Is it rational to have opinions about scientific phenomena?
Over dinner one night, a friend mentioned that he believes global warming is a hoax. Now, normally I would have responded by bringing up the number of studies that support global warming, or review the specific findings uncovered by scientists. But I decided to go in a different direction, out of sheer frustration. It’s not that I disagreed with his opinion, although that’s certainly true. What really irked me was his audacity to have any opinion at all.
So I asked him, “Are you trained in the scientific method? Do you understand the concepts of internal and external validity as they relate to research design, or the concept of error as it applies to statistics? Do you have a background in geology, meteorology, oceanography, chemistry, biology, or any other field that studies climate change? Have you read any of the articles in peer reviewed journals? Do you know what a peer reviewed journal is? If you’re missing any of these, how did you formulate your opinion?”
As for me, I’m a social scientist and know the tools of my trade. But I’m only trained in the field of psychology, and have no background at all in the hard sciences. So, when physicists talk about string theory or dark matter, or medical researchers talk about using gold molecules to carry cancer killing drugs through the bloodstream, it doesn’t occur to me to question whether or not such things are real. How the hell would I know? I could take the perspective that I can’t observe them so they aren’t real, but I already tried that with the atom and people just laughed at me.