Starts With A Bang

We’ve lost sight of the most important rule in debating science (Synopsis)

A scientific debate isn't about changing the minds of those watching to agree with you, but rather about identifying what evidence will allow everyone to know the right answer for certain. Image credit: Standard YouTube License.

“You must remember, my dear lady, the most important rule of any successful illusion: First, the people must want to believe in it.” -Libba Bray

There are many times throughout history that science — and scientists — have gotten it wrong. And there are many topics today that are quite polarized, from the Big Bang and evolution to vaccines, fluoridation, chemtrails and climate change. There are many public debates that play out, sometimes in nasty ways, surrounding all of these topics.

A Nigerian health worker tries to immunise a child during vaccination campaign against polio. The synchronised vaccination campaign, one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa, is part of urgent measures to permanently stop polio on the continent. Image credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images.

Yet today marks the 97th anniversary of the most famous debate in the history of science, and there are important lessons from that momentum 1920 event that we seem to have forgotten today. If your goal is to convince other people that you’re right, don’t bother reading this. But if your goal is to arrive at a scientifically robust conclusion, and to make sense of the Universe based on that, read on.

The star in the great Andromeda Nebula that changed our view of the Universe forever, as imaged first by Edwin Hubble in 1923 and then by the Hubble Space Telescope nearly 90 years later. Note, also, that the galaxy has not rotated at all in that time. Image credit: NASA, ESA and Z. Levay (STScI) (for the illustration); NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) (for the image).

The most important rule in debating science is to identify what it would take to convince us that our position is wrong. Come and find out what that’s all about!