Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

What It Means To Be Scientific

Anyone who makes it through college undeniably has some smarts. Enough to know that a peer reviewed article is pretty credible. Which makes the following all the more troubling.

Many college graduates won’t take an idea seriously unless it’s supported by a peer reviewed paper. It’s the only thing they accept.

The problem?

It’s an incredibly unscientific way of thinking. In fact, it involves no thinking at all. 

Even worse, it reduces science to a collection of facts that only changes when the peer reviewed journals say so. 

And that’s just plain wrong. All kinds of truths exist whether we’ve already discovered them or not.

Take Einstein’s contribution to science: the special and general theory of relativity.

Before Einstein showed up, astronomers were stuck solving a mystery.

Back then, every planet in our Solar System moved perfectly in accordance with Newton’s laws. Except one, Mercury. The only way we could explain the abnormality was by imagining a hidden planet that had a strong enough gravitational pull to disturb Mercury’s orbit.

So we hypothesized a tenth planet and named it Vulcan. A planet so close to the Sun that it’d be hard to see. 

But no matter how hard we peered through our telescopes, astronomers could never find Vulcan. 

Finally, Einstein came along and shared his theories. 

And he argued that Mercury has a strange orbit not thanks to a hidden planet, but thanks to a large star called the Sun. An incredibly controversial view, because it meant that Newton’s laws were wrong.

Einstein then used his theories to give us Mercury’s actual orbit through space. Skeptical, the astronomers looked through their telescopes into space and saw the planet move exactly as Einstein predicted.

Newton’s laws were indeed wrong.

Did that mean every scientist gave up on Newton like an overly ambitious New Year’s resolution?

No. Newton’s laws still worked fine on Earth and in much of our Solar System. His laws were simply incomplete and in need of a little adjustment for situations he couldn’t foresee.

As the story of Mercury’s orbit shows, science is a self-correcting mechanism. And every correction gives us a more precise model of how the universe works. 

But it doesn’t do so by itself. Science relies on people to think in ways we’ve never done before. 

Which raises the question:

If it’s not in a peer reviewed article, how do you know what you’re thinking is sound?

By following the scientific method. 

Take notes. Do double-blind tests. Use data loggers. Only work when well-rested. Invite others to observe with you. Look at different explanations for the same phenomenon.

In short, do everything that minimizes the odds that you’ll misinterpret your data and ideas. 

That’s what it means to be scientific.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach