Which One Are You: a Scientist or a Lawyer?

I formatted this blog post in a way I have never put a piece together before. To save you some time, I placed my point at the top. If you have the time to engage, the context is beneath it. I hope you read enough of this post to understand the argument the way I’m expressing it, not with any judgment until you have read the whole story. I know it’s much easier to read a headline to cement your opinion than it is to dive into something like this, but that’s the exact reason I wrote the post.

The Point

There are two different ways you can approach a subject to form an opinion: you can use the scientific method to test your assumptions and adapt your statement accordingly, or you can accept and reject information based on your initial belief the way a lawyer would. We need more scientists and fewer lawyers for our society to be closer to the equal, fair and knowledgeable country we want the United States (and the world) to be.

The Context

There are media entities designed to appeal to a larger variety of interests than ever before. The number of TV stations and websites is in the billions, so there is always something to watch or read that will hold your attention.

While some very smart people may have seen a future like this when the internet was created, I don’t think most people understood the extent of both freedom and confusion that the World Wide Web had the potential to create.

There may be an unlimited amount of information, but there’s a cap on the amount of time and willpower people have to spend judging the quality of the stories and data they come across.

When newspapers (and eventually radio and TV stations) came out, they were designed to be the all-powerful discerners. Their resources allowed them to find and share the most relevant information. These days, there is too much information for a select few organizations to organize, synthesize and prioritize. Plus, there are so many cat videos, sports highlights and purely inspirational stories that take up our time.

We don’t need everything we see, hear or read to be informational, but we do need to understand that just because something is about an important topic, that doesn’t mean it’s factual. (This definitely happens on both sides of the aisle, by the way.)

While I never got the grades in Science that I earned in English, I always had a lot of respect for the way scientists handled their work. It’s not sexy to constantly challenge your own beliefs and admit you were wrong, but millions of smart people do that every day to help humans advance in life.

Thanks to scientists, we have learned why things fall down, invented media besides books, cured polio, learned how to effectively treat many other diseases like cancer and put humans on the moon. (Someone with a better knowledge of the history of science could share some even more impressive feats with you.)

Lawyers can be an important part of a productive and happy society. They often protect human rights by challenging the institutions that have denied them. However, their course of action needs to be much less like the general public than scientists’ methods. I’d rather have a nation full of scientists than one full of lawyers, because we can eventually find the right answer through science.

If you read a story about something important like health, politics or world news, who do you emulate?

Do you read it and say, “I knew it!” before you consider the other side? Do you think to yourself, “That can’t be right. This is ridiculous!”

When you see or hear the story, do you wonder whether your initial opinion is wrong? If so, do you look up more stories from other outlets to see if their content says something similar?

We all do most of these at least some of the time. It can feel good to berate the “other side” and talk about how dumb or corrupt they are. That’s what most political discourse has devolved into these days, regardless of whether you supported Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or none of the above. We forgot to do something about the actual problem. The candidates aren’t the real issue. It’s what they appeal to and why they say the things they do that matters.

The way businesses use the internet encourages users’ brains to seek pleasure in whatever ways possible, including reinforcing beliefs and habits that already existed. We love hearing that we were right. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you won’t feel stupid if you were wrong. (Hopefully no internet trolls attacked you.)

Nobody likes to be wrong, because we as a society focus so much on mistakes and how bad they are. It’s easier to point out someone else’s flaws than to prevent ourselves from doing the same things. Many of us would rather be armchair quarterbacks than to run our own plays in the game of life. It won’t be easy to move away from that mindset, but to actually make progress toward happy lives for more people, we all need to try.

“Waffling” on an issue seems treasonous to some people, especially when politicians do it. THAT PHRASE DISGUSTS ME. While it is a common occurrence for a politician to change his or her opinion on something because of a conflict of interest, there are plenty of times that a change of heart– or more accurately, of mind– is the wise move for everybody.

Most people thought the world was flat, and it’s not. A countless number of people were wrong about that. We thought earth was the center of the universe, and it isn’t. People used to think that drilling a hole in your head when you were sick would let the demons out and make you better. These are all beliefs that science disproved, and our society is better for it.

Being wrong is okay, especially if you admit it. When you come across new information that challenges your assumptions, it might be true. It might not be. Either way, you have to honestly give it a chance. It may take you longer to find out the real truth, but at least you will be able to have productive and intelligent conversations with people. You may still make enemies with the most stubborn people, but they make up a smaller portion of the general public than the internet may lend you to believe.

You can still have strong opinions and use the scientific method. If you were right in the first place, you will definitely feel more confident in your hypothesis when you discover that data contrary to your thoughts is false.

Thanks to the power of democracy, you can use intelligent conversations to spread knowledge the same way that corrupt organizations do. When it’s executed properly, we can have the same power that other entities use to hold us back. It could actually be a fair fight if we were armed with the right knowledge. We can use it to our advantage to make sure that human freedoms are not lost. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

It all starts with one experiment. Enter the lab with me the next time you see a story you think couldn’t possibly be true.

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