Wednesday, February 01, 2012

An authoritative source of current scientific opinion woud be useful

[update: I've written a newer post that contextualises the kind of idea outlined here, as a way of helping truth spread in our 'information ecosystem']

I was talking to someone the other day who believed that Quantum Mechanics (QM) basically equated to the Copenhagen interpretation of it -- you know, the one where an observation collapses the quantum wave.

As far as I know, this interpretation is not very popular among working physicists.  But I can't recall anymore where I got this detail from.  No doubt it was from books I've read or things I've read in discussion forums, but I just can't remember.

I would have liked to have been able to point the person towards something online that showed that in fact most physicists don't believe the Copenhagen interpretation, but it's just not easy to find something that will tell you the current scientific opinion on a particular topic.

And if I can't reference some sort of reputable source, the person I'm talking to has no particular reason to believe what I'm saying.

Being able to easily find out, and link to, the current scientific opinion on topics would make it easier to address common misconceptions.  A better informed public can on-the-whole only be a good thing, and surely this would also be helpful for matters of public policy where scientific opinion is relevant.


I'll explain what I mean by a source outlining current scientific opinion.

Imagine that a high status journal like Nature did a biannual survey of working scientists to gather their opinions about various topics, such as which interpretation of QM they believe.  They could survey scientists in different fields, asking them about topics specific to their field.   For example, Cosmologists could be asked whether they believe the big bang theory is true.  Biologists could be asked whether they believe evolution is true.  And so on.

Obviously a lot of thought would have to go into the questions they asked.  Since the results of the survey would be for the general public, the media and the government to use, you'd want it to cover the sorts of questions these people might have a use for.

They could put the survey results up on a web-site that you could search and find answers such as (to make up a statistic) "99% of surveyed biologists believe in evolution".


The goal would be to have an authoritative source of such information.  First, a reasonable proportion of practicing scientists would need to respond to the survey, so you know that the statistics it provides are representative. Hopefully scientists would be willing to respond to the survey, as a kind of public service.

Second, it would need to be a "brand" that was known to be reputable.  So that if you presented a fact like "99% of surveyed biologists believe in evolution", linking to this source, the people seeing it would recognise that site and know what it's about and believe that it is reputable.  (obviously this is just an ideal.  It couldn't just start out with that reputation, and it could never have that reputation for everyone in the population).