The Myth of Special Data

Pick your favorite topic of anti-scientific gobbledy-gook. There is, invariably, a component that is little discussed. The anti-science crowd (even if a small minority, it’s still a pile of addled folks) often argues that the scientific data for a certain theory* (evolution, anthropogenic global warming – AGW, etc.) is flawed or mis-interpreted. That seems to laymen to be a reasonable approach to criticism of scientific findings – they think that each theory has its own special data which supports that theory.

That is false.

*Theorynoun ; a firmly-established scientific principle, having acknowledgement of validity by the consensus ultra-majority of scientists in that field of speciality ; the term used formerly, prior to Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, was ‘Law‘ ; Example: the Law of Newtonian Gravity was superceded (improved and supplanted) by the General Theory of Relativity.

Scientific theories are like reverse-engineered recipes. And how do scientists reverse-engineer the recipes of nature? Laymen (Sorry to pick on you folks again! But, technically, my B.S. in Physics makes me closer to your status than to scientific standing) might think that scientists grab chunks of nature’s lemon meringue pies and start taste-testing. They (scientists, not laymen) would keep tasting (measuring) and trying things with their samples of lemon meringue pie until its secrets were revealed.

That practice, known as analysis, is a useful and important part of science. It is utterly insufficient to advance scientific knowledge as we do or to explain the progress we have so far achieved. Scientists have a broader perspective. They know that a sharp focus upon the particular is inherently limited. Their research is generalized – the study of ALL desserts could, and definitely does, facilitate scientific progress in researching a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). Furthermore, the study of baked goods, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). The study of foamed recipes, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie!).

The result of scientific research that is generalized is that our knowledge is highly interdependent. The principles (including the acme of principles – the Theory) discovered are not specific to only a narrow range of examples. There are no scientists who have discovered only the recipe for lemon meringue pie. A strong general scientific foundation provides explanatory power for a wide range of subjects – such as for all baked, egg-based foods.

There are scientists who research foods, but the food analogy was utilized as an introduction to specific issues from anti-science.

Anti-science folks discuss their issues (and boy, do they have issues!) with the implicit** assumption that there are special data regarding a particular disliked scientific theory. That is, they assume that there is specific data that is relevant mostly only to evolutionary theory, or to AGW, or to vaccine safety, etc. They attack what they suppose to be the ‘special data’ with the belief that its refutation will dispose of a disliked theory while not affecting other science significantly.

**Implicit for some (I think most), but there are those  who make it explicit. They are utterly fixated upon their single unassailable Authority, and they don’t even want friendly visitors ruffling their superstitious feathers. They are so perverse that, to quote Johnny Kaje, “… attacking all of science, for most of these folks, is a feature, not a bug.” Yeah, ALL.

They (the folks who don’t quite dis-respect 100% of science) utterly fail to comprehend the web of knowledge that ties every scientific theory to vast numbers of strands of knowledge. Those ice cores, reviled for the data they offer regarding AGW, also support our scientific understanding of geology, biological evolution, and astrophysics. If anti-science folks were correct in their criticisms of ice core data, giant swaths of science would crumble – not just the one theory of AGW.

That interdependence of scientific research could, if anti-science folks were correct, have extremely personal consequences for most of us. Do you have an inkling of an idea about how many of the important medicines are developed? It escapes most laymen that the ‘special data’ which supports biological evolution also guides medical researchers in developing medicines. Yes, they sometimes find medicines by ‘screening’ – simply trying stuff. Much, even more, medical research is derived from such ‘special data’ that also supports biological evolution.

If an omnipotent being were to decree (Ken Ham’s dream) the anti-science position about evolution’s ‘special data’ to be correct, then an immense array of modern medicines would stop working.

Since most of the anti-science folks have strong influences from their religious beliefs, I recommend to them that they avail themselves of the possibility that I just described. If their Supreme Being is all-powerful, there is no need of haggling with school textbook committees. They should beseech their Supreme Being to make – what they ‘know’ to be true about certain disliked scientific theories – true for all of nature.

They had just best not expect their Viagra to work the next day.


5 Responses to “The Myth of Special Data”

  1. February 22, 2011 at 11:07 am

    One other comment. There are yet two reasons why we say Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory rather than Quantum Law and the Law of Relativity. These are the two pillars of modern physics and they are both phenomenally good as physical theories go, every bit as good as Newton’s Laws were in their day. But it is known that Quantum Physics and Relativistic Physics are mutually inconsistent with each other. They cannot both be true in fact. Either Quantum Mechanics is simply false or Relativity Theory is simply false or they both are. This alone is reason to use the word “theory”. Secondly, perhaps we use the word “theory” these days because we are more cautious. After all, Newton’s Laws turned out not to be “laws” after all.
    Nothing that I just said is critical of your article, however. You make important and perfectly valid points. Keep it up.

  2. 2 Jim Evans
    February 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Did you watch Jeopardy this past week? Watson answers question based on selecting the most probable answer garnered from all information available to him. He lacks the emotional propensity to selectively ignore data that he finds distasteful. He walloped the best Jeopardy playing humans on the planet. I think “anti-science,” is too complementary.” It assumes intellectual motivation. I prefer “willfully ignorant”, and sadly, intellectually inferior to a dumb computer.

  3. February 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

    The comment about Viagra was the perfect capstone for your argument. Thank you for doing this side of the controversy-which-ought-not-to-be. Keep it up

  4. February 19, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Dude, I thought you was dead!

    I wonder just how many fail to comprehend these facts, and how many just pretend not to.

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