A tweet that made me think.
If you think you don't trust scientists, you're mistaken. You trust scientists in a million different ways every time you step on a plane, or for that matter turn on your tap or open a can of beans. The fact that you're unaware of this doesn't mean it's not so.— Paul Graham (@paulg) July 26, 2021
The point here is subtle. We don't get on a plane because we "trust scientists", rather we do so because of the strong safety record of commercial aviation. I knew some physicists who won't get on a commuter plane because they worry about the science. Never stopped me.
It is science that we trust to tell us why planes fly, or the water is our tap is (mostly) safe and healthy. I'm not a big fan of beans but not because of the science. Of course I trust science that created the vaccines.
It's not just science, but solid engineering and lots and lots of testing.
Science isn't always right or consistent. When I was a kid not that long ago, we had nine planets in this solar system, dinosaurs were killed off by climate change and homosexuality was a mental illness. Science is fluid, updating as we learn with new data, models and experimentation. Science is at its best when it doesn't trust itself.
Sometimes people say trust in science to reinforce their beliefs. I've seen smart people say "Trust in the science" about whether vaccinated people should wear masks with completely different conclusions.
I'm a scientist, should you trust me? Let me quote another Paul G.
“There’s a slightly humorous stereotype about computational complexity that says what we often end up doing is taking a problem that is solved a lot of the time in practice and proving that it’s actually very difficult,” said Goldberg.
The quote comes from a recent Quanta Magazine article about Paul's recent work with John Fearnley, Alexandros Hollender and Rahul Savani on the hardness of gradient descent. Even many NP-complete problems these days can often be solved in practice.
Let's end with the quote attributed to statistician George Box, "All models are wrong, but some are useful". Science gives us ways to understand the world and we need to both trust in the science but know the limitations of what it has to say.