Scientist vs Lawyer: How I’m going to try to be a better blogger

A couple weeks ago I was watching Star Talk (Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show). His guest that night was Bill Clinton. One of the interesting points made (and forgive me, I don’t recall exactly who said what) is that we need more scientists in government, and fewer lawyers. (Lawyer is the most common pre-politics job in congress, apparently.)

The reasoning was that scientists based their views on evidence. They look at the evidence and then form a statement based on it. Lawyers, on the other hand, are trained to work backwards from a goal (e.g. this person is innocent/guilty) and present supporting evidence to bolster their goal and weaken opposing views. Evidence that doesn’t support their goal doesn’t get presented. Yes, this is a huge oversimplification and I don’t want to get into politics here, but it lodged in my brain.

Too often (when blogging) I act like a lawyer rather than a scientist. In other words (purely hypothetical example) I’ll think to myself “I should write a blog post about how the PS4 is a better media streamer than the Xbox One.” When I come up with the idea, I’m assuming it’s true. Then I start gathering data to support my assertion. If I find data that doesn’t support it, it’s really tempting to just kind of push that data aside.

A more scientist-y way to approach a blog post is to ask myself a question: “Which is the better media streamer, the PS4 or the Xbox One?” Then I’d go gather as much data as possible, determine the answer to the best of my abilities, and then write the post, possible changing the question to the answer at that point: “Here’s why the Xbox One is the better media streamer.”

I’m inherently stubborn so once I decide something is true it’s really hard for me to change my mind. That was touched on in the Star Talk episode too. Too often our society views changing our mind as a sign of weakness. (Remember they were talking about politicians.) If a politician says they’re pro-{insert any policy} and then new evidence is presented that causes the politician to change their mind and become anti-{insert that same policy here} then too often the politician is seen as weak, wishy-washy, or not fully committed. In science though (according to the folks on Star Talk!) being willing to change your opinion based on new evidence is seen as a positive thing.

Moving forward I’m going to try to embrace my inner scientist more. To start the posting process by asking a question and then letting the facts answer that question; to base my views on the evidence and data I have available; and finally to be willing to change my opinion based on new/changing evidence.

As a corollary, another thing I need to work on is saying “Thanks” when someone corrects me. Too often when I state something that is incorrect and someone corrects me, my first impulse is to dig for data or a way to spin things so I can still appear to be right. That’s my ego at work. The wiser course of action is 1) confirm that the correction itself is accurate and assuming it is 2) thank the person for making me a tiny bit smarter that day.