Don’t be fooled

In a previous post I wrote about how useful a scientifically informed worldview can be, and how I had realised – in discussing an unusual phenomenon on a slab of cheese – that the scientific understanding of the world that comes naturally to me is not necessarily shared by the people around me.

There is nothing wrong with that, really. We all have different ways of explaining the world around us to ourselves, and on a personal level they are all valid, as long as they get us through life.

Science Literacy
Drawing from the ASPAC 2012 Roundtable Discussions. Source: anonymous delegate

Science literacy does have its advantages, though, and I was reminded of that when I came across this drawing by one of the delegates at the recent ASPAC 2012 conference hosted by the Science Centre. (In the final session, delegates were encouraged to draw while reflecting on the conference themes.)

Every day, people try to convince us of all sorts of things. Advertisers, salespeople, journalists, politicians, our friends and colleagues are all bombarding us with claims ranging from the miraculous benefits of the latest beauty treatment to whether or not we need to worry about carbon emissions, and they usually back up their arguments with what appear to be scientific studies.

Many of these are legitimate, but a lot of them are not. The challenge is to recognise the flawed claims, and that’s where some understanding of how science works and how to interpret the findings of a study can help. A scientifically informed worldview is not going to give you all the answers (on the contrary…), but it will raise a red flag when you encounter a dubious sales pitch, and it will guide you in questioning the sources of the pitcher.

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