Scientific Method

By January 3, 2015 Doctors Notes No Comments

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

~ Bertrand Russell

“The trouble with most folks isn’t so much their ignorance, as knowing so many things that ain’t so.”

~ Josh Billings

When evaluating the world around us we must come up with a system that allows us to come as close as possible to determining what is true and real.  In science we call this critical thinking and apply a rigid set of rules and proofs to determine what we know today.  The difference between beliefs and science is that beliefs based on faith deny observation so that the belief can be preserved. Where science adjusts its views based on what is observed through diligent use of the scientific method.  The truth is that no amount of belief makes something a fact.

“Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt.”

~ H. L. Mencken

So how does this apply to Dentistry?

When your dental professional tells you some fact concerning your dental care and treatment you must be willing to ask questions and seek second opinions.  Search for reputable sites on the Internet that combine good information and remember that everything posted on the Internet may not be true!  Use sites like the American Dental Association, the the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) or a Dental School website.

Here are some basic rules for detecting things that are not true by Michael Shermer and Pat Linse in their Pamphlet titled “The Baloney Detection Kit” Critical thinking skills:

  1. Whenever possible their must be independent confirmation of the facts.
  2. Encourage debate on the evidence from knowledgeable people of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authorities carry little weight. They have made mistakes and will again at best they are experts on subjects.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis, if something is to be explained think of all the different ways it could be explained and then think of tests by which you can systematically try to disprove the alternative hypothesis. In this way the one that withstands disproof has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you run with the first idea that catches your fantasy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to one hypothesis because it’s yours. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives.  See if you can find reasons for rejecting it cause if you don’t others will.
  6. Quantify if you can measure what you are trying to explain, by giving it some numerical quantity you can attach to it will be much easier to discriminate between competing hypotheses.  What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. There are many truths to be sought after in qualitative things but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work (including the Premise) not just some of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor this is a convenient rule of thumb that tells us when two hypothesis explain the data equally choose the simpler explanation.
  9. Always ask that at least in principal can the hypothesis be falsified. Positions that are not testable are not worth much.  You must be able to check assertions out and to duplicate experiments and see if the same results are achieved.
  10. The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments is the key.  We will not learn much from contemplation it is tempting to rest content with the first candidate explanation we can think of.  One is much better than none.  But what happens if we can invent several?  How do we decide among them? We don’t. We let experiment do it.

“Whatever can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

~ Christopher Hitchens

I hope this helps you in your quest to find good dentistry and a life with meaning!!!

~ Dr. C. Reese Mead