Do you have a reference for that

  • The Challenge

    In public arguments about controversial topics, one often hears the somewhat pugnaciously offered challenge: "Do you have a reference for that?" Meaning: Do you have a peer-reviewed confirmation of what you are saying, published in a reputable scientific journal? Providing such a confirmation usually lowers the temperature of the discussion somewhat.

    Now, factual statements should certainly be backed by convincing factual evidence – that is the whole point of the empirical scientific approach. But apart from ignoring the difficulty that factual evidence means something rather different in, say, particle physics than in psychology, simplistic efforts to "have science on one's side" degrade science in the public eye to a caricature of itself, a stodgy guardian of indisputable facts, a records clerk. It is worth reminding ourselves that science is no such thing......

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