In a few months, when my review for Bernoulli's Fallacy goes live, we'll have a lot more to talk about when it comes to uncertainty, probability, and statistics. In the meantime, I wanted to share an article with you from the journal Science Advances, entitled "Earning the Public's Trust."
I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach. This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models. In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations. There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.
These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.
In philosophy, there is a concept called moral relativism. It was particularly popular in the mid-twentieth century, but has fallen out of favor in many circles today. Aristotle's famous question - "is conduct right because the gods demand it, or do the gods demand it because it is right" - is answered in moral relativism with a resounding no, to both alternatives. Instead, moral relativism asserts that conduct is right so long as it is in keeping with the conventions of the culture within that conduct takes place, and conduct should only be judged within that context.
It is absolutely essential that we keep our minds open to alternative explanations for the universe in which we live and with which we interact. Just because one explanation is the accepted explanation doesn't mean it is "right" - there may not even be a truly "right" answer to a lot of the deep, probing questions about the universe. If we hew too strongly to a single explanation simply because it is the one that is commonly accepted, then we will inevitably be scoffed at by our ancestors the same way we scoff so readily at those who did not accept Copernicus's teachings.