You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason no doubt there are others why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”
While I agree with the thrust of Dr. Stokes article, I worry that he is getting a little close to the Argument from Authority and its inherent weakness as a proof technique. In Science, no one cares where an idea comes from (well, except the paper’s authors), what matters is how the idea holds up to experimental evidence. In the case of vaccinations, the medical evidence is crystal clear. But climate science is perhaps another story. In any case, I would urge Dr. Stokes to read the words of Richard Feynman in an invited address to the 15th annual meeting of the National Science teachers Association and think carefully about the philosophy Dr. Feynman espouses.
When someone says, “Science teaches such and such,” he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, “Science has shown such and such,” you might ask, “How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?”
It should not be “science has shown” but “this experiment, this effect, has shown.” And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments–but be patient and listen to all the evidence–to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.
In a field which is so complicated [as education] that true science is not yet able to get anywhere, we have to rely on a kind of old-fashioned wisdom, a kind of definite straightforwardness. I am trying to inspire the teacher at the bottom to have some hope and some self-confidence in common sense and natural intelligence. The experts who are leading you may be wrong.
I have probably ruined the system, and the students that are coming into Caltech no longer will be any good. I think we live in an unscientific age in which almost all the buffeting of communications and television–words, books, and so on–are unscientific. As a result, there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science.