Tag Archives: The Truth

HOW IS THE TRUTH IMPORTANT FOR EVERYBODY? 

 

Determining what is true can be either easy or difficult! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Determining what is true can be straightforward or difficult!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

It always is risky to accept pronouncements from bankers or used car salesmen, billionaires or bums, bishops or generals, kings or presidents, talking heads on TV or elected politicians as being truthful.  Although all of us make assumptions about what is true or false in our daily lives, science demands that the truth be based upon research results answering the key question, “What is the evidence?”  Much of scientific research depends upon accuracy, analysis, controls, interpretations, and reproducability, in order to try to preclude errors, falsity, partial truths, and uncertainty.  Science uses the results of research experiments and careful observations as evidence for truthfulness.  Today’s dispatch looks at how the truth leads to making better decisions both by individuals and by everybody.

One example of how the truth has consequences! 

Two good friends go to a racetrack and place bets that two different horses, X and Y, will win the fourth race.  These horses cross the finish line closely together.  One person says, “I saw that X was very slightly ahead of Y”!  The other person says, “I couldn’t see which horse was crossing the finish line first, so we must wait until the stroboscopic photographs are available”!  A few minutes later the photo’s are displayed along with the message that Y was first by about 3 mm.  That camera is more accurate than is anyone’s eyesight, provides objective photographic evidence that Y crossed the finish line first, and decisively indicates that the true winner is horse Y.  This truth has the consequence of determining which bettors get paid and which have lost some of their money.

An example of how the truth can be very difficult to determine!

Jenny and Miranda are twin sisters in high school who are applying for admission to several different colleges.  Each has very good class grades and lists numerous examples of outside activities and accomplishments while in secondary school.  Both are applying to one highly regarded private college.  At a meeting of the Admissions Committee, there is active discussion on the candidacy of both girls.  The Committee votes to admit both sisters, but the Committee Chair announces that the college has strong rules against accepting siblings, so only one can be accepted for admission.  One Committee member then states, “Jenny is on more sporting teams, scored more points than her sister, and wants to become a lawyer, so she is a better candidate than is Miranda!”  A different Committee member responds, “But Miranda played for more minutes on the soccer team than did Jenny, and wants to get a doctoral degree in psychology, so she is a much better candidate than is Jenny”!

The Chair restates that only one sister can be accepted, but the Committee can see no significant difference in their potential to succeed in college and life.  The truth about which sister is superior cannot be determined because the available evidence is not sufficient, so the Committee finally votes to accept neither!  The rigid rule at this college for never accepting siblings precludes the best practical decision, to accept both!

Can the truth be very important to everyone? 

The foregoing examples deal with individuals, but the truth often is important to everyone in the public.  Almost all people sometimes get sick and rely on the training, experience, and expertise of an experienced physician to restore their state of health.  When doctors make a diagnosis and then prescribe some therapeutic medicine as the treatment ofchoice they base their judgment both upon published clinical research results from the manufacturing company and reports from other doctors who previously administered that same medication.  Thus, the outcome for all patients having the same diagnosis and treatment largely depends on the truthfulness of the previous research findings.  This very general dependence emphasizes the general importance of accuracy, completeness, and fidelity of the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the results obtained by other physicians.

Can the truth have importance even for simple everyday problems? 

All of us encounter small situations where questions arise about what is true or false.  A common example happens when we notice that the battery warning light in our car is on, raising the practical question, “Should I not drive in to work so I can get my battery fixed or replaced right now, or should I drive in to work as usual and hope my car will start for the return trip home?”.  This question is difficult to answer because we don’t have any evidence that the warning signal is either true or false (i.e., falsely positive).  Because of that unknown, some people simply hope they will be lucky and continue driving in, while others decide to get evidence for the truth of the warning signal by having a service center measure and evaluate the condition of their battery; the results of that examination will provide some reliable evidence about whether their battery is still functioning normally or needs to be recharged or replaced.

Whether this problem with the battery warning signal occurs in a car driven by a scientist or a non-scientist has no significance!  Both must deal with this common question.  The practical question about whether the battery signal is true or false remains the key to deciding what to do!  This example emphasizes that the truth can be important for each of us as individual people, as well as for the multitude of other drivers.

A very  brief discussion! 

When evidence does not exist or is poor, then there is no objective way to determine the truth.  In such cases, only subjective judgments and decisions can be made.  Deceit, deception, dogma, egos, emotions, money, politics, wishful thinking, and other subjective factors easily can enter the case and begin to cloud thoughts, leading to unresolved controversies and indecision.  A well-known example of that unfortunate situation occurs in the ongoing long controversy about global warming and climate change (see “Yes or No for Global Warming?  What Is True?” ).

Concluding remarks! 

Science uses published research results to gather evidence for what really is true. The Truth for scientists is determined by the evidence; most of their research studies are intended to gather the needed evidence.  Controversies in science usually can be resolved by acquiring more or better data; on  the other hand, controversies in the public realm often result from subjective considerations rather than objective scientific findings.  The importance of The Truth often extends to everybody!

 

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HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT IS TRUE ?

How do many persons decide what is true?
           How do people decide what is really true ?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

       Most of us believe that something is true because we are taught such at home, in school, or by some expert authority.  For science, the truth is judged mostly by evaluating the experimental evidence; the more evidence supporting an accepted viewpoint or theory, the greater is the certainty that it really is true.  Thus, scientists work to test and establish what we can regard as being true.  A truth that is bonafide will be consistent with other observations and experimental data, and enables valid predictions to be made; an apparent truth that really is false does not have these two cardinal characteristics. 

 

            History is full of examples where some very widely accepted truth, idea, or dogma was later proven to be false, either in whole or in part.  Testing hypotheses and re-examining accepted conclusions or established theories is a large part of the ongoing job of scientists.  Research scientists openly question all truths, theories, and dogmas.  Thomas Edison, the very famous inventor (see my recent post on “Inventors and Scientists”), is quoted as having often said, “I accept almost nothing dealing with electricity without thoroughly testing it first” [1].  Nevertheless, research scientists, just like all other people, must accept many provisional truths in order to be able to move forward with daily life both at home and in the laboratory; this general acceptance that yesterday continues into today and then on into tomorrow is a very strong practical necessity. 

 

There are plenty of controversies in both classical and modern science.  In biomedicine, there are long-debated opposing theories about what actually is the essential nature of cancer (i.e., neoplasia).  In chemistry, there are still-ongoing disputes about the detailed structure of water.  In physics, there are large disagreements about the existence, genesis, and properties of certain fundamental subatomic particles and forces.  These major controversies are both very important and very difficult targets for modern researchers.  There also are numerous smaller disputes and arguments being generated all the time.  Having all these controversies and disagreements in science is very good because they force research scientists to continue to explore, to think analytically about alternative explanations, to doubt and wonder “what if ?”, and, to be able to ask unconventional questions. 

 

For ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists), daily life usually goes on without encountering many changes in the accepted truths.  Nevertheless, it must be understood that what is regarded as being true today can change tomorrow as a result of new research results.  Scientists and other scholars (e.g., archeologists, economists, historians, museum directors, paleontologists, statisticians, etc.) as professional questioners of the truth, will advise us about some perceived need to modify our current beliefs as a result of new research findings.  To be certain, any new proposals, unexpected research results, and unconventional interpretations always remain doubted and debated until more extensive evidence can be piled up.  Changes in what we have long regarded as being true should not be feared, since these will increase our grasp of reality; it is ignorance and dogmas that should be feared.  The discovery of new truths by scientific research can create new concepts, new assumptions, and new insights, thereby causing progress in the extent of our knowledge and understanding.   

 

[1]   Beals, G., 1999.  The biography of Thomas Edison.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html .  

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