A Teeny, Tiny Possibility You’re Wrong

A Teeny, Tiny Possibility You’re Wrong May 12, 2019

Everything can be connected to a Friends episode, in my experience, and most things can be usefully illustrated with some scene from Friends. A case in point is the exchange about evolution that takes place between Ross and Phoebe. While I enjoyed this episode, the more I’ve thought about it, the more disappointed I’ve become with Ross’s final reaction when Phoebe accuses him of having caved on his beliefs. The confidence that we have in scientific, historical, medical, and other conclusions of those with expertise who study evidence should not be dogmatism with no room for uncertainty. As I emphasized in recent interaction with mythicists, the mere existence of alternatives that are not entirely impossible is not at issue and not a problem for mainstream scholarship. Lots of things are in theory possible. The question is which is most compatible with the evidence. Sometimes one stands out as clearly the best fit to the evidence. Sometimes that isn’t the case. But either way, there is always a “teensy, tiny possibility that you’re wrong.”

And so now the question I’m wrestling with is how to get people to understand this element of nuance and probability in academic study and its conclusions. It is neither the case that there is no room for uncertainty, nor is it the case in most instances that all possibilities are equal. Sometimes several could fit the evidence equally well – and getting people to understand that as a source of scholarly agreement and lack of consensus is also important.

Everything can be connected with a Friends episode. At least, I think that’s true. There’s a teensy weensy possibility that I’m wrong about this. I’m confident, yet at the same time open to changing my mind.

But in this case, there is a clear connection with Friends, and I kind of wish that Friends had done a better job of depicting academia. It wouldn’t have been as entertaining as what was actually in the episode. But it would have been more beneficial to the public understanding of these important matters.

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