Often, however, science is criticised for restating the bleeding obvious, when all we need is some good common sense and to trust our instincts. Yet, there are very good reasons why that criticism is unfounded. In his excellent book on science and medicine, Ben Goldacre (Bad Science 2008, Fourth Estate), highlights why we should be careful when relying on our instincts. For one thing, we naturally see patterns where none exist, and erroneously assign causality to those patterns. Humans are thoroughly social creatures, and the way we view the world is coloured not only by our underlying beliefs but by those of the people around us. Lastly, non-scientific investigations are typically biased towards evidence that backs up our ideas, rather than taking the more powerful approach of finding ways to test whether the existing ideas are wrong. So, the danger in just relying on common sense is that it can lead us to the wrong conclusions.
Instead, we should rejoice in clear, objectively collected, robust data that allows us to move towards the right conclusions, rather than fumble around in the darkness. Of course, scientists have a responsibility to be transparent and open about their work, to be clear about their hypotheses, their assumptions and their predictions, and to minimise the risks of these biases creeping into their work. But, when it is done well, science can joyfully guide us towards the right management decisions and, ultimately, force us to reconsider our view of the world.