Just What Do We Really KNOW?

4 Jan

Mona Charen, in a recent column titled “Things We Know That Just Ain’t So”, had the following to say about scientific research in general, referring to climate change and medical research in particular.  An insightful excerpt is below, and you can find the full column at


Excerpt: [Emphasis is mine]

A little humility about our capacity to predict something as complex as climate would be welcome. It isn’t a matter of trusting science versus denying the scientific method. It’s a matter of distrusting the herd mentality that can affect scientists as well as other mortals. I happen to think global warming may well be a serious problem for coastal regions in the future. This much having been said, there are serious flaws in the way science is conducted.

Consider cancer research. A rule of thumb among biomedical venture capitalists, The Economist reports, is that half of published research cannot be reproduced. A 2013 study by Amgen found that of 53 “landmark” cancer studies, only six could be replicated.

The pressure to publish is intense among academic researchers, yet scientific journals prefer newsworthy findings to refutations of older studies. A reported one-third of scientists confess to knowing of a colleague who cherry picked data or excluded “inconvenient” facts to tart up his or her research. Grants often flow to politically sexy topics like global warming, and scientific dissenters from orthodoxy suffer some of the same social and professional ostracism as heretics of an earlier time. The heart of the scientific method is disproof. Skepticism then, not unflagging belief in any particular theory of climate change, is the mark of the truly enlightened mind.

[End of excerpt]

I am reminded of a saying attributed to Steven Hawking:

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”


2 Responses to “Just What Do We Really KNOW?”

  1. Joseph Edward Wages January 4, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I think I could construct an argument to support a conclusion that every major advance in science replaced an existing “settled science belief”. A most glaring one of fairly recent vintage, Einstein’s works.

    • illero January 4, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      Not sure I would go so far as to argue that “every” advance replaced an existing settled belief, but the point is very well taken. Thanks for responding. I hope you and yours had a great Christmas and have a blessed 2014.

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