Just how illiterate are you?

Our local newspaper ran a story today about the findings of a long study of the quality of water drawn from private wells in a part of the county. This area of our county is serviced solely by private wells and private septic systems. No sewers, no water mains. The study shows that the level of nitrates in the water is above recommended safe levels.

One of the commenters wrote about the story that it was merely propaganda designed to get the government further involved in private matters. When challenged about whether the commenter was serious, he replied that he was completely serious. He then asked, “How do you KNOW” the data is accurate?

It was then that my blood pressure spiked (and I was reminded why one should never read the comments to news stories).

Had this foolish citizen bothered to pay attention at some point in his education, he would understand a few things. First, this was a scientific study. If you read the report, you can find the charts of data showing sample dates, measurements for each sample, etc.

The purpose of a scientific study is to present data that can be relied upon by others—including scientists who may want to reproduce the study and see if they get the same results. Our illiterate citizen clearly doesn’t realize that a scientific study result is presumptively accurate until someone else does the same study and comes up with different results. There are protocols and accepted methods for conducting these studies. If we didn’t have the accepted protocols and methods, no one would be able to reproduce the tests or the results, much less rely upon the findings. The whole process is known as the scientific method.

This fellow reminds me of a Star Trek Enterprise episode I saw this week (now you all know how I distract myself while running on the dreadmill). In this particular episode, the Enterprise goes to look for a lost colony known as Terra Nova. The crew finds that the colony was largely wiped out some 70 years ago by a large meteor strike on the planet. The survivors went underground and developed a distrust of “humans” (even though they themselves are human in slightly different form after the meteor strike’s radioactivity messed with their DNA). The Terra Novans have their belief system that won’t accept facts. Their leader’s refusal to consider facts created a real problem when the Enterprise crew discovered that the Terra Novans’ living areas were contaminated.

We as citizens have to learn to understand that when it comes to anything related to science, they key to accepting results is to ask if the results can be duplicated. If yes, then the conclusions from those results have validity. Of course, further testing of the conclusions may be appropriate. It is insane to learn about the results of the study and simply dismiss them because the data isn’t “known” to be accurate.

If you doubt the accuracy of a study’s results, hire your own scientists to conduct the study and see if the results match. If you don’t want to do this, then at least accept that your “argument” is as persuasive as calling your opponent a name.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s