You may have heard by now that the President of the United States of America announced today that the U.S. will pull out of Paris Climate Change Agreement.
I don't want to talk about the President--his name has filled my website far more often than I ever wanted, so I I'm going to leave that for other people and other times. Instead, I'm just going to talk about the basics of science. Why? Because people--from every part of the country, all the way up to the White House--seem to think scientific fact is a matter of belief or opinion. Spoiler alert: it's not.
So in brief, here are some basics. My science peeps, please add more details and/or topics in the comments.
The Scientific Method:
The scientific method is a process of inquiry that ultimately results in answers to scientific questions. At its simplest, it is a series of steps carried out to better understand our world. The steps don't necessarily go in order and can be seen as more of a cycle. Nonetheless, they are as follows:
Question: The scientist, person, whomever poses a question. How can I best slow down the fermentation speed of my sourdough bread?
Hypothesis: A hypothesis is what you think is the answer. However, this not simply a guess or a fill-in-the-blank idea. A hypothesis uses available data and expertise surrounding the subject to make an educated conjecture of the answer. Temperature is a known factor in fermentation time when making bread. Because I cannot control the outdoor temperature, I must focus on ambient temperatures, water temperature, and the temperature of where I ferment my bread. Because each ingredient added to the dough that forms my bread impacts the finished product--as does each rest/rise period and the kneading process--I will affect those variables as much as I can in a controlled method. I think the best--best meaning most efficient while maintaining taste--method for slowing fermentation time is to use cooler water.
Test Hypothesis: Based on data you have preceding your hypothesis, formulate an experiment to test the hypothesis. This requires more research, experimentation, analysis, etc. To determine the best method for slowing fermentation time, I will make four different loaves of bread, each using a slightly different method of preparation. The first loaf will be the control--I will use my tried and true recipe as is and change nothing about my environment. The second loaf will follow the original recipe, but I will keep the ambient temperature at 65 degrees fahrenheit, instead of the 68 degrees at which my kitchen is usually kept. The third loaf will follow the original recipe but instead of using water heated to 78 degrees fahrenheit, I will use water heated to 76 degrees fahrenheit. The fourth loaf will follow the original recipe as is, but I will use a proofing drawer for the bulk fermentation. After each loaf is baked, I will record and analyze taste, look, crumb, texture, time, etc.
Analysis: After testing your hypothesis, collect your data and form a conclusion. After baking each loaf using the indicated variables, I conclude that using cooler water is the most efficient way for slowing fermentation in a sourdough bread.
***I did not actually do the above experiment so my conclusion may be incorrect. This is an example of how the scientific method works only, not an actual experiment done by me. That said, the variables I indicated do have an impact on the end result and process of making bread.
"Just" a Theory:
You've all either heard or said something along the lines of, "Well, evolution is just a theory." "Climate change is just a theory." "...just a theory." Just, just, just, just. You know what else is a theory? Gravity. Germs. Plate tectonics. Relativity.
A theory as defined by science instead of colloquia means: An explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been rigorously tested and stands up to repeated experimentation and observation. A "theory" has yet to be proven false.
The way people tend to use the word "theory" isn't accurately defined even by the term "hypothesis." A hypothesis is formulated through existing data and observation. "Theory" in "just a theory" is better defined as a guess. Or, as the case may be with many people, "a body of science I reject because it's too much work to try to understand it and adopt it into my worldview."
When scientists say the Theory of Climate Change, they mean that the collective body of evidence supports the existence of climate change and humanity's role in it. They mean, humans are a significant factor in climate change and if we do nothing the planet will die.
When scientists say the Theory of Evolution, they mean that the collective body of evidence supports the change of species overtime, including the evolution of new species, not only adaptation within species.
A good rule of thumb: If a scientist says "theory," think, as of current data and understanding this is fact.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist:
"The good thing about science is it's true whether or not you believe in it."
The above quote should go without saying, and yet we live in a time when science denial is rampant even at the highest levels of government. Denying climate change doesn't stop the sea levels from rising. Denying evolution doesn't erase the genetic and fossil evidence supporting evolution's existence. Denying the billions of years of age ascribed to the planet, doesn't make the earth only 6,000 years old.
You've heard the phrase, wishing don't make it so. It's the same with belief. You can believe with all your might that climate change is a liberal conspiracy but that doesn't change the facts or the data or the reality of climate change refugees or the melting glaciers or the melted permafrost or absurd seasons.
Weather is NOT Climate:
Remember a few years ago when the Polar Vortex was a thing in the Eastern United States? I didn't live in that part of the country, but I remember the general attitude of, "Well, it's a Polar Vortex in New York! Climate change is a hoax, see?"
First, bizarre weather patterns are a part of climate change. Second, that's only one part of the world. 2016 is the hottest year on record. In 2015, that was the hottest year on record. Will 2017 be the new record? So far, it's looking like it.
While the Polar Vortex raged in the east, the Western United States drowned in drought. Utah, known for the "Best Snow on Earth," had hardly any snow that year. Utah is regularly in drought, but we tend to rely on the snow pack to help us survive the hot, dry summers. But if the snow doesn't show up... problems. And climate change is the culprit.
Climate change science looks at the global perspective, the global data. Because there is a blizzard in Connecticut, doesn't mean the ice caps have stopped melting or the sea has stopped rising.
Evidence, Data... Science:
I've heard a lot of people cast doubt on science in general or on specific aspects of science they don't like or believe or understand.
Here's the thing: For a theory, medical treatment, method, field, etc. to be put into use in the general population, it first goes through the rigors of the scientific community. Results are subject to peer review and must be replicable. Scientific ideas aren't unleashed into the world willy nilly.
That's not to say pseudoscience and modern snake oil don't exist. When in doubt, look for data and evidence. Ask questions. Look for peer review. Be engaged with science. Take science classes, visit your local science museums, subscribe to Nature magazine.
A lack of understanding doesn't change reality. Now is the time to work.