Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

This excellent TED talk by Naomi Oreskes covers many of the same topics we’ve discussed before, concerning the limitations of scientific expertise, why scientists trust experts in other fields, and why lay people should trust scientific consensuses.

via Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists | Talk Video |

Of course, trusting science is easy when we benefit from it, but becomes trickier when the implications of its findings are inconvenient.

4 thoughts on “Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

  1. I’d agree with trusting science, and with the point about accepting its result whatever they are. (If only scientists would take this approach to metaphysics!) But scientists should speak only on their own specialism, and it is sometimes difficult to trust scientists even when on their own subject, when they talk so much nonsense on other people’s. I feel that science should get its house in order if it wants to maintain our trust. At the moment it seems to be a hotbed of metaphysical conjecture and theological speculation.


    1. I think it’s worth remembering that most scientists stay as far away as they can from metaphysics or theology. That said, I do think scientists have just as much right as any of us to express their opinions on metaphysics, theology, politics, aesthetics, or culture. We should just bear in mind that when they speak outside of their specialty, that they are talking as an educated layperson.


  2. Thanks for the link. It is truly a great speech. But, I think that we could ask a different question: Why do people not trust science?

    This issue is really hinged on a special type of argument: the Chicken/Duck argument.
    Chicken says: gaga
    Duck says: yaya
    Then, there are two possible outcomes for this chicken/duck argument.

    (1) For every chicken (gaga), there is always a response of duck (yaya). Therefore, Gaga = yaya
    (2) For every chicken (gaga), I always have a duck (yaya). Therefore, your gaga is wrong.

    Obviously, Oreskes provided many great gaga.
    1. Gaga 1: Science has a proven ‘methodology’
    2. Gaga 2: Scientists are professional, highly educated
    3. Gaga 3: Scientists are all great skeptic, doubting their own conclusions many times before making a claim
    4. Gaga 4: Scientific claim is the result of ‘consensus’, not from any individual

    But, with the ‘creation vs evolution’ debate as an example, the ‘creation’ camp has two very important yaya.
    a. Yaya 1: Evolution-biology is a great science about the ‘evolution’-of-lives but failed to explain the ‘beginning’-of-life.
    b. Yaya 2: Even the physics-laws cannot explain the beginning of life.

    As these two yaya are solid facts, how should any rationale being side with the two sciences (evolution-biology and physics) on an issue (the ‘beginning’ of the life) while they two cannot even ‘address’ it.

    Denying the scientific gaga is definitely not a smart thing to do. Denying the solid facts of yaya is also definitely wrong. Until one gaga can encompass all yaya, it is not fair to ask people to trust all the gaga.


    1. Science definitely has to be honest about what it knows and doesn’t know. Although there are theories, no one knows how life began, just as no one knows why the big bang…banged, or how matter can be both a wave and a particle, or what exactly energy is.

      In my experience, most scientists are honest about these limitations, but these unknowns don’t get mentioned often enough, and failure to mention them is often confusing, and leads some people to see arrogance.


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