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The Geek Manifesto

Why Science Matters

Mark Henderson

2008 Simon Singh wrote an article attacking what he called bogus claims by chiropractors. They said they could cure children's ailments like asthma and prolonged crying or sleeping or feeding problems, even though there wasn't any evidence to support their claims. The chiropractors' association sued, taking advantage of Britain's libel laws which make it difficult and expensive to defend.

Geeks were already leading the online attacks against homeopaths and other purveyors of dodgy science. They are united in belief that scientific method is the most reliable tool humanity has developed to distinguish truth from falsehood. They rallied around, and formed online pressure groups to support Singh.

When the chiropractors' association released what they called "a plethora of evidence" supporting their claim to help childhood ailments, a battalion of bloggers demolished every claim within 24 hours. Then they started inspecting individual chiropractor's websites for misleading information (they are subject to advertising laws, which forbid claims that are not supported by evidence).In that same 24 hours, the General Chiropractic Council received complaints against 500 individual practitioners. The association responded with emails urging their members to take down their websites and remove any claims that they treated childhood ailments.

Eventually the chiropractors backed down, after judges had established a legal precedent that should protect science writers.

Science is a one-of-a-kind method for establishing how the world works. you have an idea, then you gather the soundest possible evidence to evaluate it. If the data doesn't support it, it must be set aside. Science is provisional, always open to revision. It is anti-authoritarian - based on evidence, not the person. It makes testable predictions and then seeks to test them. It is comfortable with uncertainty, knowing that even its best answers will simply be better approximations of the truth.

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