Science and tragedy: Australia’s floods and the Tucson shootings

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Tragedy strikes. Who or what can we blame? Chances are I don’t know, because that’s not what science is about. But if there’s a pattern of catastrophes or problems, chances are there is a theory that accounts for it. My article in The King’s Tribune discusses the limits of knowledge.

I have an article in the February 2011 issue of The King’s Tribune. If you’re in Melbourne, try to pick up a (free!) copy – as well as my piece, you’ll find stuff from some of my favourite people on Twitter, who coincidentally tend to be smart and excellent writers (plus, some of them even have beards). If you’re located elsewhere, you’ll have to make do with the online version.

Flowers, candles, etc. dedicated to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Image credit: Flickr user SearchNet Media; used under a Creative Commons licence.

My article talks about the limits of science, especially when it comes to making sense of one-off, extraordinary events. I use the recent floods and the mass shooting in Tucson as examples – far too many people have been far too confident that we have clear evidence about exactly what made these things happen. In doing so, not only do they risk being wrong, but they risk undermining the broader, evidence-based points about patterns of events. If that sounds like something worth reading, then I hope you’ll check it out.