Sergio Della Sala, MD, MSc, PhD, FRA, FBPsS, FRSE is Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He has studied and worked in Milan (Italy), Berkeley (US), Cambridge (UK), Aberdeen (UK) and Perth (AU). His field of research is cognitive neuropsychology, in particular memory and amnesia. He authored more than 600 experimental papers in peer-reviewed journals and several books both for a scientific audience and for lay people. He is Fellow of the Royal Society (Edinburgh), Editor-in-chief of neuroscience journal Cortex and the recipient of the first Tam Dalyell prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science and. He is proud to be the current president of CICAP, the Italian Skeptic association.
The reliable uncertainty of science
Science does not offer certainties but reliable instruments to minimize, understand and manage uncertainty. Science is a high expression of democracy. Science describes, does not prescribes. Science is by its very nature counterintuitive. Science is one of the knowledge instruments that we have available, not better than others, one among others; however, it has its own proper methods, which are sometimes hard to grasp. The knowledge that derives from such methods merits to be disseminated, discussed, shared. Yet, this needs dedication, and it is effortful.
We do need external evidence on which to base our communal and societal decisions. But this evidence is elusive, we all believe we know what we are talking about, yet someone’s hard evidence differs from somebody else’s.
Often, scientists and medics themselves, offering their opinions as if they were data, are responsible for the spreading of scientific fake news. Researchers use unreliable sources to publish their studies, including predatory outlets, which should instead be ostracised. Skeptic societies as well are not exempt from blunters. We need to raise the standard of our self-criticism capacity. We need to be alert on what we say and write, and how we do so, rather than limiting our action to reprimand others. In sum, we need to contribute to increase the level of ethics when we do science or communicate it. We should insist that science and its dissemination are guided by individual and public morality, and be immune from political influence and conflicts of interest.