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Do you have a scientific attitude?

Posted on April 09 2018

Eric Helms, MS, MPhil, CSCS, USAW L1

1. The scientific method is not only an analytical procedure, but also has an underlying philosophy of open inquiry and discussion.

2. How you present information is a more important educational tool than the information itself.

3. Presenting science with a condescending attitude is inherently unscientific and discourages critical thinking.

4. How you think, rather than the knowledge you memorize is your biggest asset.

 

    Those of us who pursue knowledge should be familiar with the scientific method. The principles of hypothesis, impartial observation, acknowledgment of limitations and interpretation while minimizing bias, are fundamental to learning and teaching. However, what is rarely discussed is the underlying philosophy that should permeate this process that goes beyond analytical procedure. 

    Whether you aspire to be a researcher reporting your own data, or someone who shares others' research with your audience, it's critical you consider not just the accuracy of the information you present, but how you present it. Likewise, if you are a consumer of information, you need to pay close attention to the attitude and underlying philosophy of the person you are getting it from.

    It is all too common that research is used like a big stick; to strike at whatever a poster disagrees with, using words dripping with condescension. An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy, in which the individual is discredited rather than their information addressed directly. This approach is used by those more interested in being right than learning or teaching. Even though it is not as overt as the typical personal attack, a condescending attitude serves the same purpose. Whether it is done for that purpose intentionally or not, treating alternative view points as laughable or idiotic, discourages dissent. 

    Be wary when someone presents information this way. We all love jokes; hell, I love the meme of Jesse from Breaking Bad saying "science bitch!" as much as anyone else! But, when someone continually attacks alternative viewpoints, shows disdain for differing interpretations, and reports research like they are doing an end zone celebration, it’s a red flag. The purpose of science is not to dominate, building your own ego, but rather to educate, building the knowledge of everyone.

    Now let's be clear. I am not referring to the use of science to dispel dangerous or disingenuous misinformation. Fad diets, snake oil supplements, and gimmicky fitness trends at best waste your time and money and at worst, are harmful. Done appropriately, countering pseudoscience is an important act of helping the consumer. What I am referring to, are attitudes within our community of knowledge seekers; how we treat each other when we disagree and the attitudes we teach our followers who are watching.

    If you are someone who shares research with others, I can't emphasise enough how much more important the educational value of how you present information is, compared to the information itself.  

     

    "The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think" - Albert Einstein  

     

    Put simply it is not what you know, but rather how you think that is your greatest asset. Memorizing facts does not create an empowered individual. If you memorize my information and take it as irrefutable truth, I've become your guru, which is a problem. As soon as someone else comes along who is charismatic and presents conflicting information with confidence, you'll be confused. The way to free yourself from this cycle is by developing critical thinking. As you hopefully understand now, critical thinking is just as much an active process of openness and discourse, as it is an understanding of scientific principles. Thus, you should be intentional when you seek out someone to learn from. Make sure he or she not only sees science as an analytical procedure, but also exudes an attitude that encourages discussion, is open to the challenge of alternative views, questions existing data and most importantly builds others up rather than tearing them down.

    Check out more of Eric's writing with the MASS Research Review - click here to subscribe!

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