Prescribed Title 5: Given access to the same facts, how is it possible that there can be disagreement between experts in a discipline? Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.
For centuries scientists and historians alike have debated topics within their field of study. Whether it be the structure of an atom or the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, experts in these fields often disagree despite having access to the same exact facts and information. These separate interpretations of data leads to the question of how it is possible that the same facts do not always point to the same general truths. Although experts in the fields of science and history have access to the same facts, the experts who analyze and interpret these facts are human beings, whose thoughts are impacted by the different cultures, experiences, and perspectives in which they were raised.
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One important question that needs to be raised is what makes someone an expert? Better yet, what is a fact? An expert is someone who has an extensive background in a certain subject and is recognized by others as having a comprehensive understanding of a specific topic. This means that they have a great understanding of the subject matter of which they are an expert, and others can attest to this proficiency. Facts are known truths that are commonly accepted and verifiable. A fact must be verifiable in order to be legitimate. Understanding these terms allows us to truly understand the nature of historians and scientists and their interpretations of information.
One of the most important, yet most debatable, tasks that a historian must complete is weighing evidence after reviewing historical facts. Historians make decisions based on many different pieces of evidence. They decide how important each piece of evidence is to the way that history played out. This brings up the question of the extent to which the weighing of evidence by historians in relation to events in history is subjective or objective. The weighing of evidence tends to be subjective simply because of the often multiple different causes of certain events in history.
This can be seen in the analysis of almost every historical event in recorded history, but especially in the analysis of the cause of World War II. Many different factors played into the cause of World War II. Between the economic sanctions imposed by countries such as the United States and Great Britain, political tension between the major powers, or expansionist foreign policies of Italy, Germany, and Japan, no single cause can be seen as the only one to start to war (History.com staff). However, deciding which cause had the greatest impact on war is what historians debate over and weigh evidence over, yet they often come to separate conclusions.
The different cultures, experiences, and perspectives of the historians leads to their different interpretations and evaluations of evidence in history. Although these experts analyze the same data, the lenses through which they view the evidence are different. Historians do their best to analyze facts and their impact on history with total objectivity, yet the nature of the weighing of evidence is very subjective. Historians have to use their own personal values and emotions, based on their own personal culture and experiences, in order to evaluate evidence and make decisions based on these evaluations.
This also brings up the question of the extent to which the upbringings of a historian has an impact on their analysis of historical facts. All historians grow up in unique situations and so their view on the world and the way humans interact with each other is slightly different. Furthermore, their opinions on the interactions of foreign powers can often be impacted by their nationalities and the education they received. This personal opinion is most prominently seen with debate over differing political ideologies and their impact on foreign nations.
I saw this debate first hand in my history class. The topic of the discussion was Cuba and the rise of Castro as a communist dictator. As the child of a Cuban exile, I have heard anecdotes from people who lived and suffered under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. My family has seen the thousands of people who were killed under his command and the conditions of the Cuban people because of his policies. Undoubtedly, because of my personal upbringings, I am biased against Castro and communism in general. This extremely negative experience with communism has swayed my opinion about the political ideology to a great extent. However, in class, my history teacher argued that Fidel Castro had a great, positive impact on Cuba and the Cuban people. My teacher claimed that Castro reduced the unemployment rate and generally improved the average living conditions of the Cuban people.
Just like historians, both my teacher and I were analyzing the same facts about the same country, yet were drawing drastically different conclusions. We were weighing evidence based on our own personal cultures and beliefs and drawing conclusions about the general nature of the regime. This personal example gives insight to the debates that historians go through in order to come to conclusions about events or topics in history. Historians attempt to decipher data in an objective way, yet the weighing of evidence is subjective and easily influenced by the culture of the historian. In this way, historians rarely come to the same conclusions based on the same facts simply because each individual historian is weighing evidence based on their own unique personal experiences. These experiences and aspects of their culture give each historian a predisposed idea about topics in history that causes them to evaluate events in history in different ways.
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In the field of science, the different types of data often leads to disagreement and separate conclusions based on this data. In science, the two main types of data are quantitative and qualitative; quantitative data being data that can be measured in numbers while qualitative data being data that can be observed and described. Quantitative data tends to not only be more precise, but also easier to reproduce. On the other hand, qualitative data is measured based on the scientist’s interpretations of a certain quality within an experiment. For example, when performing titrations, scientists often use color indicators to show when the titration is complete. However, they must decide for their own when the color has changed sufficiently for the titration to be considered complete. This leads to a large amount of room for error. This same experiment can be performed around the world several times by experts in the field of science yet they may all come to different conclusions about the data.
This imprecision of this data leads to the question of the extent to which the preconceived ideas of scientists affects the way they interpret data. Often times in science, data is either difficult to describe, as in the exact color of a solution when a titration is complete, or in instances where an experiment cannot be conducted in order to test a theory. For example, String Theory was proposed by scientists years ago and many scientists continue to support it today. In the words of Richard Dawid, “On one side of the divide stand most of those physicists who work on string physics and in fields like inflationary cosmology or high energy particle physics model building, which are strongly influenced by string physics.” Yet, many other experts disagree and refuse to support the theory. They, “consider string theory a vastly overrated speculation,” and without being able to conduct an experiment to prove the theory, it is not valid. They refuse to consider the evidence proposed by scientists who support the theory simply based on this single idea.
The nature of a scientist’s research can help explain why many scientists can come to different conclusions when analyzing the same data. When a scientist sets out to conduct an experiment, they often have a goal in mind. Whether they are trying to prove a theory correct or make a new discovery, scientists often have preconceived ideas about the topic of which their experiment is concerned. In other cases, scientists are being supported financially by investors who are looking for the scientists to come to certain conclusions, especially in relation to medicines where investors are looking to create a new drug in order to make a profit. Because of this, scientists often have biases when conducting experiments. This leads to them analyzing data in a way that will support their goals. They will often disregard or assign insignificant value data that contradicts the claim they are trying to support. This is generally the source of disagreement between scientists when analyzing the same data.
Every day, historians and scientists alike are analyzing undisputable facts. They look at these facts and come to completely separate conclusions. As human beings, we all are subject to interpreting facts through the subjective lenses of our cultures and personal experiences. Although experts in both the fields of history and science may try to be objective as possible, certain elements of research in these fields require subjective analysis that can vary from expert to expert. This gives way to differing conclusions among experts in the fields of science and history and, in general, disagreements between experts in a certain field despite having access to the same facts.
Dawid, Richard. String Theory and the Scientific Method. Cambridge: Cambridge U, 2015. Print.
History.com Staff. “World War II History.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
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