I wanted to quickly share some words of wisdom from Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse, who I was lucky enough to see speak at a recent event in Parliament.
First, he gave a quote which speaks for itself: “Data trumps everything, even the most beautiful theory.” I hope more people can remember this when dealing with the GM crops debate.Also, he spoke of why it is generally wise to listen to the scientific consensus. The consensus view of experts reached through ongoing debate usually represents the best analysis of the best information we have available.
Disagreements are a fundamental part of increasing scientific knowledge, and when new evidence emerges it is often inconclusive.
When scientists have reached a consensus, this means that the maverick views have been considered, and almost always ended up discounted. If the mavericks have failed to convince the experts, that’s a pretty good sign that they shouldn’t convince me.
This doesn’t mean close your mind to alternative interpretations. Scientific ideas always come with some level of uncertainty (although sometimes that uncertainty is very low). New evidence may become available, and who knows what ‘facts’ we will have to reassess in the future.
I plan to take his advice. Yes I always search out different points of view, but I still work to avoid false balance and if there’s a clear message coming from the scientific community then I don’t feel compelled to listen to every dissenting voice. Fiona Fox from the Science Media Centre in London has just blogged with very similar thoughts.