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Guest Post By Dr. Ron Lee: I hAvE a ThEoRy, Hyperbole Will One Day Destroy the World

Ron Lee is a candidate for Virginia's House of Delegates in a district (86) that includes Hampton City, some of York County and Poquoson City. Above is a photograph of him (left) with Paul Offit, taken in 2018. He told me it marked the beginning of his "anti-science-denial activism." Offit is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center, and professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He spent 25 years developing a vaccine to effectively combat rotavirus, which killed approximately 600,000 children a year, worldwide. "There is no bigger hero in this world than Paul Offit," Dr. Lee told me. Please read his guest post and consider contributing to his campaign here.

“Nullius in Verba (on the word of no one) is the expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all claims through an appeal to facts as determined by experiment” – Motto of The Royal Society

There is a relatively new pyramid; it is extremely strong because its base is solid; sometimes it is hard to understand how this pyramid was made; when you peel back the layers you find beauty in its simplicity. This pyramid is ugly, to some, but incredibly inspiring to many-- it definitely is to me. The people who build and maintain these pyramids are instructed to destroy it every chance they get. This is how the pyramid gets stronger.

There is another pyramid, it is shiny, edgy, beautiful at first glance, it makes sense to the casual viewer; the media loves to write about it, people love to discuss it. This pyramid never gets destroyed. In fact, some people get angry when you challenge its very existence.

There are two pyramid builders: those who have a vision of the final product and order the materials to neatly construct it, and those who build it as they receive the materials. The latter takes on a shape of its own, it takes a long time to build and sometimes we don’t know how the parts fit together. This pyramid is not as valued...

The way we speak about these pyramids are how they get their power. In fact, the shiny and edgy pyramid that the media likes to discuss is little more than a pile of rocks, dust, and trash. As I mentioned in a previous article, words mean things. Some words are powerful, and we should guard against wielding them recklessly. Have you heard the theory that hyperbole will one day end the world? That isn’t quite true; hyperbole has its place and can be used in appropriate settings to make a point or to highlight the outrageous. Theories are currently destroying the world. What America does or does not do, has a global impact; therefore, we must limit how we talk about theories. Do you use the phrase, “I have a theory”? You are the problem! Have you used the term “Critical Race Theory” in an argument that does not describe a book or an approach to what is typically a qualitative research method? You are the problem, and that is a fact! I might be engaging in a bit of hyperbole myself here. A fact has been established after observations and experiments under certain conditions, facts are true only in those specific conditions. You being the problem was just a theory, I mean a hypothesis. I really must get these words straight; they are too important to mince. A hypothesis is an educated guess, a prediction on what may happen. If I do not plan to test this hypothesis of mine, the hypothesis that the wrong usage of the word “theory” is destroying the world, then it is just a hunch, an opinion from a biased mind using motivated reasoning to construct an argument.

The ugly pyramid is strong because scientists make a name for themselves not just by contributing to the body of knowledge, but by destroying the very body of knowledge which created the pyramid. Every single fact must be challenged. After we test the hypothesis and get the expected answer we were searching for, the next job is to prove it all wrong. We try to falsify the findings through experiments that will give a different finding. If we can’t falsify it, strong evidence emerges that we may have a fact. However, in science, falsification continues forever, and one day, a fact may be proven wrong. There is no such thing as proof in science unless we are disproving something. A Scientific Theory, and in my opinion, the only way that we should ever say the word “theory,” is the closest we can reach get to obtaining “proof” of anything. The theory is the pyramidion or the capstone of the pyramid. It is a phrase of a few words that classifies all the data beneath it in one convenient term. No theory is proof; however, nothing is stronger than a theory as far as scientific understanding is concerned. A theory is unlikely to change, it is built by facts and observation. A theory has predictive qualities; in fact, through the predictive power of the Theory of Evolution, we have been able to pinpoint the exact place on earth to find the fossils needed to plug holes in our fossil record.

Scientific theories are built through overlapping fields of science, if any contradictory facts emerge through any of these fields, the pyramid must be destroyed and rebuilt. It might even get renamed, but typically it just requires some adjustments. This is what makes they pyramid so frustrating and confusing to some. In fact, this admission of an error is partially why some don’t believe this pyramid even exists. Some examples of overlapping fields that impact the theory of evolution are Biology, taxonomy, zoology, botany, microbiology, ecology, engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and many other fields of study.

Do you remember seeing the scientific method unfolding in real time during COVID? Did you notice science deniers exploiting the emergence of new knowledge after previous information was falsified? COVID is not a theory, it is a fact. The findings of COVID do contribute to the Germ Theory of Disease, and surely the Germ Theory of Disease is different today than it was in 2019. The pyramid is different…

We do not need to understand how everything works to have a theory; in fact, a theory with many gaps can be strong enough to even have a Law. We have no idea how gravity works. Well, we do have some understanding, but we understand less about gravity then we do about most other theories. When we shot Voyager 1 and 2 into outer space, we understood how to calculate gravity so precisely, that we had it perform close flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, its moon Titan, and then slingshotted it into interstellar space. We had to know exactly how gravitational theory works to send them on their way with Carl Sagan’s Golden Record.

BuT iT’s JuSt a ThEoRy! I don’t blame the average person from being confused. We say “I have a theory” all the time. It is confusing. Even scientists get confused by this. When a peripherally-educated person with an audience doesn’t understand Critical Race Theory, it is possible that they will sound the horn about leftist indoctrination and academia having lost its damn mind. After all, scientists understand theories. Some understand quantitative analysis extremely well, others qualitative analysis, while others specialize in both and perform mixed method analysis. Some scientists not adequately versed in qualitative analysis may be unaware of the qualitative method called “Critical Theory.” Social scientists use this philosophical approach to perform analysis of texts, conversations, historical records, and power structures. Critical theory is a lens the researcher uses in various fields like psychoanalysis, sociology, history, communication theory, philosophy, and feminist history. Most of us know it from the book “Critical Race Theory.” Actually, we probably know it from strawman arguments that demagogues use.

Critical Theory is not a theory! It is a school of thought made famous by The Frankfurt School which used it in research “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”. Max Horkheimer coined this term in 1937, the very thought that Americans would be so confused about a word would have been impossible for him to imagine back then.

I have fought science denial for many years. Before I can even discuss the scientific method, cognitive biases, fallacious logic, or the psychology that keeps us living in the shadows of that beautiful pyramid so prominently displayed on FoxNews and homeschools everywhere, we must first understand the word theory.

In conclusion, why is the other pyramid so shiny, edgy, and beautiful? It is beautiful and prominent because people started with a conclusion, they collected a series of “words” (not facts) that fit the conclusion, they then created a narrative to tie it all together with a few zingers for excitement. Those that love the shiny pyramid also love easy to read language, a story to go with it, and a tribe that needs it. The perfect example of this shiny pyramid is not a pyramid at all, it is an Ark. A ridiculously large ark in Kentucky. This ark cost over 100 million dollars, was partially funded by taxpayer money, is 510 feet long and 51 feet high. It is a theme park, has rides, dinosaurs as human pets, tells an alternative narrative of how the world and all the animals was created, and has the goal of undermining science, the LGBT community, and public education, while simultaneously pushing Christian Nationalism through the Ark Encounter’s president and CEO Ken Ham. The Ark has everything a beautiful pyramid needs, a conclusion, motivated reasoning, easy to read words, visuals, and a tribe. If you question a visitor, why they have dinosaurs living with humans they might tell you: Evolution is just a theory, we lived alongside all animals, including dinosaurs. And they will mean it, in all honesty, they are not being mean. They are confused because we do not have discipline when using the word “theory.”

Stop saying theory! We are destroying the credibility of the scientific method by creating a false dichotomy. We give power to science deniers and politicians who have an agenda that facts don’t support when we loosely throw this word around. Pyramids are not supposed to be shiny and beautiful. However, they are amazing! To see their true beauty, one must read and pull back the layers that the giants before us have discovered.

1 Comment

Yes! I say "conspiracy fantasy" and rather than "conspiracy theory".

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