Jeremy Côté


A Little is Worse Than Nothing

The most dangerous weapon is a little bit of science.

Most people can agree that ignorance is a bad thing. After all, if you don’t know the latest information about a subject, how are you supposed to competently assess or form some kind of argument about the subject? It’s like arguing that the Earth is the centre of the cosmos because you haven’t ever looked at celestial data that proves otherwise. For this, most people will say that you do not know what you’re talking about, and that the leading theory is that the universe is generally homogenous and isotropic 1.

The problem comes in when people with a little science start asserting facts as if they are experts. Now, it’s nearly impossible to be a complete expert on a scientific subject, but there’s a point in which you transition from a novice to an expert. Before this point, you may have a small amount of scientific knowledge, but not enough to be extremely competent with all of the details.

The best scientists know that they don’t know everything.

If you come across someone who is assertive about everything he or she is saying, it may be best to have a strong sense of skepticism. At the very least, you should ask for sources, or something that backs up these claims. It’s not that person is being intentionally malicious or is trying to spread disinformation. In fact, it could be that the person just doesn’t know the whole story. Either way, it’s important to question the sources from those claims. From there, you can form your own opinion about the validity of the claim.

The reality is that it’s too easy to find a study that demonstrates one thing or disproves another. Even easier is sharing it with friends. What isn’t as easy is reading the piece and asking probing questions about its validity. Compound this lack of reading with big headlines of scientific claims in the media and we can see that knowing just enough science to seem knowledgeable is dangerous.

Generally, science is additive and progressive. Most of the time, findings aren’t Earth-shattering, but just a step in the right direction.

If you read a startling headline or are told some information that seems incredible, always ask for more detail. Please don’t take it at face value.

  1. It’s not in the centre.