They reveal the difference between “science” and science.
As a report on “science”, we offer “How many fields other than human evolution can cheerfully tolerate the following level of vagueness?”: Genetics researchers have discovered a shadowy, possible connection between certain genes and risk-taking tens of thousands of years ago.
From science by contrast, one expects rigor, not speculation based on a few possible pieces of evidence. Here’s why: Any reasonable person, with no knowledge of genetics and no specialized research, could replicate the findings reported in the linked story as follows: “Some people can accept more risk than others, and that sometimes seems to run in families. But you can’t rely on it.” And said reasonable person would be just as rigorous and accurate as the reported study.
That’s because “science,” at its best, doesn’t tell us more than common sense observation can. Linking its pretended discoveries to serious genetics is a frill.
And that’s at “science’s” best, mind! At its worst, “science” is the Bedrock of evolutionary psychology.
Science, by contrast, is about rigor and accuracy that potentially adds to our knowledge. For example, consider the recent post “Remember Dollo’s law? Once a trait was lost through evolution, it could not be regained.” In this case, the physicists chose not to dismiss the anomaly that some creatures do regain an old trait that had apparently disappeared. They investigated it instead. They proposed calculations for the probability of regaining a trait, based on studies of antibiotic resistance in bacteria:
They found that a very small percentage of evolutionary adaptations in a drug-resistance gene can be reversed, but only if the adaptations involve fewer than four discrete genetic mutations. The findings will appear in the May 13 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
Now, colleagues will doubtless jump in to take issue with various aspects of their research and its findings. Which they must. But as researchers quantify the probability of mutations being reversible, we have something to talk about that goes beyond what common sense observation can tell us. That’s what we need science to do for us.
Most people accept the findings of science, but not of “science” for a simple reason: We need the one, and we don’t need the other (except for entertainment). And, like most things we don’t need, “science” hangs around long enough to become a problem.