In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. – Carl Sagan
This is one of my very favourite Carl Sagan quotes. Not because it’s about science per se, but because it reminds us of how important it is to be able to change our minds on things, that the last thing you want to do is entrench yourself on an issue where you’re wrong.
To be fair, it does happen in politics and religion, maybe just not as often. My favourite Dalai Lama quote:
If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. - Dalai Lama
It’s important to note that Buddhism doesn’t have to conform to science because science is the truth, but because the essence of science, the way it’s supposed to be done, is to believe whatever reality tells you, to be open to change your mind.
Recently, an exchange in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has fully embodied this spirit of freedom of inquiry and accepting when one’s mistaken.
With getting into too many details, a couple of health scientists published a paper with a methodological flaw that eluded them and everyone who reviewed the paper before publication. Once the paper was out, two other scientists pointed out the flaw and demonstrated that it nullified their results to which the authors of the initial study replied:
We thank Drs Simon and Freidlin for their very important letter. Their simulation identified an oversight in our approach. We performed a simulation with a binary outcome and also found substantial bias in the presence of many predictors. Therefore, we can no longer recommend our proposed approach.
To the Editor: We respectfully request a retraction of the Commentary.
Basically, they’re saying what Sagan said in his quote: “that’s a really good argument, my position is mistake.” The editors of the journal, rightfully, picked up on the importance of this kind of exchange:
The exchange of letters between Drs Richard M. Simon and Boris Freidlin, and Drs Stuart G. Baker and Daniel Sargent, represents an excellent example of how the scientific process should work. [...] Both parties in this exchange deserve praise for advancing science and illustrating scientific method.
Sometimes I’m not sure if it makes people more admirable to be able to be wrong and admit it than be right in the first place. Nah, probably better to be right in the first place but be ready to be wrong.
Great song, weird video (I couldn’t embed the official video which may actually be just as weird):