“School sucks, right? I mean you do what you can to improve it, but in the end, there’s a limit. Because it’s school. And ‘school sucks.’ Remember?” -Louis C.K.

At every level, education always seems to be a hot button issue. Whether it’s in primary and secondary schools, where testing at every level is the primary means to evaluate teachers, or in adult life, where we’re always hearing about how scientifically illiterate the public is, we have pressing issues facing us.

And we can’t be experts in everything, even the best of us.

Image credit: NASA and the European Space Agency.

Sure, if you want to know about space, astronomy, physics, or cosmology, you can always come here, and I’ll give you the best I’ve got. Over the last three years, hundreds and then thousands of you decided that I was a great source for this type of information, and I’d like to ask you to think about why for a minute.

You no doubt appreciate the accuracy and clarity of what I give you, as well as the accessibility of it. (In other words, you don’t need to be a theoretical astrophysicist yourself to get something valuable out of what I write.) Maybe you think I’m an excellent teacher and that I have a knack for explaining things, which can’t hurt, either. For whatever it means, perhaps there’s some aspect of how I communicate that you appreciate.

But beyond any of that, I’d like to suggest that you — at some level — trust me as a source for news and information about space, astronomy, physics, and cosmology. You believe that I’m competent, and also that I’m honest about what we know and how we know it. That I’m aware of the facts and the data, and that I’m capable of interpreting it and explaining it to you. And you also believe that if I tell you something that turns out to be erroneous, I’ll come back as soon as I find out and try to put things right.

But I’m not the expert on everything. Look at the image above; that’s a shrimping boat in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Is it now safe to eat Gulf Shrimp again? I certainly don’t know myself, but I’d like to know whom to turn to in order to find out.

Public health, medicine, global warming, and many more issues are serious issues that require a tremendous amount of expertise to accurately address. Scientists certainly have a well-known public relations problem, and plenty of prominent individuals have gone out of their way to publicly call science, science education, and scientists themselves a waste of time.

And yet there are real issues facing us. The evidence showing that the Earth is, in fact, warming is overwhelming, and yet climate skeptics abound. Although, I was heartened to see one climate skeptic get funding to do his own study of global average temperature in an entirely new fashion, and to conclude that the Earth really is warming, and that the three other groups studying it got it exactly right.

Image credit: Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature and Richard Muller.

I’m an easy person to trust: I don’t have an agenda. I don’t benefit if you believe in the Big Bang versus a 6,000-year-old Universe, except in the realm of my own personal satisfaction for having done something I believe is an objective good.

But my goal isn’t to make you “more scientifically literate,” it’s simply to give you an awareness and an appreciation for what we know and how we know it, for what we don’t know and what we’re learning, and to help you make sense of some difficult things that I happen to be knowledgable about. I’m honored that you’ve chosen me as one of your experts and trusted sources for the things I do.

But how do you choose your experts? I live in a country where the law forbidding lying on broadcast news (the Fairness Doctrine) was repealed in 1987, and that’s where most Americans get their news. Do you rely on scientific consensus, and if so, how do you know whether there is one or not?

Image credit: Anderegg et al. 2010.

Do you have a set of sources that you trust, and are they your go-to-people for news, health, and safety? Do you insist on gathering as much information as you can and making a decision yourself? Do you have an informed viewpoint that you’re already convinced is correct, and would it take extraordinary evidence to change your mind?

Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken about global warming, scientific literacy, public education, and other topics that I’m not an expert on with various classes at a couple of different colleges and Universities, and the overwhelming consensus is that there isn’t a good, centralized place to go to get factual, correct, expert information without a whole bunch of blather, filler, opinion, and junk along with it. But people wish there was.

So tell me: how do you get your information, how to you separate the wheat from the chaff, and whom do you trust for your science, health, and education news?

Comments

  1. #1 Nathan N
    April 8, 2011

    Hi Ethan,
    You do bring up some good questions. I trust you because when I came across your blog I had questions I wanted answered. To test if you were “expert enough” I looked at your CV and your previous work in promoting science education. I then applied a litmus test I developed in my undergrad and now into my current PhD studies: I looked for how you handled a question with which I was already familiar. And I enjoyed it and kept digging deeper and deeper into your archives.

    Lastly, your point on a trustworthy news source has opened my eyes. If a news source treats a subject like science so poorly, how do they handle other news? I used to follow the BBC for international coverage because it was relatively free from commercial influence, but that isn’t the case anymore.

    Enjoying your blog as always,
    Nathan

  2. #2 Tree
    April 8, 2011

    Working in the veterinary field, I see this type of dilemma come up often. Many people want a cheap, effective form of flea control, so tey turn to Fran’s Furry Friends, who says that gasoline and a match will do the trick. In my own research, however, I turn to organizations like AAHA (the American Animal Hospital Association). I look for the credentials of a speaker/writer; are they a veterinarian/DVM or a breeder? Do other things appear on the same site correlate with what I’ve learned in the field? And I try to use multiple sources, putting each through the same paces for authority and accuracy.

    At the end of all this, I most often present the results of my research to the veterinarian, who uses his rather impressive collected knowledge to see if my findings jibe with what is already known, ask some very good questions I may not have known to consider, and often explain why something is correct or in error.

    Aside from the overabundance of information on the internet (and the questionable accuracy of much of it), one big problem I see is this: people can find someone somewhere that will tell them what they want to hear. And then they set their dog on fire to get rid of fleas.

  3. #3 Dave C
    April 8, 2011

    Good question. Like Nathan, I have checked to make sure you know what I already know. You also come highly recommended by other people I respect (Phil Plait). And being a teacher at a reputable college is a plus.

    It’s also evident that you use information and reason to draw your conclusions. I haven’t seen you deliberately ignore negative evidence to reach a conclusion. In fact, you cite negative evidence (like how MOND handles rotation curves of galaxies better than dark matter does) even when it weakens your case.

    Given that you are so open, rational, and thoughtful, I give you some trust. Of course, should evidence come to light that you are not trustworthy – even in matters unrelated to what you blog about – I reserve the right to change my opinion of you.

    Finally, my gut tells me you are trustworthy. Sometimes I can just read or listen to someone speak and my internal alarms start going off. I didn’t need to read the book Blink to know to trust my instincts.

  4. #4 Daneel
    April 8, 2011

    Well, that’s a hard question. Reputable publications like Scientific American, Nature, AAAS, etc… are a good start. Although they can screw up sometimes they are usually accurate and when they do make mistakes they tend to correct them and make some mea culpa.
    Outlets that agree with my previously held notions obviously seem more trustworthy to me and anyone. That’s the human condition and there’s no point in denying it while is important to be aware of our biases.
    In bloggers, what I usually look for is references. If Phil Plait, Steven Novella, or any other personality I previously find trustworthy recommends you, then I will grant you my provisional trust.
    Also, I don’t think you should get your science information from some ideology-based website. If I want to know about climate science I go to Skeptical science, real climate or Nature. There’s no point in going to the Cato institute website.
    Lastly, and maybe the most important factor, is that what you say is consistent with what most other experts say about some topic. More than 97% of climate scientists say climate change is real and cause by humans, so I won’t trusts some blogger that says otherwise (that doesn’t mean I won’t read their arguments, though).

  5. #5 Sphere Coupler
    April 8, 2011

    Trust is relevant, I trust that accurate information is delivered from the sole fact that you source or link the significant data in your delivery, so that one can develop based on your explanations and the information in which that explanation was based.

    That expands the ability of the reader to continue in a historic direction to better understand the foundations.

    So trust is relevant to delivery.
    Always credit, always cite,always mention,link, that’s trust.

    I trust that your delivery has strived to hold to these, what have become, expectations.

  6. #6 Matt
    April 8, 2011

    Hey Ethan,

    Hard to trust the media when they are owned by conglomerates that are far from impartial about anything. Best advice I ever got in regards to learning the truth was to take all parties involved and average their stories.

    I was wondering if you might be able to help us all understand Nuclear power. I think this is an area where most of us are rather naive/misinformed. I was looking into Thorium as a fuel, Wave reactors etc. I was wondering if you might be able to give us all some idea of the potential for alternative fuels in Nuclear energy.

    I know you are busy… but if you feel like exploring this I would be very grateful. I have learned a lot from your blog.

    Thanks Ethan

  7. #7 Brian137
    April 9, 2011

    Hi Ethan,
    I have been enjoying your blog ever since I became aware of it through cosmicvariance and badastronomy at the time of the Discover Magazine best science blog contest, which you won.

    You ask a very central question: how do we decide whom to trust on scientific issues? As far as physics goes, I know enough to at least partially evaluate the points myself. In other areas of science, I lack the time, energy, and/or background to adequately judge the science. Much as Socrates might quail at this methodology, I resort partly to ad hominem procedures. I avoid the politicians and pay attention to the scientists. Unfortunately though, we seem to have developed some unscrupulous “scientists,” who are willing to shill for certain causes. I put “scientists” in quotation marks because these people are not really following the scientific method in these cases.

    In the event of conflict, I follow the money (or religious preferences). Who is impartially seeking truth? who is attempting to marshal evidence to support or rationalize a predetermined point of view?

    At least two factors are on our (the good) side.
    1. It is very satisfying and, indeed, a lot of fun to be right. Doing good science is a blast. So we have satisfaction and fun on our side – two extremely important motivations. If you think money is a strong motive, look at what people are willing to spend it on: having fun and obtaining satisfaction.
    2. For a scientist, one of the best ways to advance within your field is to be recognized for doing good work. Your peers can and will judge you on your merits. So most of our scientists are sincerely trying to do their best.

  8. #8 rturpin
    April 9, 2011

    The shrimpers in Louisiana are still hauling up an oily catch:

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/03/30/35363.htm

    Unfortunately. I’m suspicious of any scientist who tells me “it’s all alright now.”

  9. #9 Alan L
    April 9, 2011

    The final graph is incomplete. It omits a significant data set:

    ‘convinced by the evidence of climate change.’

  10. #10 stephen s
    April 9, 2011

    “Scientists certainly have a well-known public relations problem,”
    Ethan, I can’t agree with that statement. Barry Glasner is also way off the mark in his article you linked to. He says: “But scientists who want members of the public to better understand their work ought to start by understanding them.” That’s like saying if you try understanding a rock it will talk back to you. A Gallup poll (Dec. 2010) found only 16% of americans believe humans evolved through natural selection. Over 150 years of research and thousands of papers support the theory of evolution but the vast majority of Americans don’t believe it. It’s not the scientist’s fault. How can you teach, communicate or argue with someone who won’t recognize facts? Imagine talking about climate change with an individual or group that believes every species on this planet fit on one boat, the earth is 6000 years old and everything was made in 6 days. The only information they recognize is a 3000 year old book. The scary part is we have elected legislatures in the government with bronze age mentality and morals. So let’s not blame the scientist’s for the public’s intransigent ignorance. Churches and industry backed organizations like koch industries, americans for prosperity and Fox misrepresent facts, nah they just lie for their own personal profit. My personal method of finding truth is crosschecking and always doubting anything from an individual who comes from a state that has a direction in its name or ends in ee or ah.

  11. #11 Sinead Finnegan
    April 9, 2011

    I get my global warming “news” from my parents, and their friends. They are meteorologists, friends with climatologists.

    I get health news from a neighbour mostly, he’s a biologist specialising in DNA and evolutionary biology of sorts.. And my uncle is a medial doctor.

    Education news I’d go straight to the source and read the curriculum as they change.

    I guess I come from a particularly sciencey background. Maybe someday people will come to my blog for information.

    http://irishwishesarespecial.blogspot.com/search/label/So%20what%20is%20it%20that%20you%20do%3F

  12. #12 Ld Elon
    April 9, 2011

    Answer to your title, i trust myself,
    i trust myself to be influenced by those surrounding me,
    reason, i trust myself.
    with all trust, ther are questions, i question myself, therfore i question myself, to judge myself, to trust myself.
    The question being, do i trust anything other than myself.
    Those whom learn anothers, are simply mimics.

    question, which scientist, researchers and experiments all they know?
    I know of none, but myself, and therafter only degrees of division.

    I learnt this way of writing, i speak this in ones mind, therfore, i have a deegree of mimicree.
    Yet ther is another which no man has taught, and it is this sound which is the true word.

    Ho Hm He Hy

  13. #13 Tihomir
    April 9, 2011

    The problem with the news media is this:
    – the more sensational their news is, the more attention they get,
    – the more attention they get, the more advertisement they can sell,
    – the more they can sell, the more money they get
    ==> so, it is in their own interest to produce a more sensational news, even at the cost of the truth!

    For me, I have finished a good university studying some physics, math, and IT, and have always had an interest in astronomy. When I hear some scientific news, I judge it on account of what I already believe to know, and try to use as much common sense as I can. The more the news alligns with the previously accepted “knowledge”, the better the chance of accepting it.

    As for the trust, I can more easily trust an information on some new data observed, than the interpretation of the data, regardless of the author of the interpretation. I always try to interpret myself and then check on how my interpretation alligns with the one given by the author.

    P.S. I love your blog because it is full of interesting data and lots of interpretations which allign excellently with my own ones!

  14. #14 William George
    April 9, 2011

    Crackpots are pretty easy to spot: They’re the ones making big claims without having anything to support them. So I tend to listen to the views of people who aren’t crackpots instead.

  15. #15 Ethan (the other one)
    April 9, 2011

    @Alan (Comment number 9) – Clicking through to the abstract one sees that the category of “convinced by the evidence of climate change” but discounting a human role has been lumped together with the “unconvinced” category.

  16. #16 Lloyd
    April 9, 2011

    Social engineering as well as physics recognizes that the active force of bias tends to pull things out of the gray and into either the black or the white even when gray can best portray reality. This is a matter of having active energy in play whereby the most persistent force may appear to “win” although such a determination remains relative to the observer (dual reality). In the absence of such continuing applied forces all things become gray, null and void as it appears to the outside observer in any case.

  17. #17 Ethan Siegel
    April 9, 2011

    Thank you all for your comments!

    I appreciate the praise from many of you (although I wasn’t fishing), and what I’ve learned is that, to get the best information you can, you:

    -look at the quality of your sources,
    -scrutinize what your particular source says in each instance,
    -look at what the consensus of available sources says, and
    -try to have a highly developed BS detector.

    Which is great for all of you; I couldn’t really ask for more. Now the question becomes, “How do we get more people to make their decisions like that?”

  18. #18 Phaedrus
    April 9, 2011

    This is an ongoing problem I see every day as my conservative family and friends forward me a continuous stream of email chains claiming global warming, evolution and anything Obama a fraud (I might agree with the Obama part). I continue to debunk and I try to throw in some hints as to how to identify fraud, and links to good websites.
    So, what makes a “good” or truthful website – here are some of my criteria :

    Websites that don’t allow comments get a black mark – open discussion is a hallmark of every truthful site.

    Websites that are consistent and non-ideological get a star (if you complained about X doing it, you better complain when Y does it)

    Websites that fess up when they’re wrong get a star – you can’t write everyday and not make mistakes… but you can tell alot about how a person/site handles the inevitable error.

    Websites with lots of links to primary sources get a star – let’s me see for myself, context, graphs

    Websites that say something different than what you’re hearing from common, well-known sources. This can be tricky, but if you have your crackpot detector on you can find some counter-punchers that are very insightful

    Association – a post on a aggregator site that I’ve developed trust in will get the benefit of the doubt.

    Mostly, this takes time and is dynamic. Loved HuffPo when it first came out, but it has descended into the worst kind of tabloid. I keep adding and trimming my blog list, I don’t bother with main stream – read Chomsky as to why. The internet is a godsend, I have the ability to read authors and journalists I never would have access to if I were limited to TV, newspaper or radio. I think we’re just starting on this, and we’re seeing the lies that normally run national conversations being confronted real-time. Reason still isn’t winning, but have patience – historically it rarely did and the tools are still being built and figured out.

  19. #19 Sphere Coupler
    April 9, 2011

    “How do we get more people to make their decisions like that?”

    Give them the proper tools, critical thinking coupled to ones specific creativity, opportunity for life long learning…

  20. #20 RL
    April 10, 2011

    I agree with what many commenters have said but I’d also like to emphasize that the amount of verification necessary to accept someone as an expert depends on the cost of that person being wrong. For example, to me, a casual science enthusiast, its one thing to listen to an expert and be misled regarding cosmology or the importance of a possible physics discovery and another to be misled by, say, a “health expert” giving me bad advice that has a more immediate impact. (If I was a physicist, that might change, if I needed a correct answer for my work!)
    Also, objectivity is important! If I perceive a scientist or a doctor to have an overtly political bent (either way), I become much more distrusting of them. Once they are no longer a “civilian” as they used to say in the Godfather movie, I assume that they are just spinning like a politician. There is at least one well know science blogger I no longer read because of this.

  21. #21 Mason
    April 10, 2011

    Looks like RL just made one the points that I wanted to make – first, the importance of and effort made at verification depend on the practical effects on my life. I don’t go to a tremendous amount of effort to verify what Ethan says here because the fundamental nature of the cosmos, while interesting, has negligible effect on my life.

    Another is that subject matter expertise matters. I think Ethan is probably trustworthy on the subject of theoretical physics. Economics and politics, not so much. I mean seriously, you claim that the Fairness Doctrine restricts lying on broadcast news? Your own Wikipedia link says nothing of the sort. You seem to be of a fairly Liberal bent; do you really want, say, Sarah Palin and her minions to be able to determine what is and isn’t a lie and what reports do and do not need to be given rebuttal time? Or substitute Dennis Kucinich if you’re a more Conservative type.

    When my own knowledge of the subject matter isn’t good enough to make a decent estimation of trustworthiness, I rely more of things like debate tactics and how criticism is handled. People who engage in personal attacks against their opponents and resort to physical violence to silence criticism, like the Union members in Wisconsin, are not likely to be right. People who are in the right will generally engage in debates with their opponents and defeat them with their ideas and logic.

    For example, I’m not sure if Anthropogenic Global Warming is right or wrong, but if it’s right, the worst thing that it’s advocates can do is to engage in and allow their opponents to be attacked and ridiculed. That’s what really makes me wonder about it. Well, that and the fact that none of the stuff that they’ve proposed we do will actually reduce carbon emissions fast enough to stop it.

  22. #22 That one guy
    April 10, 2011

    I’m currently 23. I was raised in a religious home surrounded by people who neither thought critically nor encouraged me to do so. About 2 years ago I finally looked into science and the wonders that it holds, especially in the field of astronomy. From that point I became practically obsessed with the way the universe works and always seek to learn more.

    Now, obviously, I want to learn what’s right. And, as my background indicated, I was taught my whole life to simply take people on their word. So I had to learn how to actually find information, especially by trustworthy sources.

    I look to see if the source of new information is indeed an expert in their field. If most evolutionary biologists say that evolution is true and provide evidence of their claim, and most people who are against evolution are NOT evolutionary biologists and have no background in higher education courses in biology, then I tend to “believe” the experts. Scientific consensus is a pretty good starting point for me.

    I also ask the question, “what would this provider of information gain from providing this information?” As far as I can tell from this website (and others like it), what is gained is personal satisfaction from knowing that others appreciate work being done. Ethan, I LOVE this blog. I recently found it, perhaps a month or so ago, but I am currently making my way through *all* of your posts, from the very beginning, in the archives. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing (I’ll let you decide!), but it brings me joy to read about this, and I’m sure you’d be glad to know your research makes others excited to learn. Other than that, like you said, I don’t see any other motive.

    The motive issue is why I’ve all but given up watching television – I only watch for the sports. I do NOT get my news from television stations, mostly because they have become so droll and sensationalist, and many have given me reasons to not trust their information.

    In general, I’d agree that the statements in your post (17) are how I go about doing things.

    How do we go about getting others to think this way? Well, saying as I’m 23 and just recently learned HOW to even begin to look for scientific material, I think QUALITY SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION FOR EVERYONE is a MUST. I was left to my own devices to learn about science, aside from the basics I got from high school courses, which were watered down so everybody could pass. Support education of everybody, ESPECIALLY the children and the educators themselves. Having qualified educators who are not afraid to posit scientific truth no matter the outcome, and who have the capability and willingness to defend science to any opposition would be a fantastic benefit to the advancement of scientific education.

    Also (and if I recall this correctly I got this from Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World, science as a candle in the dark”), there comes a point where children (who typically have a LOVE for science) cease to be interested and come to dread it (think of a typical high school student who has to take a physics class). Why does this happen? If we fix the idea that science is “not fun”, I think we can go a long way.

    Really, I think it all comes down to education. If a person is not educated as to how to find information that is true, they will not be able to differentiate between the truth and falsities, which means they are susceptible to false ideas which keep away the truth – it snowballs. Likewise, if people know how to look for truth and tell the difference between truth and falsities, that will also snowball, where educated people will become more educated, weeding out false ideas systematically, making the way for new ideas and more truth.

    Education, man.

  23. #23 That one guy
    April 10, 2011

    @ Mason, 21-

    You said:
    “For example, I’m not sure if Anthropogenic Global Warming is right or wrong, but if it’s right, the worst thing that it’s advocates can do is to engage in and allow their opponents to be attacked and ridiculed. That’s what really makes me wonder about it. Well, that and the fact that none of the stuff that they’ve proposed we do will actually reduce carbon emissions fast enough to stop it.”

    In the scientific community itself there is relatively no debate that the climate is changing and that humans are certainly contributing. (To how much perhaps there’s debate, but the fact that what we’re doing is pretty solid.) I’m not sure who you mean by “they,” but if you are talking about what political proposals, then that falls into the issue of where one gets their information – if we listen to politicians for scientific information, then we may very well get an obscured view. And, as far as the opposition to climate change goes, many of it comes from businesses and conservative politicians who themselves either do not understand the science well or have agendas for systematically denouncing it and motives to try to cause doubt (and, if reducing emissions causes climate change and cutting emissions also means losing productivity, I can see why big corporations would not wish climate change truth to emerge). If we trust the experts in their field, there’s little debate about whether or not climate change is happening.

    As far as Ethan’s claim on these ideas, here’s the way I see it: Ethan has more scientific background than I do, and is very likely he understands the issue better than I do. However, Ethan “is a theoretical astrophysicist” as stated on his blog, not a person who documents environmental change. While he may do some of that, from the ideas pot forth in his posts, it doesn’t appear to be his area. So, while I trust he seeks to find truth in science from the experts, I take what he says about this topic with a grain of salt, because he is not an expert in this field. I look to the experts (and articles reviewed by other experts in the same field) for information about climate change. Likewise, I would not trust a politician for information about climate change regardless of whether or not they agree with me.

  24. #24 Wow
    April 11, 2011

    Wrt AGW, another pointer is how many lies you get. The “anti” side gives them out like candy. They don’t have to be SCIENCE lies, just lies. If they’ll lie about something, they’ll lie about everything if they want.

    E.g. Lord Monckton. Says he’s a non-voting member of the House of Lords. The House of Lords says that there is no such thing and Monkton is no member.

    Anthony Watts. Says that when he gets a large fraction of the data out (can’t remember the %, but it passed a long time ago) from his surfacestations work, he’ll write a paper. That point passed. No paper.

    Related and again AW. Claims that all data and working must be made available. Yet when NASA do the work he said he was going to do on the surface station data, Anthony complained of theft of his data.

    David Bellamy. Claims now that his stance against AGW has killed his career, but even after his career was over he promoted AGW as the biggest problem humanity has caused. And, at that time, complained that his stance against John Major caused his career to tank.

    And so on.

    These, not being science questions, can be researched trivially by anyone with access to news clippings and the internet.

  25. #25 The Other Doug
    April 11, 2011

    Information is like any other commodity: caveat emptor. Just as anyone who sells cars has an agenda (good or ill), so too does anyone who traffics information. Know what they are. Shop around. As David Horowitz used to say, “Be aware and informed and don’t let ANYONE rip you off.” There is actually no way around this kind of personal responsibility for what you know.

    Having said that, don’t forget to *prioritize*. There’s no point in being an expert on, say, the toxicity of Gulf shrimp if you’re completely ignorant of your *own* health and nutrition.

  26. #26 Michel
    April 11, 2011

    I have a lovely job. I´m my own boss. The bussiness runs itself more or less (it´s an internetcafe). So I have all day to wander the internet and learn, read, watch, see etc. This is one of the many sites I visit.
    I always was and still am curious. Not a strange thing, since I worked 22 years for a newspaper.
    I just become “uncle” for the very first time in my life.
    Which is great.
    My present for him was a very small tiny prismatic telescope with a simple note that said “Be Curious”.
    His parents thought it the best present of all.

  27. #27 OKThen
    April 11, 2011

    I get my information from the usual sources: library, publications, internet.

    Evidence is always conflicting, and there are issues of precision, relevance, assumptions and bias. So I must dive into the quagmire of evidence and expert reasoning.

    In the end, I trust either some experts’ opinion or my own best judgement. Either way, I continue to question both the experts’ and my own judgement.

    Your blog Ethan is the only one that I read daily. It educates me, triggers ideas for me to explore, allows me to discuss my agreement or dissenting opinion.

  28. #28 javad
    April 11, 2011

    Thank you Ethan!!

  29. #29 The Dog Guy
    April 12, 2011

    “whom do you trust for your science, health, and education news?” I come from an engineering background and we knew many of the theories we were taught at the time were dodgy. In fact they revised a few just after we learned them, such as the Coopers pairs theory of superconducting. As I got older I realized it was impossible to read all theory papers first hand and many of them are too technical anyway, so for a first brush understanding I look to broadsheet national newspapers who quote the original sources, which are often universities.

    Its funny how the smaller sized papers are run by right wing conservative sports loving older people who live so deep in rumor and opinion, that rarely is the truth spoken. These are full of the deniers (of global warming etc) and I always have concern for people who read them.

    For more in-depth but easily digestible information I sometimes buy novels by subject experts (or at least the testimonials on the back seem to say).

    And when I wont to go deep I visit science journal sites and read the research papers. OK, when they are too deep at least I read the summary and see where they claim the state of play to be. But when you think about it, except for the author of this site obviously. blogs and forums, read widely and religiously around the world would have to be one of the largest most trusted sources of misinformation in the younger generation that one could imagine.

    I am so glad that our state broadsheet still runs original investigations into information and has exposes. Even just reading the Saturday version provides a great catch up on the major science and education events of the week.

  30. #30 ogremkv
    April 12, 2011

    First question: How do I know I can rely on someone for correct information.

    One of my big tells is reference information. Does the article contain links to original sources or references at the end. You probably wouldn’t be surprised at how easy it is to tell when one is looking at crap, when one uses that simple tell.

    Another thing that I used to teach my students is: What did he say, Who is he, and How does he know. For example, I don’t think that a guy with degrees in geology and history and no publication record is a very good source for detailed information about DNA. He might be a good source, but I’m going take what he says with a grain of salt (in this particular case, with about 2 metric tons of halite).

    Personally, I don’t watch the news, I don’t have cable or satellite. I get my information from (mainly) blogs, that have references to orginal sources.

    The second question: How to get people to do this critical review too?

    My first thought is to make it expensive. Everyone is concerned about money. But then I realized that doesn’t work. How many people buy a car without doing research? I know hundreds of people would ‘will never buy a foreign car*’ or ‘I’m a Chevy man’ or ‘Hondas are the best car ever’.

    These people don’t research anything about the second largest purchase most of them will ever make. They never even consider other vehicles. It’s quite disturbing.

    What we really have to do is train people to do research and to show them the benefits of doing their own research. Not, “I’ve done the research and this is best”, but “here’s the sources, what do you think is best and why?”

    We have to get the kids to do this. They would be the best target. Take a kid (as I will do with mine) and say, “OK, here’s your budget, what’s the best video game you can buy and prove it to me”. When my boy turns 16, I’ll give him a budget to buy a car and he’ll have to present me with the reasons for the car he wants.

    Once they start doing it for the sake of efficiency, then they can start doing it for everything. They can start to see the universe as a series of connected decisions and start to see (hopefully) that people will take advantage of them if they aren’t thinking.

    I’ve got an interesting story on my personal failure to properly research a decision like this here: http://ogremk5.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/why-you-should-always-research/

    * In spite of the fact that some Fords are made in Mexico and some Toyotas are made in Texas

  31. #31 Paco
    April 19, 2011

    Re: Yucca Mountain as discussed in Chris Mooney’s article, I never understood why the public was engaged in the Yucca mountain business to begin with. The public wasn’t consulted initially about the 100+ temporary nuclear waste facilities spread across the US–some quite close to population centers. They don’t seem concerned about the real risks regarding those sites.

    I wish someone in gov’t would simply have the cojones to say, “Yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s the only answer we have right now.” And do it.

    The opposition is simply irrational.

Current ye@r *