That’s the eye-catching title of my current reading matter – the book Lies, Damned Lies, & Science by Sherry Seethaler. And reading it led to the following musings:
Science is complex. Yet too often it’s presented – in the media, but also in textbooks & science classes – as a series of stand-alone facts (in the case of many media reports, one could probably say, ‘factoids’). Talking about science in this reductionist way is doing a real disservice to our students, & in fact to society as a whole.
Science isn’t simply a pile of facts to learn, or ‘recipes’ to follow. In fact, ‘cookbook’ science is a disaster if you are trying to explain what science is, because it teaches that you ‘do’ science in a series of steps and that there’s only one right answer at the end of it all. Yet anyone working in science knows that in testing an hypothesis you don’t know the answer, although you will have made a prediction about what it might be. And that individual bits of information don’t stand alone but are part of a more complex whole.
But alas! presenting ‘science’ as a series of facts or soundbites simply reinforces a reductionist approach to the subject. It conceals the complex, nuanced, uncertain nature of the whole enterprise. It gives people the impression that controversies exist when this often isn’t the case; that because scientists are arguing about data or the impression of that data, scientists don’t know what they’re doing; or that scientists just can’t make up their minds (as yesterday’s much-touted ‘discovery’ is shown – by science – to be nothing of significance, or even simply wrong. And the unfortunate endpoint of all this is the rise & spread of the attitude that because scientists can’t agree on an issue, then science doesn’t really have much to tell us & that all opinions on the matter are equally valid. (They aren’t.)
Anyway, Lies, Damned Lies, & Science addresses all this & more. To me the book’s key strength is that it describes a unique set of elements that need to be taken into consideration when reasoning about a complex science-related issue… and explores ways to achieve more nuanced and balanced perspecitives on a wide range of issues. If I had my way (!) it would be required reading for anyone teaching or studying science – but I’ll settle for a place on the science shelves in the school library 🙂
S.Seethaler (2009) Lies, Damned Lies, and Science. Pearson Education Inc.
And this might also be relevant 🙂