With any luck, 2020 will be the year America officially hi peak post-truth, with people's beliefs on who won the most recent presidential election and the best way to combat COVID-19 falling in line with their partisan biases. This is part of a longer trend where science and data have been misused and/or obscured to cause suspicion over whether smoking causes cancer and whether man made carbon emissions are responsible for climate change.

In American government, this trend has led us to a place where the biggest disagreements aren't over how to solve a problem, but whether that problem exists in the first place.

Michael J. Epstein, a PhD in computer science with a specialization in quantitative science, saw the root of this problem as a misunderstanding over how scientists engage in solving problems. In his new book, Bigfoot Does Not Exist, Epstein gives readers a crash course in statistics and data analysis to help provide a framework where we can find a common truth and - possibly - begin inhabiting the same factual universe again.

You can listen to the episode via the player below, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or whatever other freaky platform you get your audio content on.(Spoiler Alert: We never do find out if bigfoot exists or not)


Show Notes

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," a phrase often attributed to former US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, best sums up the biggest misunderstanding between laypeople and the scientific community. The goal of science isn't to conclusively disprove a concept, such as the existence of sasquatch or whether voter fraud played a significant role in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, but to see if enough evidence exists for us to be comfortable making a decision.

The question isn't necessarily whether you're 100% certain you're right, but whether your level of certainty outweighs the consequences of inaction. For example, you can't be 100% certain you won't die from a fall in the shower on any given morning, but the odds not showering will negatively impact your social and professional life are far greater.

This uncertainty creates room for people to find patterns that match their biases - part of a a phenomenon known as apophenia. As a result, people without an understanding of science can be led to believe vaccines cause autism, masks increase your chances of contracting COVID-19, and your least favorite politician might be part of a conspiracy to defraud the nation (I worded that last part so it could apply to anyone).

Applying this to the issue of voter fraud, none of us can be 100% certain who won the election. We can't possibly count all the ballots ourselves, and need to trust a third party to do so.

Keeping this in mind, we first need to weigh whether the probability is greater that officials from both major parties and over 60 courts conspired to rig the election in favor of Joe Biden, or whether he simply won by a margin of over 7 million votes. We then need to balance our uncertainty over the consequences of not having a president.

I'll let to make your own conclusions on that one. If you have trouble along the way, you can buy the book here.