“My dad is NOT a scientist!”

Proceed with caution

My boys were at first disbelieving and then quite distressed when I confirmed that their dad was a scientist*. Jeremy and Damian’s experience of scientists extended to their favourite superhero TV shows where villainous or well-meaning scientists created weapons and mutant monsters for the superheroes to defeat.

When Damian began to cry, we realised the extent of his misunderstanding and had to do some quick talking to reassure them that his dad’s life was not in danger nor was he putting the lives of anyone else in danger**. They still don’t entirely understand what being a scientist means. Every now and again, Jeremy will say goodbye to my husband in the morning and adorably add “I hope you discover something new today!”

Things don’t happen  so quickly in an average scientists lifetime. Information that one scientists gleans from his or her life’s work may only represent one tiny, although essential, piece in a larger puzzle. The puzzle itself being one tiny piece in an even larger puzzle, which somewhere along the way, with input from many other scientists and professionals may eventually lead to an everyday application that a lay person would recognise.

Perhaps that may seem like an insult but its not. Without scientists we would still be back in the Stone Age. It is just a very slow and laborious process with very little new revelation occurring as a percentage of all that is tested.

Hugh Walpole had this to say about science “In all science, error precedes the truth and it is better it should go first than last.” But it’s not really error at all, it’s investigation. Disproving things is an important step in the process. This should come as no surprise to any self-respecting scientist because it is standard practice to approach a theory from the angle of disproving a null hypothesis. Mind you, it takes more than one study to prove (or be unable to disprove) something does what it claims to do.

As Heino Falcke explains in his blog post ‘Science in the era of Facebook and Twitter- get used to it’ consumers need to be wary of the latest headline and scientists need to be wary of the fallout from being too hasty to promote their work.

The greatest bane of my existence (I may have watched a few too many superhero TV shows too judging by the sensationalism in that expression) is the host of misinformation on the internet about health and nutrition and I covered this topic in more detail in an earlier post. Of course, the same can be said for the science behind autism too when so many theories (refer here for more information) and therapies are seemingly accepted as truth (more here). I refuse to mention the ‘therapies in question’ because just mentioning them gives them more exposure that they do not deserve.

As Heino Falcke so eloquently puts it in his blog post (mentioned earlier) “Scientific truth is not the outcome of a single Eureka moment but of a long sociological process and hence it is subject to all human deficiencies”.

The moral of the story is this: Proceed with caution (don’t blindly follow) when considering a new procedure or even when adopting a point of view or making an assumption about someone with a diagnosis. Refer here for some guidance on how to evaluate online resources.

Notes:

*In an earlier blog post, I have briefly referred to my husband as being a teacher (I’m intentionally vague about my husband because his privacy is important to him). To clarify, he has both a teaching and research role.

**My husband wanted me to write: “Although, my husband gets upset he is not a ‘mad scientist'” but I didn’t think it sounded as funny coming from me.

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