As crucial to science as methodology, skepticism should be embraced not stifled.
Recent inquiries from Congressional representatives on dissenting views regarding climate change reminded me of an experience I had while an undergraduate. In an effort to fulfill the requirements for a bachelor’s of science in psychology, I was confronted with an assignment to devise experiments based on a proposed hypothesis regarding choice theory. Upon presentation of our proposals I began to feel moderately inadequate. My proposals where significantly different from those of the entire group. Most hypotheses focused on different ways to compare different ratio schedules to confirm the initial hypothesis we were assigned to study.
As my time for presentation neared I realized that my proposals were significantly different because I looked at the problem from a different angle. My efforts attempted to disprove the theory instead of confirm it. My professor paid me one of the higher compliments I have received in my modest life, stating, “This [proposal] gets to the heart of the matter.” This is no stroke of independent genius or even folly, but is the heart of scientific discovery. Only by honestly challenging ideas, hypotheses, and theories can they be truly tried and validated. To refuse this skeptical inquiry is to deny science and accept in its place dogma. Scientific, and even human progress, relies heavily on our ability to challenge the scientific status quo and expand our inquiry.
This method of inquiry has at the heart the ability to challenge the accepted scientific facts of the time and has been embraced by early scientists such as Galileo and Darwin to more modern scientists. Unfortunately, many, especially in political sphere, find challenging science that has been widely accepted and disseminated akin to blasphemy, instead of welcoming the challenges and offering genuine critiques they offer superficial stigmatization and misinformation. This is often achieved by assuming bias without dissecting the actual claims, assumptions, evidence, and conclusions. Bias exists. Instead of assuming bias let us examine and discuss content.
To many this free flow of scientific inquiry is a challenging proposition. Inherent in this method of inquiry is the recognition that beliefs will be challenged and that the freedom of inquiry requires basic freedom to inquire, and is thus an erosion of central authority. Turning over control of a discussion is difficult for those claiming to be the oracle of scientific fact and discovery, often ending in politicized attacks and attempts to use institutional power to suppress dissent. However in dissent is often the most honest scientific inquiry propelling the advancement of science and ultimately benefits humanity.
James C. Devereaux is an attorney and freedom fanatic. Questions, complaints and hysterics can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org