Back (finally) to reply to everyone's posts. Sorry about the delay... I was working on 4 hours of sleep and 12 hours of work when I logged on yesterday.
Also, although I get very emotional about the subject matter, I'm really glad that it's coming up and that I can read everyone's views on it (even if we might disagree).
As far as the general public not "needing" skepticism to understand science, I beg to disagree. This is the general public who believe that "mixing human DNA with animal/bacterial DNA" is "wrong". This is the general public that believes that working with ES cells violates Gods' will. This is the general public that believes that a university is discharging radioactive waste into lakes because they glow green (actually, the university was discharging a fluorescent organic molecule). This is also the general public that panics when the CERN particle accelerator is switched on.
I may oppose ES cell research, but at least it's because I've worked in a mouse ES cell lab and have seen the things that are done to the animals. The problem with working with "pure" concepts that are "approximations" of reality, without any real understanding of context is that you think you know what's going on - but you don't really know. As opposed to admitting that you know nothing about it, and starting with a blank slate and allowing people who have the experience to make the decisions.
I'd say that when scientists share their findings with other scientists, the basis of comparison isn't so much "the scientific method", it's shared context. If the context isn't the same, it doesn't matter how many controls you do - the understanding on the other side of the telephone will be completely different.
It's probably my idealism, but I hope that one day, people will be able to understand the connections between different science groups, corporations, politics and funding. From there, they will be able to make a well-reasoned personal judgment as to how their taxpayer money could be better spent.
I'll give an example here, of Darwin's theory of evolution. Currently in a "normal" science class, it would be taught as: 7 steps leading to speciation, genetic drift, natural selection, formation of reproductive isolation mechanisms etc etc. My HS science teacher specified at the start of the class that she was not going to talk about its sociological context, or religious implications, because she was there to help us PASS AN EXAM, not teach us "truth".
In my science class, I'd talk about what was taught to me, in addition to religious context, how religions are attempting to integrate their history and teachings with evolution in the context of intelligent design, previous ideas about how speciation arose, the WRONG examples in the textbooks (yes, there are, the peppered moth being a prominent example), the right examples in the textbooks, differences between micro/macroevolution and their individual contexts, reactions to the theory back in Darwin's time and now, and several other things. It probably wouldn't be very practical in terms of time spent in the classroom, but I think it's a whole lot more useful with regards to understanding the world.
I also have issues with this attitude that "skepticism towards everything is bad" and there being a method of being "properly skeptical". I am a fan of being a skeptic, and deciding (even with skepticism) what you're going to believe. I don't think it's possible to live a life that's completely logical and well-reasoned, and that assuming that everyone is logical etc has reduced the potential for progress.
You're completely right, I'm only two years out of college this Dec. I may change my mind later on, I reserve the right to do so. But right now I'm arguing from my perspective, which is based on observations of the people around me (and myself).
(which follows with the next part)
I love this saying "Assuming that the orthodox is always the orthodox orthodoxy and that the unorthodox is always the orthodox unorthodoxy is a true mark of a dogmatic". I personally believe that while there undoubtedly are people who hang on to myths and are completely silly/irrational, most people are more sophisticated than that, and have other personal "reasons" (therefore not irrational) for believing what they believe.
Additionally, while science undoubtedly has brought us progress, I don't think the world would end with a few flat-earthists around (and if you look at the conspiracy theorists' "evidence" for flat earth, they are not irrational at all! If anything, they are hyperrational and skeptical of all evidence!). I guess my point is - it doesn't matter if people learn the "gross approximations" or not. It doesn't count as "true understanding", they're not working on the subject material, and it's not going to change anything in the big picture.
Additionally, Nobel prize laureate Kary Mullis, who (arguably) invented PCR doesn't believe that HIV causes AIDS and that CFCs cause ozone depletion. So... Orthodox orthodoxy and orthodox unorthodoxy etc. "Common sense" is not a part of rationalism.
I have been working on trying to form a specific covalent bond between QDs and an amyloid-forming protein via a maleimide cross-linker. I have shown over the last few months that the QDs aren't stable in the solution environment that the proteins like, the proteins don't cooperate in the solutions that the QDs are stable in, and that when I've finally found a happy medium, the bonds are not specific and the protein basically binds everywhere on the QD, and washes off the organic molecules that keep it stable in solution.
My biochemist supervisor says that I'm concentrating too much on the chemistry part, that I should remember my focus remains on the protein. The chemist supervisor isn't interested in anything else beyond making the QDs stable and colourful, proteins are secondary. The nanoparticle supervisor wants me to embark on a whole different project with the QDs and proteins that would take years. It is annoying and counter-productive because there is no central vision for the project.
Yes, the base-line knowledge of professionals are definitely higher than a layperson. But I think that it gets in the way of progress because at least the layperson would admit that they don't know anything. Many professionals think that because they know something and it's worked for them, it would work everywhere else. I guess it comes back to "better to think that you know nothing and be open-minded than to think that you know everything and be close-minded".
Honestly I don't know who would care enough read my paper (if a paper does eventually come of this). I personally don't see the significance of it, and many of my biochemist colleagues agree that it would have zero physiological relevance, so byebye funding. It's proof-of-concept and nothing more. I'm only doing it because I'm being paid for it, as a side-project to my other projects that definitely have a LOT more clinical relevance. And my supervisor is only paying me for it because he's a cheapskate (this is funded by an inter-departmental grant) and wants to keep me on to work on my other projects.
Wow. This is a lot longer than I thought it would be.