2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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A leading scientist of the 21st century for Genomic Sciences; Co-Founder, Chairman, Synthetic Genomics, Inc.; Founder, J. Craig Venter Institute; Author, A Life Decoded
Human Genome Decoder; Director, The J. Craig Venter Institute

Evidence-Based Decision Making Will Help Transform Society

I am optimistic (and hopeful) that one of the key tenets of scientific investigation, "evidenced-based decision making" will be extended to all aspects of modern society. Good experimental design works toward creating conditions that provide the most useful information on a given topic while attempting to eliminate, or at least limit, spurious, irrelevant artifacts from being generated that could falsely influence data interpretation. Data or information is collected until a threshold is exceeded permitting either conclusions to be drawn or at least development of a hypothesis that with further testing can be validated or falsified. 

Not all questions can be simply answered by just looking at the evidence because we are still at a very early stage in understanding the universe around us. For example, in attempting to understand how life began on our planet we can only guess based on certain assumptions whether it originated de novo here or arrived from another planet or a distant galaxy. We do know that a few hundred kilograms of material is exchanged annually between the Earth and Mars, and that new planets are discovered at an unprecedented pace.  When we discover microbial life on Mars we will double the number of planets with known life while increasing the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe.

For most scientists the evidence for evolution, regardless of its origins, has been overwhelming.  The fossil record was sufficient evidence for most, but now with genome sequencing information from all branches of life, including from some of our closest relatives like Neanderthals, chimps and rhesus monkeys, the results should be clear cut for anyone whose thinking is not overly clouded by a "belief" system.

In contrast we have newspapers, radio and television news stations owned by individuals or governments presenting subjective, selective subsets of information. As well, there are political campaigns and statements by those wishing to gain or retain power that can only be dismissed as partisan."

We need to push harder for an education system that teaches evidence-based decision making while we hold our public leaders to a higher standard and less partisan behavior as we attempt to tackle some of the historically most difficult challenges facing the future of humanity.