Science and truth

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 24, 2017

Since I will be traveling most of tomorrow, I am posting this tonight. This is, I think, an important and interesting article from the New England Journal of Medicine about science. Living in this world that suddenly is shaken by the suggestion of alternative facts or truths, science should remain a bedrock. What is true in science or math is true. It is not about opinions; it is about facts.

In spite of wishing that it were otherwise, I have always been very much a history/english/language person. Science and math were never my strong suits, and it is pretty fruitless now to wonder how much of that as cultural and how much really is my brain. This is a really interesting article that asks us to wonder and think and be critical in positive ways. It is worth your time; I promise.

The March of Science — The True Story
Lisa Rosenbaum, M.D.

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion...draws all things else to support and agree with it.” Francis Bacon, the “Father of Empiricism,” came to this conclusion in the 17th century, and some 350 years later, three Stanford psychologists confirmed its validity.1 They recruited participants with strong beliefs about the death penalty and showed them two studies that had used similar methods, one suggesting that capital punishment effectively deters crime and the other suggesting the opposite. Asked to evaluate the evidence’s quality and persuasiveness, participants rated research that contradicted their prior beliefs poorly in both respects, and unexpectedly, exposure to it resulted in more, not less, polarization between the two groups. Speculating about the mechanisms of such “biased assimilation,” the authors noted that we may interpret weakness of disconfirming evidence as proof of our own beliefs and cling to “any information that suggests less damaging ‘alternative interpretations.’”
In an era when alternative interpretations are degenerating into “alternative facts,” I was reminded of the Stanford study during Boston’s March for Science. Tens of thousands of people in some 600 cities around the world marched and rallied to remind the public of science’s importance, demand science-informed policy, object to science denialism in matters such as climate change and vaccines, and advocate for sustained science funding . But in a polarized society, what we really need to resist may be human nature — this impulse to believe what we want to believe.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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