Sadly, scientific literacy is being diluted down to soundbites and axioms by the pop science Skeptic movement. How often have you heard phrases like these?
The plural of anecdote is not data
Everything is a chemical
Correlation is not causation
The dose makes the poison
Science doesn't care what you believe
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence
These one-liners are designed to make the person delivering them sound sciencey and smart, but when someone is using a phrase like this it often belies a facile understanding of a complex issue.
|Sigh. I feel your pain, kid.|
"I said 'The plural of anecdote is data' some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student's dismissal of a simple factual statement-by another student or me-as a mere anecdote. The quotation was my rejoinder."
Isn't it strangely ironic then that the Skeptic crowd would popularize the exact opposite of what the phrase was meant to convey?
|Buy this sticker and you too, can pretend to be science literate.|
This one generally gets whipped out when people use the term chemical to refer to a synthetic or manufactured substance, food additives or those products made by the chemical industry...what do they call those things? Oh yeah, chemicals.
Yes, all matter has a chemical structure. No, not all chemicals are bad. Shouting that 'everything is a chemical' in the middle of a conversation is about as helpful as shouting 'the sky is blue' in the middle of a conversation about airplanes. It might be correct, but it doesn't really serve to inform anyone.
|The louder you shout it, the more scientific you sound.|
|Yes, because PCBs and asbestos are the same as potatoes and pears.|
This one is a classic - literally. The axiom comes from the 16th century 'father of toxicology' Paracelsus. The original quote is, "All things are poison and nothing (is) without poison, only the dose makes that a thing is no poison." Does dose matter? Of course, but keep in mind Paracelsus lived before we knew about things like low dose effects and non-monotonic dose responses. Other factors influence toxicity too like individual susceptibility, timing, sequence, and accompanying exposures. The idea that low doses are always too low to be harmful betrays an ignorance of some of the most basic toxicological science. And as in the example above, it is used frequently by the chemical industry to confuse consumers and distract from the science surrounding their products that exhibit worrisome toxic effects.
|A phrase so popularized, it even has its own Facebook page. It's all Oprah's fault, I'm sure.|
| Speaking of arbitrary and illogical...|
Science literacy is more than memorizing a series of catchy phrases, and skepticism is a discipline of thinking which cannot be accomplished by oversimplifying complex issues which is exactly what these expressions do. Make sure not be seduced by this flashy style fake skepticism - there are no shortcuts here. Learning about science takes time and effort, but it's worth doing right.