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This week, the ScienceBloggers lined up to take a crack at this fine question:

“If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?”

Below the fold, in their own words, twelve ScienceBloggers name the ideas they’d be happier if we all grasped firmly.

But first, an above-the-fold reminder to send your Ask A ScienceBlogger questions to

  • Razib at Gene Expression would have the public understand that the essence of science isn’t findings, but process:

    “my reply is that the public needs to know that the most important idea about “science” is that it is not about ideas, but it is a way of getting to those ideas through a specific way of thinking about the world and interacting with your fellow human. Science is the means, not the ends.”

  • John Lynch of Stranger Fruit would implant this message: “Irrespective of putative mechanism, and natural selection is just one, organisms are connected by common ancestry and continue to evolve.”
  • Afarensis wants to impart the beauty of his field, physical anthropology. Seeking human origins, anthropologists collect skeletal remains. “Which means we have a lot of bones laying around in museums and such. Some of them are even fragmentary bones or isolated bones. Each of which may have traits that we can use to understand where we came from.” That is to say: “fragmented bones are not worthless bones….
  • Mincing no words, Pharyngula’s PZ Myers decrees: “I’m going to get all fundamentalist on this one. The one thing I wish everyone understood is…Math.”
  • Kevin Vranes of No Se Nada would explain the role of scale in nature, or in his words (which continue beautifully in his main post):

    “The simultaneously incomprehensible vastness of our universe and the scale-independence of physical phenomena. In other words, that nature is simultaneously so different and so much the same across its myriad phenomena.”

  • “I am not too keen to shake anyone,” writes GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life, “but I do think a lot of problems could be solved if the public understood what the scientific method is.”
  • RPM at Evolgen agrees, writing: “I’m going to take a step back and say the public should understand what science is. ”
  • At Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet Stemwedel “want[s] the public to understand something about how science uses models.”
  • Tim Lambert at Deltoid notes that the public would be less easily led astray by statistics if we only understood “Random sampling.”
  • At Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel concurs:

    “Huge swaths of public policy would quickly become much more sensible if only the voters had an elementary grasp of statistics.”

  • Orac would make us understand “ the concept of clinical trials. In particular,” he writes at Respectful Insolence,

    “I would want to make them understand why most anecdotal evidence is a very poor guide to determining what treatments are effective, thanks to the placebo effect, confirmation bias, and regression to the mean (all of which I discussed here), among other confounding factors. I would want them to understand the hierarchy of evidence in evidence-based medicine, and why double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are the strongest evidence, while retrospective studies are weaker, and case reports are the weakest of all.”

  • Jason Rosenhouse, who writes ScienceBlogs’ newest addition, EvolutionBlog, agrees with PZ, Chad, and Tim in spirit. (And he’s a card-carrying mathematician, to boot.) He says:

    I want people to understand that there is no law of averages. There are no laws of probability (at least not if you mean something like ‘Really improbable things don’t happen’). You can’t prove just anything with statistics.”

Check out last week’s Ask A ScienceBlogger roundup here, and the first installment here.

Have a question you need a dozen scientists’ answers to? Email it to See you next week!