There Is No Such Thing As “The Science”

Happy Canada Day!

Canada is a beautiful country filled with kind, respectful people. The government policies are more problematic, but in time they will resolve from the current mania to something productive. Optimism is an attitude becoming more challenging to maintain. One of the reasons for that is the misdirection of a commonly heard thought. “Trust the science.”

Trust the science?? Really!

Trust the science is a meaningless idea. It’s wrong on so many levels.

Level 1 – Science is not about trust but about questioning and keeping track of what you find. Trust the science means it’s right, and it isn’t going to change. We know from paying attention over the centuries that it constantly changes. We can easily find new research challenging Darwin’s evolution idea and Einstein’s idea of space-time. That’s how science improves.

Level 2 – People want you to trust their science because it advances some idea or causes they profess. It is the science after interpretation by journalists and others. Journalists acquire what they know from scientists. Scientists, even the ethical ones, tell the reporter a dumbed-down version of the truth because most science is difficult to understand without some prior expertise. The journalists tend to prefer conflict and drama and so do not even report the dumbed-down science objectively.

Level 3 – Politicians, activists, and pundits use the journalist’s report as their basis for “the science.”  They put their own spin on that.

Level 4- You are presented with the “news” and the political response to it and make a decision in a certain way. How good will your decision be? What are the chances you will get it right when seeing only pseudo-science, spin, and misdirection?

Knowing your context is an integral part of being an adult.

There are no certainties in science and certainly none in politics or journalism.

Venkatesh Rao summarizes it this way.

“A layperson is an idiot who expects to sustain supreme confidence about everything forever without ever learning anything new, by rewarding or punishing others for being right or wrong.

Expertise *is* the capacity for cultivating systematic doubt about an area of knowledge and responding skillfully to it.

Trafficking in certainties is mostly a game for children. For adults, there are no certainties, only bets of varying risks.”

In economics and life, all decisions involve tradeoffs. Getting the decision right when making tradeoffs requires accurate information and reasoned assignment of meaning.

The bits to take away.

Assume everything someone promotes for their own benefit is meant to mislead. Spend time looking for others who have different opinions of what the science is and means, even if it is being spun. The idea is to find “the science,” not the narratives from either side. It is in there somewhere.

You seldom get good decisions from incorrect data. In getting it right, you’d have a better off knowing nothing. Then, some of the time, you could be right by accident.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

One Comment on “There Is No Such Thing As “The Science”

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