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?” ).
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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