What do I mean by “probabilistically” true?

What do I mean by “probabilistically” true?

I was once again drawn in to a “discussion” on Facebook about global warming with one of my science-denying friends (why do I have so many?!) and while I made some progress – I think – I used the exchange as an opportunity to reflect on the word “true.”

A claim in science has either been proven false, or it has yet to be proven false. This sets up a strange dynamic for the contrarian looking to exploit that space between what we claim to be true and what has yet to be proven false.

You see, science by definition and by the very nature of hypothesis testing is “probabilistically” true. Meaning that there is always a chance that a claim could be proven false. In other words, science always leaves a window open, even if the crack is infinitesimally small, for the potential that new evidence will change our understanding.

For the climate change denier (or evolution denier or vaccine denier etc.), to deny the evidence for human caused global warming, or evolution, or vaccine efficacy at this stage of the research, is simply contrarianism. Therefore, while statistically speaking there is an extraordinarily small probability that any of those hypotheses might be proven false, the practical reality is that there is no factual basis for denying any of them.

The lesson: Do not let contrarians exploit your intellectual honesty.

Happy critical thinking!

A brief note on scientific literacy

Just a brief note on scientific literacy that was prompted by the following ridiculous video that showed up on my Facebook feed.

I don’t know who the person speaking in this video is but he is clearly a crackpot. And while ad hominem arguments are normally just lazy, on this I don’t know what else to say. The science is clear. While not all vaccines are 100% effective, and while all medical procedures, including receiving a vaccine, carry a risk, there is no doubt that vaccines are among the most important and impactful public health inventions of human history.

And in general, I hope it’s also clear this is what I mean when I talk about scientific literacy.

I’m neither an MD, a climate scientist, nor a biologist for example, but I trust doctors on vaccines because I understand at a high level how vaccines work and I know their efficacy has the overwhelming consensus of the medical community…just like I trust climate scientists on climate because I know at a high level what is happening with greenhouse gas emissions and I know man made global warming has the overwhelming consensus of the climate science community and just like I trust biologists on evolution, etc. I don’t have to do the experiments or publish in peer-reviewed journals to be able to weigh the plausibility of evidence-based scientific truth claims.

This is what it means to be scientifically literate. The video below is a dangerous example of what it means to be scientifically illiterate.