Skepticism in Science
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13-06-2013, 10:53 AM
Skepticism in Science
With all of the constant threads on conspiracy theories popping up over and over again on the forum, I think it a good time to discuss when to be skeptical of information floating about that proclaims to have some backing in science or by scientists. Scientists are not perfect and will certainly overstep their reach on occasion, and are just as stubborn as anyone else about taking a step back and admitting fault. And appeals to authority and consensus are not out of the question for them either. There are 2 ideas floating about that strike my fancy on this more than most others.

1) Extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was not a bolide impact
2) Climate scientist consensus

The first is something that preceded the discovery of the bolide impact (although that had been suggested, much to the amusement of the geological community at the time as absurd) and the subsequent smoking gun evidence of the iridium layer and crater off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. There remains a community within science that still advocates for a gradual extinction event and that the bolide impact was irrelevant, except it finished off some stragglers. Is it plausible? Absolutely. The idea behind it is that most of the species that went extinct, were not doing well before the impact. This hypothesis was supported by what was called the 3 meter gap. This was (as is suggested by its name) a gap of 3 meters between the last fossils found before the iridium layer, and the iridium layer itself. One such fossil that was not observed within this 3 meters, were ammonites. Geologists at a conference in Europe (I want to say France, but I could be wrong) were on a field trip and the geologist leading the trip, challenged anyone to find an ammonite within these 3 meters. To the one who did? Beer. Well, it didn't take long before one was found, and then another, and another, etc. In fact, once people started really looking, they were found right up to the horizon, and then none after. And of dinosaurs? Yep, we are finding them right up to the horizon, just not the big sexy specimens people seek out. We find smaller bits of bone and teeth. The reason we didn't find them before? People tend not to collect the smaller scraps, so they were not looking for these smaller scraps.

The second one about climate science is perhaps more frustrating. A recent picture was circulating around facebook that proclaimed that 98% of papers published by scientists in peer-reviewed science journals agreed on climate change and its anthroprogenic cause. I don't disagree with any of this, except the appeal to consensus. What I mean by this is that no one is holding up the evidence in this argument, it's just "hey look! They all agree!" and that's that. If scientists want to remain the objective instruments of science, then it is necessary to be a bit better about how we communicate.
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