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Beefs and Beliefs

Let's Demystify Science

Scientific process is simple, teachable.

I'm beginning to wonder how much good science exists anymore.

Most reporters don't understand the process or what is statistically valid. Too many scientists let their opinions or their desire for attention or fame override their understanding of the scientific process.

I'm pretty sure the public has even poorer understanding and therefore they provide the hungry tiger the press and their scientific cohorts are feeding.

Sometimes, too, companies with large amounts of money at stake ignore science and pick out little pieces that serve their profit interests.

All together, they are perverting the scientific process to serve themselves and they're doing everyone a grave disservice. One of the great examples of this is the U.S. government's war on fat. It began as somebody's weak hypothesis, went through a first round of testing and failed, then was rammed through the breach of congressional formality and forced upon on the American public as a great and undeniable truth. We in the beef industry know with considerable personal pain how much this great lie has cost.

Climate change is another case. It's never been moved past weak and questionable hypothesis, yet it's treated as well-proven theory - by the force of government pistol against the heads of nearly everyone in the meteorological discipline and with a big, sweet carrot on a stick to lure many more.

So, here's one thing we all need to do. Each of us in the agricultural community needs to understand the scientific process enough to teach others about it. We also need to write to any reporter who muffs it, and their news director, and tell them how wrong they are.

The process we need to teach them is really pretty simple, except for the statistical side which determines validity of the design and analysis. But that's not terribly difficult either; a sample of 10 is far less valid than a sample of 400. A sample of 10,000 is even better. A small variance is much less important, relative to the thing being measured, than a larger one.

Here's the process we need to teach in simple form.

Step 1: Observations and ideas are reasoned into a hypothesis.

Step 2: Scientific experiment tests hypothesis.

Step 3: Research shows hypothesis may be either wrong or right. If shown wrong, end of current experiment. If shown correct, then it becomes a weak theory, subject to peer review.

Step 4: Theory must be tested again and must be repeatable. If fails, hypothesis itself is thrown into question.

Step 5: If theory shows probable and peer review is acceptable, theory gets a little stronger. Strength depends on many things, including how strong the statistical measurements show it to be.

Step 6: More testing adds to strength of theory or tears it down.

Step 7: Theory either grows in stature or is replaced or modified by more research.

The end.

There are no facts in science.

There are only ideas and observations, hypotheses, weak theories and strong theories. Theories then stand on their own merits unless shown untrue or until modified. This is why Einstein said, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."


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