Scientists Must Always Stand at the Drawing Board

Do I believe in UFOs or extraterrestrial visitors?

Where shall I begin? There's a fascinating frailty of the human mind that psychologists know all about, called "argument from ignorance." This is how it goes. Remember what the "U" stands for in "UFO"? You see lights flashing in the sky. You've never seen anything like this before and don't understand what it is. You say, "It's a UFO!" The "U" stands for "unidentified."

But then you say, "I don't know what it is; it must be aliens from outer space, visiting from another planet." The issue here is that if you don't know what something is, your interpretation of it should stop immediately. You don't then say it must be X or Y or Z. That's argument from ignorance. It's common. I'm not blaming anybody; it may relate to our burning need to manufacture answers because we feel uncomfortable about being steeped in Ignorance.

But you can't be a scientist if you're uncomfortable with ignorance, because scientists live at the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos. This is very different from the way journalists portray us. So many articles begin, "Scientists now have to go back to the drawing board." It's as though we're sitting in our offices, feet up on our desks—masters of the universe—and suddenly say, "Oops, somebody discovered something!" No. We're always at the drawing board. If you're not at the drawing board. you're're not making discoveries. You're not a scientist; you're something else. The public, on the other hand, seems to demand conclusive explanations as they leap without hesitation from statements of abject ignorance to statements of absolute certainty.

Here's something else to consider. We know—not only from research experiments in psychology but also from the history of science—that the lowest form of evidence is eyewitness testimony Which is scary, because in a court of law it's considered one of the highest forms of evidence.


Ready to revise hyptheses and embrace uncertainty.

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 Space Chronicles
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Tyson, Neil deGrasse (2012-02-27), Space Chronicles, W. W. Norton & Company, Retrieved on 2012-05-07
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  • Folksonomies: science