Janice Boekhoff


Sometimes we’re tempted to think of scientists as people smarter than us who study things that take years of training to even understand. And that’s correct—to an extent.

Scientists are people with their own thoughts, agendas, career aspirations and biases. Yes, I said it—biases.

I was trained as a scientist and just because I might know more fifteen letter words than you, doesn’t mean I don’t have my own bias. We all come at the world with our own viewpoint, our own lens through which we look at the world. While scientists might be smart people, they’re still people.

And sometimes people are fooled.

In 1884, the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff received an Ichthyosaurus (a marine dinosaur) specimen from a local businessman. The museum kept the skeleton on display for 116 years before it started to show some wear and tear.

In 2000, museum staff worked on restoring it. They chipped away at the layers of paint meant to preserve the fossil. Underneath, they discovered an elaborate forgery which meshed two different types of Ichthyosaurs together along with some fake parts. The staff affectionately dubbed the specimen, Iffyosaurus.

How were several generations of paleontologists taken in by this forgery? Well, of course some of the evidence was covered up by paint, but this also could have been a case of confirmation bias. When something is established in our head as fact, our minds overlook contrary information that’s right in front of us. Meaning we’re predisposed to confirm what we already believe.

Why? Because we’re people. And people can’t be perfectly objective. But people who are scientists have an obligation to at least try to look past their biases in search of the objective truth.

First, though, we have to identify our biases before we can look past them. I’ll start. I’m biased in favor of the Bible as God’s word of truth. Do you think that’s the bias for most scientists?

Probably not.

What do you think? How many scientists would admit they have a bias? Are you biased? What are your biases/assumptions about the world?


Reference: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2000/dec/08/dinosaurs.uknews

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhaller1979/3669195531/”>mhaller1979</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

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