I’m sick to death of stupid people everywhere questioning the products of good science, and I know you are too. This has been a problem for longer than written history and is generally the result of a combination of two sad human conditions: the natural reaction for us to trust the slick talking spokesman with great hair over the dry nerdy fellow with bad skin, and the innate desire to believe that which offers us the best reward for the least effort.
Now, this applies across the boards from our shopping habits to our choice of romantic partner, and I could care less about people decide those things. If you want to overpay for your purse, sweater or boyfriend because you feel better about that particular brand or style, then go for it. All power to you! These decisions are yours to make, and yours alone and the reasons behind them don’t affect me at all. However, when we begin talking about the direction the human race is headed on big topics like how we came to be, or how we interact with our planet and universe I want more than your feelings on the subject. I want verifiable data and the conclusions reasonably drawn from it.
And this is where I begin to see red. Mainly on the topics of evolution and climate change. These are two hot button topics that matter a whole hell of a lot to all of us, and instead of properly discussing and studying how we are to deal with impeding problems on our planet and in our genome, we are still stuck talking about if its happening or not. Why are we talking about that? Is the science conflicted? Are we seeing large discrepancies in our data sets, or is the data so inconclusive that multiple theories are drawn from it? No. We are discussing it because some people feel they shouldn’t be happening. Huh? Shit, I feel climate change shouldn’t be happening too, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hypothesis backed up by a mountain of verifiable data.
The argument goes something like this:
Normal Person: “Man, isn’t it crazy that our industrial emissions are having such an effect on the earth, to the point where we are raising the global temperatures faster than any point previously measured?”
Normal Person: “Hey, isn’t it neat that over millions of years we developed all these traits as a reaction to our environment, and that process left us as humans?”
Stupid/Religions Person: “Hey now, we don’t know that for sure. It’s only a theory, not a fact”
Normal Person: “Well, gravity is only a theory too and we know that’s happening”
Stupid/Religions Person: “I can see gravity happen, but we don’t know evolution is happening, its just a theory.”
Normal Person: “Please don’t reproduce.”
This conversation (or a cruder, more real version thereof) happens all the time, every day. On the internet, on television (WTF) and most frighteningly, in our PTA meetings. It would be funny if it was simply a fringe group exercising their freedom of speech and didn’t impact us, but it does. In so many ways. First off, when we were first exploring the ideas of natural evolution or man made climate change, they were not theories. A theory does not mean a guess, it means a mathematical tool that can use a series of data points to predict the results of certain variables. In plain English (According to Oxford) a theory is:
noun (plural theories)
When you want to describe a guess that you will be later testing for validity, the word you are looking for is ‘hypothesis‘. So when you say “My theory is that it was the cat that knocked over the plant, and the dog is innocent”, unless you have hard evidence to implicate your evil feline, you are pulling that ‘theory’ out your ass and you do not have a theory. You have a hypothesis (or actually, wild guess, but lets keep it simple).
So when someone argues against the “theory of evolution” or the “theory of man-made climate change” they are arguing with conclusions drawn from a ton of data. Why is there so much data? Because instead of moving on the follow up questions, we are continuously forced to test the same hypothesis over and over again. This is a huge problem, and it is seriously slowing down scientific progress. In the world of science if you want to challenge a theory, you don’t just say ‘its not happening’ and move along, you develop an alternate hypothesis that fits the facts. If you can do so, then you enter the realm of having multiple theories to describe the same event or occurrence, like we do when it comes to the foundation of the universe.
In conclusion, if you want to challenge either of these two theories, you need to come prepared with some other idea that fits more of the facts than the prevalent theory does. Then you will have a debate. Until that time, all you have is a bunch of stupid people arguing against reality. Fun side note, both evolution and climate change are much better understood than gravity. Even though we are well acquainted with the effects of gravity, its cause is still very much unknown and there is no workable theory to describe it. At best we have a hypothesis of the ‘graviton‘, which is pretty flimsy at best.