Is it OK for non-scientists to reject the claims of
This is the question from my tutor...
- We all watch television, but how many of us could design a
- We all use mobile phones, but how many of us could design a
mobile phone network?
- We all take medicine, but how many of us could design a
medicine? Is the non-scientific person's view relevant to
If a non-scientific person objects to a scientific discovery, is
that objection relevant? Should society encourage non-scientific
challenges to scientific theories? Should society support
Where does democracy meet meritocracy?
This is one of those topics that it seems "depends" on the
Although we would like to believe that science exists in an
"ivory tower" isolated from society and culture, it isn't.
What scientists study and why they study it is driven not
just by personal curiosity but by the interests and demands of
their culture. The culture is rich in many ways of
understanding nature and its relationship to humanity. So,
when we say someone objects or challenges a scientific explanation
then we need to ask why is there an objection. Is it an
objection to the scientific method used or is it an objection to an
ability to rationally incorporate the information into culture?
Of these two, the objection to assimilating new scientific ideas
into culture is the one the scientist should be most indifferent
to. To quote my old philosophy of science professor: "It is
what it is." On the other hand, any thinking person has the
right to question the methodology used and to demand clear and
understandable explanations. If they are not forthcoming,
then they have every right to reject the concept.
I understand that some concepts require a great deal of
understanding in background information before it can be clearly
uderstood. Consequently it might be extremely difficult to bring an
explanation to a level that someone who is not an expert can
understand. But lets face it: science has many more examples
of failure than success. We herald the successes and
conveniently forget the blunders. If we can't explain it we
shouldn't expect to be believed AND if we can't explain it we
should consider its validity ourselves without having a non-science
person pointing out to us that it is problematic.
Does that mean we should accept a person's flat- Earth position,
or geocentric belief, or a dismissal of evolution etc...?
That "depends". No one can defend against obstinate
ignorance, but if we can't profide reasonable and logical defenses
against reasonable questions, then we have failed.
As one final point, let me point out that science is not the
only valid way of describing and understanding nature. If the
goal is to manipulate nature and develop technology, which it is in
Western cultures, then science is king. But to dismiss every
other way of explanation simply because it isn't science is both
aragant, and wrong. We can respect the alternate approaches
to understanding without demanding silence or ridiculing those