Balancing Acts in Science
By GREG LADEN - GREG LADEN'S BLOG
Updated: Mon, 26 Sep 2011 08:23:20 UTC
How do you know when alternative views are real alternatives, and thus should be considered in a "balanced view" vs. when those views are not any longer valid and should be ignored? This sounds like a hard thing to do but it is not as hard as you might think. I suggest two different approaches: "Tipping Points" and "Clues that Something is Wrong Here."
The Tipping Point approach works like this: As the percentage of qualified scientists that hold a particular view diminishes, when it reaches about 25 percent or so, the view should continue to be references but as a minority view. Many points of view have been around that range in the past and we are glad we did not eliminate them. For instance, the role of Archeopteryx in bird evolution has moved in and out of favor such that what may well be the correct view may have been close to that sort of minority at various times in the past. As plate tectonics started to develop as a theory, it was held at about this level of minority for a while. The idea of particulate inheritance lost favor for decades prior to the New Darwinian Synthesis, and may have been in that range for a while. Minority vies should be maintained, but labeled clearly as such, in science reviews or in policy development.
But when that view goes to single digits, something else happens. We remember that the percentage of people who think that they've been abducted by aliens, or that are certain they've seen ghosts, or other impossible things, is around there. If 90 percent of scientists in a given field think that A is likely correct and B is not, then is time to start ignoring B
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