The difference between opinion and science | Columns

From ancient history to the present day, there have always been some silly things people believed to be based on fantasy:

“The world is flat. If you sail towards the horizon, you will sail just above the edge.

“Smoking cigarettes is good for you. It helps digestion and makes you alert.

“COVID will go away. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.

What saves us from such nonsense is science. But we live in a time when it seems like a lot of people have forgotten what science really is.

Science is not an opinion. It is real knowledge gained by having a theory, testing that theory with experimentation, and arriving at a provable fact.

Most of us learned the scientific method in school. Here’s a quick reminder: one morning, you flip the switch on your coffee maker and it doesn’t turn on. You have to determine if it’s the coffee maker that’s broken or the electrical outlet, then you try an experiment. You plug the toaster into the same outlet. He toasts the bread very well. Scientific Conclusion: The problem isn’t the plug, it’s your coffee maker.

The variations on this basic process are how we discovered that the world is not flat. This is how we learned that smoking causes lung cancer. And this is how we know that COVID does not go away like a miracle and that we need to get vaccinated to avoid getting seriously ill and making our loved ones seriously ill.

We should consider ourselves lucky to have scientists on our side. On issues ranging from auto safety to climate change, they develop theories, build serious and complex experiments, and learn useful things such as putting seat belts in cars prevents 15,000 Americans a year from horribly dying in crashes. car.

But despite the amount of education, effort, and time it takes for scientists to do this job, the nation is inundated with people who think they know best – based on something they’ve seen. on Facebook or on cable news.

Consider the recent report of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change. More than 200 of the world’s most capable and credible scientific minds wrote the report. It is based on thousands of scientific studies conducted over many years – measuring changes in temperature in the ocean, carbon levels in the atmosphere, levels of contaminants in car exhausts and chimneys. factory, and hundreds of other indicators and causes of a changing Earth.

Their conclusions were unequivocal and devastating: Record-breaking heat waves, forest fires and flooding around the world are just a glimpse of what is to come, the result of humanity pouring heat-trapping carbon into the world. the earth’s atmosphere for 100 years. And, scientists have warned, unless we act aggressively and immediately, large parts of the planet will become uninhabitable during the lifetime of our children.

Just at the right time, the nation’s foolish voices, equipped with nothing more than political ideology, announced that they knew more than all scientists and all research. Visitors to the FOX News website offered their responses online:

“It’s an absolute joke – there is no human induced climate change – these ‘scientists’ have a program and have to justify their budgets !!!”

“How do they plan to deal with the Earth’s axial precession, the REAL driver of climate change?” “

“I’m old enough to remember when scientists used science to solve a problem. Now they just call AOC and write their article.

You also hear a lot from people like this about how they ignore the experts and think for themselves. Thinking for yourself is good. I am all for it. But to think that you are an expert in areas that you don’t know anything about is very dangerous. Believe me, you don’t want me to fix your plumbing or pierce your teeth.

In fact, nothing is further from “thinking for yourself” than deciding what is fact-based depending on whether you think the messenger is part of your political team. COVID vaccines were developed under President Donald Trump who I didn’t care much for. That didn’t stop me from signing up for my Moderna shot as soon as I could.

If some people want to dive into the den of conspiracy theory and absurdity, we can’t stop them. But in an age when the dangers around us are deadly – from extreme weather conditions to a virus resurfacing – the public decisions we make must be guided by hard science. Only a fool changes the grip without trying the toaster first.

Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and columnist at Lockport, New York Union-Sun & Journal. He can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

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