Science, grieving, and discovery

I’ve been thinking about Carl Sagan today and the nature of skepticism.

OklahomaSunsetWhen I teach the big class in biology here at OU, we spend a lot of time contrasting Science (repeatable observations, falsifiable hypotheses) with Authority/Religion (transfer from teacher to student, deity to devotee, a trust/faith based relationship). Its something I think we as scientists don’t do nearly enough, discuss what science is and isn’t. The closest thing we get to it oftentimes is the travesty of “The Scientific Method” lab.

One of the big differences between Authority and Science is how we deal with being wrong. When you discover something you knew from Authority is wrong, it is betrayal, a violation of trust. When you you discover something you know from Science is wrong, it is progress! And it is glorious.

Not to say that learning you’re wrong isn’t painful and disorienting. When one of my dearly beloved hypotheses is snuffed out by the weight of evidence (especially if I’ve known and nurtured this hypothesis for years) I  enter the 5 stages of grieving,

1. Denial: “Whaa??? I did something wrong.”
2. Anger: “Fuckit! Three months wasted!”
3. Bargaining: “If I tweak the statistics…”
4. Depression: “Fuckit! Three months wasted!”
5. Acceptance: “Ya know, if this is actually real….cooooooooool”


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