is quite acceptable: because the indications of the scientific community, as the work I mentioned in my previous article, prove, work, so that those who adhere to them the most, achieve a goal better.predictable, as happens in the case of harm reduction from the pandemic. In retrospect, that is, we can once again see that the model of the world obtained by the scientific enterprise, and the consistent predictions about the consequences of our actions and the behavior of the virus, work better for us to instruct how we should behave, as for example to the fables of homeopaths, refusers, conspirators and generally with respect to the so-called alternative thoughts.

Many are satisfied with this answer, which in my opinion is not enough: it has happened several times that completely unfounded beliefs and intuitive or scientific views still point to the correct behavior, and there is no reason to rule out a priori that this will not be the case in the future, under certain circumstances.. Religion, to be known as an example to all, can direct our actions toward the common good, and works perfectly to achieve goals of great social utility, though at its base it is certainly an unscientific vision of the world, anchored as it is. on is demonstrable. Sideboards by construction.

Therefore, while it is true that science tends to have a higher success rate when it comes to identifying solutions, it is neither infallible – yes, in the best moments it has managed to demonstrate the failure of its own past theses. – at all times, at all times, to resort to other methods of human action.

So why should we trust science more than other thought systems when it comes to planning our actions to achieve a goal we have set? Why should a citizen believe what is written in an article by a group of researchers, perhaps a meta-analysis of the scientific literature that has so far been made available on a particular topic, and not the thesis of a proponent of biodynamics?

Here I will try to briefly outline some of the more important reasons. The first reason is the ability to verify a scientific statement, regardless of the topic being discussed, in order to test its resistance. Finally, all scientific statements have a logical-mathematical structure, so that, from a range of measures, it is possible to give a description of a particular bodily system and its behavior. The first check, therefore, consists of verifying the solidity of this structure: Mathematics and numbers must be used in an impeccable way, and any scientific assertion must be reduced to a quantitative justification, which, by taking different numbers, allows others to obtain, in correspondence with the sentence (a correspondence also qualitative or statistical, of course ).

This initial verification makes it possible to identify a large number of false propositions, formulated as science, but which science they are not; this is what happens to all researchers when they identify their own mistakes or false or misleading scientific publications, and then get their correction or withdrawal. This is also the reason why ordinary citizens first have to ask scientists for data to support their statements: because everyone, absolutely everyone, must be able to repeat the mathematical passages typical of scientific analysis. Biomedicine is often based on the use of tools learned during school education. The first reason for putting trust in science, therefore, lies in the ability to verify its internal coherence, from a logical-mathematical point of view with an unassailable and unambiguous procedure.

Of course, one could argue at this point: Scientists can be highly skilled mathematicians, but their science may end up being wrong because their measurements may be wrong.. How can I, as a normal citizen, verify that, despite impeccable statistics, the data are based on the analysis of scientists and are reproducible without having the time, resources, skills and a laboratory?

There are two elements that can be used to control here. The first is that of Consistency of measures (and not just conclusions) between different and independent scientific groups. When several teams of researchers all make coherent measurements, at different places and times, I need less time to replicate the measurements myself; the reliability of that data increases because the agreement between different people and different points of the globe for certain measures is at least unlikely, but above all often impossible. This is also the reason why the analysis of different scientific works, which contain measurements of the same quantities, gives a reliable and consensus indication about the actual reliability of the data produced by the scientific community; and therefore a single work is always preliminary.

Then there is another element to consider when reviewing scientific claims: the internal coherence of the whole building produced by the research is such that a false dissertation ultimately contradicts other experienced facts, and therefore reveals what it is for.. Conversely, the connection between a particular statement and facts obtained in very different fields can, through the formal analysis of a scientific work, lead one to discover its concordance with consolidated facts; and this possibility of control is another guarantee that makes the statement of a scientist more pleasing and trustworthy than that of, for example, a guru of biodynamics.

In addition to these guarantees of reliability, typical of science, one can then count on social control, at least in some delicate sectors such as those of health: control, that is to say, exercised by independent agencies, in different parts of the world, responsible for the material verification of scientists’ results. Aifa, Ema, Fda, WHO and other agencies are independent technical bodies: if they reach a unanimous decision on the solvency of certain data, it is very likely that these data are solid, and not that there is a global conspiracy, of which agencies are all simultaneously instrument.

False science, through falsified data, formal weak analysis, or a combination of the two, can and is continuously identified: and while it may seem paradoxical, it is precisely the continuous certain demonstration of errors and scientific assertions that is one of the most important characteristics. reassuring about the reliability of the knowledge produced by the research community.

Finally, there is another aspect that should inspire confidence in science: the social dynamics that shape the formation of what we call scientific consensus. During the pandemic, we have repeatedly witnessed sometimes irreconcilable disagreements between experts; and this, in reality, despite the pathological deviations due to the narcissism of some protagonists, is an aspect of the formation of indispensable scientific knowledge, because it guarantees that there is always a strong critic of any old or new idea, and there is no thesis that they have an impact on society that are accepted without hit. This contrast between the researchers, who sometimes take the sad form of the show on talk shows when it takes place in the right places, is instead an indication of a healthy and powerful, sometimes rude, intellectual soap that is indispensable because of social enterprise. , which we can continue to call scientific production, without the risk of becoming a pure priest of revealed truth.

In science, as I think it will become clear to most after these few, incomplete observations, we must not have faith but trust: that is, we must know that with a little effort each of us at least has one some of us can do. the checks I mentioned, and certainly the controversial researchers make them, in search of the mistakes of others.

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