Non Quod Erat Demonstrandum

As a scientist (or anyone who is considered to be an expert) I need to check that my sources of information are correct and accurate. Being precise is the most important element in science: no matter how spectacular your results are, if you cannot demonstrate them, they are useless. But recently I have realized there is something scientists should be more careful about: misinterpretation of our own results, or partial reuse of said results to prove things that actually go against our own conclusions.

This is in general done as part of marketing campaigns: despite the fact that the salaries of scientists are not that great, there is still an aura of recognition when some commercial claims that “a doctor says it is true”. But this is not the only domain where scientific knowledge is put out of its initial goals. Propaganda is also extremely present there.

One such example is the use of scientific elements by religious fundamentalists to prove their “theories” about a young earth, or against the evolution of the species (I guess they still see Darwin dressed as a monkey as he was represented by his detractors when he started exposing his work). There are several cases of misuse of science in this case.

One such instance is that people who believe in a ‘young earth” (aka 6000 years old) use the Second law of entropy as a proof for their “theory”, to bring a scientific background on what is nothing but a crumbling belief, in fact an interpretation of the Bible that most Christians would see as outdated. Without going into the details of the Second law of entropy, we can see right away that using it while dealing with the earth is a complete fallacy. When applying a theorem, one must pay attention to the conditions under which this theorem does apply. As garbage inputs means garbage outputs and nothing relevant. The second rule of Entropy applies to a closed system. it means that if we would like to apply it to the earth, we would have to consider that there is no outside influence on our planet. Aka that means forgetting the influence of the sun (gravitation, day and night cycles) of the moon (as we have a large satellite, it is an important element, tidal cycles are caused by it) and even further than that, of the whole universe on our solar system! Some theories can be applied while reducing the scope of study, for instance by applying them to a short amount of time. We could admit that the earth is a closed system for one minute or less, but in this case we cannot give conclusions to a 6000 years old scale!

A second example is the misuse of recent scientific discoveries to prove the non-existence of evolution by using science against itself by voluntarily ignoring parts of the conclusions of a study. Recently, a team came out with the conclusion that the famous Archeopteryx (who in its time was the “poster child” of Darwin’s theory) is not the missing link between dinosaurs and birds, but merely a dinosaur with feathers, who could not fly, and whose line was extinguished without any relation with birds whatsoever. This theory/discovery could be used to pretend that the evolution is nothing but silly ideas, but that would be completely ignoring the rest of the paper, which introduces better dinosaur candidates as the possible ancestors for modern birds. Once more, science has to always be used in a scientific context, from introduction to conclusion, without ignoring any element of it, otherwise it becomes meaningless.

Recently, I read the testimony of a scientific who got invited to a conference to talk about the evolution of species. He did go, and started presenting his latest results which in general were correcting some commonly admitted past discoveries in the domain. To his surprise, once he had finished debunking the past results and was getting ready to present his updated version, he was asked to leave the stage, his speech incomplete, so that for the audience, what they had just witnessed was a scientific person specialized in evolution debunking evolution theories. He later discovered that the conference was organized by a creationist organization, who was trying to give a pseudo-scientific background to their religious ideas.

The last example of scientific evidence turned into fake arguments by changing/ignoring conclusions is more political: human-induced climate change. There is a huge debate around climate research nowadays, mostly because of the great sums of money involved: if we were to go from one day to the next from fossil fuels to “greener” energies, we would see a huge shift in power and money, as way as in our ways of life. Such a shift may or may not be necessary, but let us focus on the problem at hand: accuracy of data. The international organization in charge of coming to conclusions with regards to the climate changes and the decisions to be made is always under scrutiny, both by politicians who are against their activity (aka let us not worry about pollution from fossil fuels: it create jobs and provide cheap energy in the short term), and other scientists.

These other scientists are the ones who interest me. In general they are not specialists of climate changes, however they analyze the scientific accuracy of the climate scientists papers, pointing out poor ethics, far fetched results, and a general marketing rather than scientific attitude. They are basically trying to see if, even if they cannot make their own theories and produce their own results, climate scientists are producing science or just propaganda. Their search is noble provided that going deep into fundamental changes if they are not necessary could be a catastrophe for humanity, as well as not taking the correct measures in time!

The problem I see here is the misinterpretation of these analysis by political lobbies, who tend to jump to conclusions pretty quickly. Aka, they go from “we think the raise of temperatures as shown on figure 1 of this paper is due to incorrect measurements” or “We do not believe that the climate change currently seen is due to mankind activities” to “there is no problem with over-polluting, no need to worry”. I often wish that the scientists involved in debunking poor science would stress out that no matter if this paper is right or wrong, it does not mean we should continue dumping untreated chemical waste in the ocean (which produces chemical changes of the sea water, such as an increase in its acidity)… in order to at least avoid misinterpretation of their own results for political purposes.

Science is quite often put under the scrutiny of the general public, because “it is expensive while we don’t care about the spread of diseases in howler monkeys if we cannot find a cure for cancer” or “their results go against our gut feelings”. As such, scientists and other specialists should be the first one to make sure that their sources, demonstrations, results, are irreproachable, as well as controlling that their results are not being misinterpreted to show “what was not to be demonstrated” (Non Quod Errat Demonstrandum)