Bias in a scientist is analogous to disease. Yet, it is the underlying beliefs that make us humans not computers; it is the most vulnerable feelings that lead to our hypotheses and willingness to experiment and explore. Ultimately scientific pursuits should provide us with a better understanding of our bodies, our planet and our place in the universe. We are, at very least, biased in anthropocentric interests.
When faced with a new theory that goes against current beliefs, the facts can bruise ego. When scientific theories are used to create right or wrong or “should” and “should not”-s ideas elevate to a potentially damaging state. Although we are motivated to find more security, to treat discoveries as laws is a road to ignorance.
In this entry I’d like to confess some biases…
In my wild ethic post on Clan Ground I confessed to have wanted to “save the planet” when I was younger. The belief that the planet has intrinsic value and should be protected for its own good is part of a larger movement that, in extreme cases, resembles a religion. The concept of nature can hold deity-like power in the incomprehensible way everything is interconnected. To needlessly destroy plants and animals is sacrilegious and humans should live within an ecosystem’s carrying capacity or face the wrath of the earth.
The prominent goal of environmentalism is to conserve and improve the health of the environment, including non-human elements. I am convinced there are only anthropocentric interests in land-use matters; everything valued in nature has only instrumental value. This is not to say that the health of non-human elements should not be a concern. To be sure, this concern should be emphasized as in the precautionary principle because non-human elements are interconnected and human action can often lead to unexpected consequences. These consequences have and will continue to fuel scientific exploration and experimentation.
When people take this science and create philosophies and lifestyles to live by, interesting things can happen.
I have a nature-bias. I even love the word ‘nature’ as you can tell by the blog. ‘Nature’ means a few things to me. It comes loaded with an idea of origin. To understand what humans “should be” doing along the lines of diet, exercise, mating, etc. I always look back to our ancestors who were living closer to the land. A large part of why I do this is because I believe that living close to the land is needed for an animal’s good and we are but animals.
The strategy of origin searching can be successful in explaining a present trait or intuition. However, it is slightly flawed in the under acknowledgment of current factors. The present is transient- moving from the past to something completely different in the future. In holding on to a set belief of how things ‘should be’ I am attempting to escape the future.
All biases are enabled to close the mind to a set of beliefs, even those formed on dependable, scientific conclusions.
Personal Application (N=1)
There always seems to be new information about diet, supplementation, fitness and health. For example the lipid hypothesis helped popularize low-fat diets. It has since been deeply criticized (here is one by Chris Masterjohn).
Now, as the paleo diet and ancestral health movement gains momentum I have seen the “should” and “should not”-s formed through scientific conclusions closing individual minds. I follow this movement and find the research behind it very interesting, especially in its use of anthropological studies. However, it is based upon the assumption that humans should only consume highly nutritious foods with no anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates and that our ice age ancestors ate mostly meat (Melissa Mcewan of Hunt Gather Love has a very unbiased view debunking these ideas). I think the paleo diet can be very beneficial. At the same time, I believe anyone undertaking the application of a lifestyle or set of beliefs based on scientific conclusion should be heedful.
Open to Uncertainty
In conclusion, we should pursue science to help answer our very human questions. However, we must not allow the answers we form close our minds to uncertainty. Hold your truth with a loose grip.