Science is a Process, Not a Belief
Scientific illiteracy costs lives
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed deep rifts in society, but perhaps nothing has been as divisive as the “debate” regarding the use of face masks in disease prevention. Many in the general public repeatedly failed to understand the purpose of masks, often taken in by media pundits who asserted that masking up was merely a measure of control and compliance. Ultimately, this illustrates a failure of the education system to convey what science really is: a process, not a belief.
Not a Belief
Science is an iterative process and is rarely definitive or absolute in its conclusions. Science is the continuous dialectical battle of research, theories, and experimentation. It is the messy pursuit of truth. It is not a belief, it’s a process.
Far too many people see science in absolute terms; that something “is” or it “isn’t,” with no room for nuance or disagreement. They see scientists as wacky men in their garages, wearing lab coats, and playing with test tubes. They see breakthroughs as Hollywood-style “eureka” moments. Too many see science as an optional “belief” that one can choose to believe or reject.
But science is not conducted this way. Scientists typically do not work alone, instead working in teams comprised of individuals often from around the world, transcending politics, religion, language, and other social barriers in pursuit of the universal laws of truth. Additionally, Eureka moments are rare. Progress is iterative, slow, and frequently beset by setbacks.
Ignorance of the scientific process has allowed anti-maskers to cling to research and doctors who “prove” their own misguided views, while ignoring the general scientific consensus entirely. For them, it is not the pursuit of truth, but the pursuit of self-validation. Anti-maskers cherry-pick studies and statements to confirm their preexisting beliefs.
As an example, I notice that many in the anti-mask community are sharing the below graphic, which purports to throw cold water on the idea of wearing surgical masks to prevent Covid-19. The diagram shows a number of different masks used in various industries and compares them with a relatively flimsy surgical face mask.
This graphic is clever in its deception, for the argument it presents is specious. The problem here is that this is a false comparison and illustrates a total misunderstanding of the purpose of surgical masks. The face masks that we are asked to wear during the pandemic are not intended to protect the wearer, so much as they are designed to reduce (not eliminate) the transmission of the virus from the wearer, should he be infected.
The other masks in this graphic are designed to protect the wearer and to do that with nearly 100% efficacy. To do this, they must be sealed to the face with an airtight seal while still providing oxygen for the wearer. This makes these masks comparatively bulky and complex.
These masks are fundamentally different in what they are intended to do and the comparison between them is totally farcical…but for an anti-masker, it doesn’t matter, the facts that are believed must always fit the narrative, anything else is “fake news.” Science, again, is optional.
Healthy skepticism is a great thing. It is great that many do not automatically accept that what they are told is gospel. But when questioning authority, one has to have at least some understanding of the scientific process and respect for those who have dedicated their lives to it.