By Douglas Moreland
My wife returned to college after a 30-year gap and is engrossed in freshman biology. She asked me to parse her lab on photosynthesis. Some data points were well off expectation for a simple experiment. She wanted to repeat the lab.
I shared with her what every student of science should know – the more perfect the data looks the greater likelihood of tampering. Even with simple experiments, factors that influence results are manifold. A sure red flag to a teacher will be near perfect data from an imperfect experiment … and they are all imperfect.
My 29 years as a neurosurgeon have witnessed more bad science than good. The rhetoric is banal, new theories, drugs, and surgeries based in weak science. The common thread is isolating one modestly understood neurologic pathway while ignoring millions of others we don’t understand. What we don’t know is our biggest danger. With 100 billion cells in the brain, there’s much we don’t know.
This leads to specious therapies with irrational exuberance, overuse, then disenchantment. Follow the trail and you will probably find those seeking money and renown. I am skeptical of cutting-edge technology.
Parallels exist with climate change theory. I don’t know whether the brain or mother earth has more independent behavioral variables. For both I suspect the body of unknown is greater than the known. Certainty is elusive for both.
My “wash and wear” brain questions the validity of temperature estimates for planet earth from gasses in glacial ice. Every morning I see a 5-10 degree temperature change during my drive to work. Jump in Lake Erie and you will note conspicuous temperature fluctuations. Can they really tell me the climate of the entire earth thousands of years ago? I am suspicious. Perhaps someone can take my hair sample and tell me my grandfather’s lunch on Armistice Day.
Technology has allowed unmanned cameras to travel to uncharted ocean depths, and discovered the unimaginable. There is more life there than anywhere else on earth. Scientists were unaware of this when evaluating climate change. What will the next unimaginable discovery be, and how will that shape our theories? I have no idea.
“Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” Thank you, Voltaire.
My argument stops with pop culture science and inappropriate conclusions. Frankly, I don’t need any science to tell me we need to do a better job at cleaning up mother earth. I hold this truth self-evident.
We should go to great efforts to scrub the earth for posterity alone. Doing this based on false assumptions will tarnish the credibility of science when we need it most. And based on the anti-vaccine crusade, we need it right now.
Dr. Douglas Moreland, who lives in Elma, is a surgeon with University at Buffalo Neurosurgery.