Being open-minded

By Ken Perrott 19/05/2015 3


This meme is for those commenters here who accuse me of having a closed mind.

open minded

I am always happy to change my opinion or view of things – if there is evidence to suggest I should.

And no, claims that “science once thought the world was flat,” or “science once supported smoking,” is not a credible argument that we should ignore current scientific consensus. It’s especially not an argument we should suddenly adopted unsupported claims as “gospel truth.”

Along these same lines, it’s worth considering this quote from Carl Sagan – if you want me to consider a really extraordinary claim your evidence had better be exceptional.

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3 Responses to “Being open-minded”

  • Hi Ken. Perhaps if you gave an example of having changed your opinion because of the evidence, this would let your critics understand the level of evidence you see as needed to change your mind.

    • John, I think anyone who has been involved in scientific research is familiar with the process. After all we test our ideas by trying to prove them wrong – and they often are. This leads to adjusting our ideas or formulating new ones which can then be tested. And so on.

      One example, and there Re obviously many more. I was once involved in researching the apparent increase in available soil P under pine forest compared with pasture. This proved to arise from the mineralisation of soil organic matter and the belief of most NZ researchers was that this was caused by exudation of enzymes from soil fungi associated with pine roots. I believed that.

      But testing showed that microbial and enzyme activity under pine was actually markedly lower than under pasture. This lead me to change my ideas.

      Some subjective information I had gathered during soil sampling suggested to me that physical protection of organic matter under pasture could explain the difference. Our measurements of aggregate size distribution in samples taken from under pasture showed larger aggregates predominated compared to samples from under pine. That supported our new hypothesis.

      Of course the idea is still provisional – new evidence could support a different or supplementary mechanism. That is the nature of scientific knowledge. But I was happy to change my opinion in the face of the evidence against a simple microbial activity mechanism and for a physical protection mechanism. Some of my colleagues resisted this, though, attempting to find “excuses” – which could indicate they had invested so much in their belief of a microbial activity mechanism they were not open to new evidence.

      Interestingly, though, I found less resistance from overseas researchers – one guy even commented that it was obvious! I guess that indicates that prevailing opinions, even in science, can be local.

  • That’s great Ken… just the sort of thing that may help those not used to the process to understand it (and you).