Even experts like scientists can have bias and opinions, it is up to us to consider all the facts. Black Press File Photo.

When even the experts disagree

Just because an expert says so doesn’t mean it’s the whole truth

As journalists, we often rely on experts for information, whether to put things in context or to give background information on a subject.

We talk to people who are deeply embedded in their fields and know what they’re talking about. However, we know that no matter how qualified an expert is to speak on their field, they still have a distinct lens through which they see the world. Everybody has an angle.

For example, I recently worked on a story with a scientist as a primary source. The story was on a divisive issue and that division ran through the scientific field, even among colleagues. Just because a person is qualified and experienced with doctorates and degrees does not mean they are immune to bias.

Everyone thinks differently, and they tend to seek out information that confirms what they already believe. This is called confirmation bias and it feels good once we find it. I know that I am susceptible to confirmation bias, and it is my job as a journalist to put that aside and present all sides of a particular story. It does not matter what my beliefs are, I just have to find the ever-elusive ‘truth’ to the matter. Sometimes that is harder than it appears.

RELATED: Debunking climate science distortions on social media

The ideal scientist should follow the basic scientific method that we all learned in middle school. They start with an observation, ask a question, make a prediction or hypothesis, test it and then revisit their hypothesis. If they were right, they move on to something else with the knowledge they’ve learned. If they’re wrong, they try to figure out why. Individual scientists follow this format and all contribute to a body of work that can broadly be called a theory. Theory in science has a different meaning than in common speech.

When regular people talk about theories, it means an untested idea that would probably be true. For a scientist, a theory is a rigourous explanation for a range of phenomena. It is widely held to be the truth, but can be disproven, it’s just really hard to do. Think of the big bang theory, or the theory of relativity. These are the background on which modern science is done. When new data comes to light that changes these theories, it tends to be a massive paradigm shift that shakes the foundations of science.

Conversely, when a large group of scientists agree on a subject, it is likely that the subject is as close to the truth as we can get with the data available.

RELATED: Clear and unequivocal: Thousands of scientists sign letter on climate crisis

However, the ideal scientist rarely exists. Within these theories, everyday scientists work on smaller questions. Their areas of interest are swayed by things like personal opinions, funding, the political realm in which they live and their own confirmation biases. In science, data is king. A lot of scientists have their own opinions and interests that drive that data, but what they find speaks for itself. Scientists can be biased, but scientific theory tends to be neutral.

Everyone gets their information from what they consider to be reputable sources. No matter which side of a debate you’re on, you likely got whatever information you believe from a “credible source” and trust it wholeheartedly. Guess what, the other side does too. As with the situation mentioned earlier with the scientist, the truth tends to be somewhere in the middle.

Just because someone has a degree and experience does not mean they don’t have a bias. It happens to all of us. Part of our job as humans is to take in all of the information available and to make informed decisions about how to live our lives.

We all have different opinions and experiences, and we have set up systems that reinforce those opinions. Within this ever-increasingly polarized world, it is important to stop and consider all sides of the story before coming to a conclusion.

RELATED: Poll suggests Canadian trust in science falling, scientists thought ‘elitist’



marc.kitteringham@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Column

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Campbell River fruit tree project carries on despite pandemic

More volunteers wanted for Greenways’ initiative

What does the nearly $10 million RCMP contract get the people of Campbell River?

Despite discussion around police funding, response techniques and use of force, the… Continue reading

Campbellton … A River Runs Through

Campbell River neighbourhood celebrates ongoing revitalization

Over 90 Campbell Riverites cycling to raise funds for kids cancer research

Cyclists will be raising funds until end of August

Special Olmypics Campbell River first nonprofit to benefit from golf course giving back

Fifteen per cent of proceeds earned by Campbell River Golf and Country Club on Aug. 8 to be donated

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Remembering Brent Carver: A legend of Broadway who kept his B.C. roots strong

Over the years, the Cranbrook thespian earned his place as one of Canada’s greatest actors

Statistics Canada says country gained 419,000 jobs in July

National unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July, down from the 12.3 per cent recorded in June

Canada plans $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. in aluminium dispute

The new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA went into force on July 1

Canada ‘profoundly concerned’ over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu Weihong’s home

Cowichan RCMP use spike belts to end car chase — man in custody

The driver was arrested at the scene a short distance from his vehicle

Fear and ignorance have spiked racism in the province: B.C’s human rights commissioner

Kasari Govender has been virtually interacting with citizens in remote, rural areas to address concerns of discrimination

Island youth starts virtual race against racism

Cailyn Collins says people can take part in the cause from anywhere

Most Read