Here is one more super-critical rule of thumb:
Keep an open mind.
Many people have a very difficult time accepting even the possibility that the “malevolent cholesterol hypothesis” could be flawed or even dead wrong. But clinging to a flawed belief system has its consequences. Be skeptical of ideas that are counter to the conventional wisdom, but don’t be close-minded, either.
As blogger William Beaty notes in his insightful blog post, “Weird science versus revolutionary science,” http://amasci.com/weird/vindac.html:
“While it’s true that at least 99% of revolutionary announcements from the fringes of science are just as bogus as they seem, we cannot dismiss every one of them without investigation. If we do, then we’ll certainly take our place among the ranks of scoffers who accidentally helped delay numbers of major scientific discoveries throughout history. Beware, for many discoveries such as powered flight and drifting continents today only appear sane and acceptable because we have such powerful hindsight. These same advancements were seen as obviously a bunch of disgusting lunatic garbage during the years they were first discovered.
In science, pursuing revolutionary advancements can be like searching for diamonds hidden in sewage. It’s a shame that the realms of questionable ideas contain “diamonds” of great value. This makes the judging crazy theories far more difficult. If crazy discoveries were always bogus, then we’d have good reason to reject them without investigation. However, since the diamonds exist, we must distrust our first impressions. Sometimes the “obvious” craziness turns out to be a genuine cutting-edge discovery. As with the little child questioning the emperor’s clothing, sometimes the entire scientific community is misguided and incompetent. Sometimes only the lone voice of the maverick scientist is telling the truth.”
Elsewhere on his website, Beatty makes another profound point:
“Skepticism is a primary tool of science. We’d be hypocrites if we never directed a skeptical eye towards Scientific Skepticism itself… Unbridled gullibility can destroy science, but unbridled disbelief is no less a threat because it brings both a tolerance for bias and ridicule as well as the suppression of untested new ideas. Better to take a middle road between total closed-mindedness and total gullibility. Practice pragmatism, pursue humility, and maintain a clear, honest, and continuing view of ourselves and the less noble of our own behaviors.”
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