Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Knowing where to look.

One of the assumptions that I suspect gets made about scientists in general is that we're really clever. I say this because over there years I've had occasion to have to convince several quite intelligent people that I'm not particularly smarter than they are. There is a modicum of smarts in the industry yes, and there's a number of really really smart people floating around, that I will concede, but the major difference between myself and large numbers of the general public is that I know how and where to look for information. I'm not talking about how to critically take in that information, (though that is part of the training you receive eventually acquire in the sciences) that's the identification of cognitive biases I talked about last week.
I'm talking here primarily about becoming familiar with various sources of information. it springs to mind from this post at WEIT. As part of a larger (inane, imho) spiel, some chap at the NYT is having a go at Richard Dawkins saying that you "actually cite chapter and verse" for global warming studies. Which immediately brought to mind the kerfluffle when Dawkins didn't get the full name of Origin of the Species word perfect. It might seem like a tenuous link to this train of thought, though I think it's valid - obviously. Maybe not 30 years ago, but today definitely - one of the things that scientists have going for them is that we know where to look for information. We don't need to remember each and every fact we've read, we just need to know how to find it again. Over a long period of time we build up a library of sources that we trust and we figure out how to evaluate new sources of information. Very little that I do, I suspect, couldn't be done by most other people who are sufficiently interested, with sufficient training.

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