Transcript: Is the Science really unreasonable? Scientist analyzes meme

In my latest YouTube video, I discuss a meme I found on social media the other day. The meme criticizes science, portraying it as unfair and elitist. Does this help public engagement? Here’s the video; the transcript is below. Enjoy!

This meme has been floating around on social media lately:

Have you seen it?

As a scientist with years of experience in research and science communication, I find this meme a little bit tricky, both from a logical perspective and also for the engagement and trust in science. Let me explain what I mean.

The meme depicts two consecutive claims by the science with a capital S, where the second claim loops back to the first.

Science first says, “You cannot challenge what we said today,” and then, “You cannot hold us accountable for what we said yesterday because the science changed.” And then it repeats.

The meme might seem straightforward, representing today’s discourse. Especially if we recognize that specific parts of science suffer from conflicts of interests, biases, corruption, and lack of transparency.

So what’s wrong with the meme, then?

Well, the meme vaguely encapsulates the claims of different voices, making the message confusing, dishonest, and misdirected. And although I don’t hide away from criticizing science, the meme makes the critique of science challenging to specify. What does it critique, really?

To the meme creators: I’m almost sure your beef is not with science.

Let me explain. Let’s analyze this meme and then by the end of the video, I’ll explain the possible implications of such memes.

Who’s “you”?

As we see, both quote boxes address a “you” character. But who’s “you”?

This is important because the scientific standpoint becomes more or less problematic depending on who “you” refers to.

And sure, if “you” refers to anyone, including scientists, researchers, and experts, then yeah, science has a massive problem. In that scenario, nobody challenges scientific findings, and as a result, scientific inquiry and discovery stagnate.

But from my experience and probably that of many researchers and scientists, that’s not the case.

Think about it. Science never tells science to just like the situation. In fact, it would be completely unscientific. In optimal environments, scientists constantly challenge other scientists. We can do that because we have the tools and resources for it, which is also why bad science and scientists get exposed from time to time and are forced to retract their works.

So, I have to assume that “you” refers to someone else. But who? Who’s “you”?

Is it the general public, maybe?

If that’s the case, then yes, you cannot challenge the science or scientific findings most of the time. The reason is simple: If findings are empirically demonstrated and peer-reviewed, you most likely don’t have the tools to challenge them. And here I specifically refer to empirical findings, which are observations, data analysis, controlled experiments, and so on and so on.

Of course, there is a time and place for non-scientists to challenge scientists’ arguments, something I discussed in my previous video, which you can check after this one if you’re interested to know when you can engage in discussions, such as COVID-related or climate-related discussions. But I digress.

So if “you” refers to the general public or non-experts, we lack the tools to challenge scientific findings, then the claim makes sense.

But then…

Who’s “we”?

The quotes are signed by “the Science” with a capital S. But who’s really saying these things?

Is it science as a philosophy? Is it a scientist? Is it the scientific consensus or paradigm?

Let me ask you right off the bat: is it OK if I discard the philosophy of science and the scientific method from this list already? After all, science as a philosophy is neutral. It’s impartial or agnostic to external factors, such as politics, money, and power. I’m talking about the foundational concept of science

As a philosophy, science operates with objectivity, skepticism, and testing of hypotheses. It needs to be challenged by default. So, if you don’t mind. I remove it from the list. There…

Second on the list. We find “A scientist.” Let’s also include a group of scientists. OK.

Sure, a scientist or a group of scientists can claim that their arguments are indisputable. As individuals, as humans, we carry erroneous thinking and biases, just like anyone else. But if I claim that nobody can question my arguments and ideas by default “because I’m a scientist,” I’m committing a fallacy known as appeal to authority or argument from authority.

But then. I would not be representing the Science (with a capital S). Instead, it would be my individual fallacy or that of my group, sect, lab, team, or camp. Which may or may not encapsulate a small part of science.

The scientific consensus or scientific paradigm

And finally, we find the distinct scientific consensus or scientific paradigm, which I’ll admit is a bit trickier and more complicated to challenge.

The scientific consensus represents the collective agreements among experts in a particular field based on the mass evidence at a given time. Which advances knowledge and guides further research.

Still, the scientific consensus is not static. Although slowly, it evolves with new evidence, and hypotheses are refined or replaced.

Challenging the scientific consensus can lead to scientific progress, but it requires robust evidence, rigorous analysis, and peer-reviewed scrutiny. Dissenting voices within the scientific communities are the ones that encourage debate and prevent us from falling into dogmatism.

So, while the scientific consensus may appear solid or difficult to challenge, it’s essential for us to examine and revise knowledge if we seek further understanding.

What did science “say”?

Then what did Science really say in this meme?

That’s unclear, but I have to assume it’s something corrupt, erroneous, or negative. Since, after all, the meme criticizes the Science, with a capital S, and its followers.

Still, knowing what we know about science now, we also understand that flawed and corrupt arguments indicate individual or group interests or flawed conclusions that the scientific community and, or the public eventually can correct.

So, depending on your angle on this meme, I dare say that the meme is incorrect; it’s wrong in so many ways.

The general public or non-experts will likely not be able to challenge the scientific consensus. So, if it is about the democratic values of science, it fails to acknowledge this.

And science as a concept or philosophy doesn’t reject challenges. So, if it wants to highlight scientific conservativism, then it’s just plain wrong because, at its essence, the Science (with a capital S) doesn’t have an opinion.

And then science as a concept doesn’t encapsulate individual scientists or scientific groups, biases, or interests, making the meme an overgeneralization – if that’s what it’s trying to highlight.

And I understand the provocative and attention-seeking nature of this meme. But I prefer a more specific language. If you want to criticize the corruption in science, conflicts of interest in science, biases, or lack of transparency, then say so. Point these out because, believe me, they exist.

Now, if you ask me, this meme, like any other meme, is an over-simplification. It oversimplifies the complexity of the scientific discourse. It fails to acknowledge the dynamic nature of scientific inquiry.

And while I suspect what this meme is trying to criticize, that is, conflicts of interest, corruption, biases, and so on. I believe this type of representation of science is dishonest and misguided.

It ultimately hurts the dialogues between scientists and the general public, giving the impression that science is static, elitist, and unfair by default.

Ultimately, we should all engage with science critically and constructively. And it’s good to understand that skepticism and debate are crucial for us to advance our knowledge.

This video here explains the balance between scientific authority or expert authority and public engagement [pointing randomly at nothing because the card seems to appear later]. So, if you’re interested in learning a bit more about that, check it out.

Also, hit the subscribe button if you’re not already part of this tribeless movement where we dissect thinking and communication critically. Apart from that. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. But, until next time, Peace!

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