Homemade science

Homemade art is essential. It’s the only kind that resonates. A human, doing something that might not work. Something generous.

Homemade cuisine is the basis of all the food we eat. A chef, a terroir, a culture, coming together to make something memorable, real and delicious.

And homemade solace, the human to human connection of one person to another is at the heart of who we are.

But homemade science and homemade engineering are obsolete.

That’s because science and engineering are about rigor. Show your work. Do the math. Prove it.

Darwin and Newton and Galileo began as homemade scientists, but then they shifted gears and put in the effort to show their work and test their work. That’s the difference between alchemy and calculus.

The other elements of our lives depend on feelings and opinion and point of view. But a bridge doesn’t care about whether you’re sure it will hold up a truck. It either holds up a truck or it doesn’t.

Your backyard photo of a UFO is insufficient. Putting a stock photo of a doctor on a book of debunked folk myths is insufficient as well. Your conspiracy theories are a waste.

Silver beads aren’t going to protect us from a virus, regardless of how much the person selling them wants us to believe that they will.

Just because someone has a microphone doesn’t mean that we should listen to them. The obligation to those that would speak up is simple: don’t sort-of do science. Either do it or don’t.

If you want to do science and engineering, please do. We need innovation and forward motion. And it often comes from outsiders, from the less-credentialed, from people with a point of view. But be prepared to bring rigor, not just bluster. Show your work. Actively engage in the iterative work to make things better.

Professor Lisa Randall said, “The misleading thing about science is that people have epiphanies, those aha moments, all the time. But then someone says, ‘You’re probably wrong,’ and someone else says, ‘You’re probably right.’ Sometimes you do have big insights, and that’s very exciting, but in research, you must balance these moments with a more sober approach. What are we missing? Why has this not been recognized before?”

Human beings are complicated creatures. Our beliefs, our culture, our actions–they’re not easily predicted or changed. That’s why marketing is so fascinating. But science? Science is a subset of human activity, reserved for people committed to a method based on the rigorous testing of hypotheses and outcomes.

More homemade pseudoscience doesn’t often lead to better results. It’s worth ignoring.