I am a professional scientist in the biological arena, and the fundamental goal of my profession is to seek truth, understanding, and knowledge. We don’t always get it right, but we always strive to reach the absolute truth even if progress is slow and incremental. We are taught to follow the evidence wherever it takes us and not to let our personal biases sway or obscure the path to genuine veracity. I think the perspective of science and the mantra for a good scientist is embodied in these lines from a sermon by Unitarian minister, Robert T. Weston:
“Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error,
for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing;
For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.”
I first encountered this text in a prayer book while attending a service conducted by my friend Rabbi Peter Tarlow. While written in the context of doubt in the realm of faith and religious belief, I was struck by how applicable this was to the scientific pursuit. Our primary goal is the absolute truth, and no matter how much we believe a certain fact, hypothesis, or explanation is correct, we should never stop doubting it and searching for flaws that will lead us to greater understanding.
Science frequently deals with novel ideas and speculation, but good science always seeks to verify and confirm with testable, measurable, and quantifiable data. Sometimes collecting the data is difficult and the results confounding, but that generally just means that we don’t yet understand the bigger and more complex picture. The process of science is somewhat like trying to see what is in a dimly lit room by looking through different windows from the outside. What you see and how you interpret what you see will be very dependent upon what windows you view. Looking through just one window on one side may give a very different sense of the room than a window on another side. Ultimately, looking through every possible window and collating the information obtained from each view would give the truest picture of the room. This is why scientists try to examine a problem from as many different perspectives as possible to ensure that our conclusions are not limited by partial information that doesn’t represent the entire spectrum of the issue being studied. This is also why science often moves slowly. Complex issues require many approaches and the complex data obtained is often difficult to assemble into a coherent picture. Nonetheless, inexorably science marches forward and establishes truths as best we can. My goal for this blog is to do just that – to find and present truths as best I can in the realm of science, particularly the biological sciences. I have no particular personal, political, or social agenda to promote other than correcting misinformation and disinformation. I will explore interesting issues in science and try to present the scientific facts as best we know them. I have issues that I want to present, but am also happy for suggestions of topics to cover, and I look forward to hearing from my readers.