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New column ponders science, scientific process

James Hagadorn, Ph.D
Just the facts
James Hagadorn
Chris Schneider |

Science is all around us. It impacts us every day. So does scientific thinking – a process where we separate fact from fiction and where we use data rather than “common knowledge”. This approach empowers us to make informed decisions based on “just the facts”.

But doing so isn’t easy. Thinking like a scientist, using data to decipher complex problems, evaluating ‘sides’ of an issue, and exploring future investments requires us to set aside what we believe. Unlike on The X-Files, setting aside our beliefs permits us to consider and filter all the available evidence. Scientific thinking also requires us to dig deep to the roots of issues and make sure we’re comparing apples to apples. At the crux of this process is separating our observations from our interpretations – and never letting our ‘hunch’ color our reading of, nor selection of, the evidence. Sometimes boiling things down to “just the facts” is the most straightforward part of a problem, but leads to a larger, thornier process that spans politics, business, religion and cultures. For example, practicing climate scientists agree that human-induced global warming is occurring, but knowing this does not clarify how to best slow or halt these changes, especially given our profoundly diverse individual needs and national goals.

In this column we’ll use the scientific process to explore issues that matter to you. Whether we’re investigating sports injury risks or how bark beetles affect your bottom line, we’ll mine data to get answers. I’ll write this column as a fellow Coloradan, and will do my best to avoid jargon and geek-speak. And in the spirit of Mythbusters, we won’t forget to have a bit of fun or to poke fun while exploring hot-button issues using the scientific process.

I’d be honored if this column becomes your monthly pit stop – for learning, for questioning common knowledge, and for becoming better-informed citizens of the planet. I’ll be your host – a geologist, teacher, and dad with broad interests. Whether working in the lab, poring over a spreadsheet, or doing fieldwork, I’m captivated by the thrill of discovery. What stokes my fire is new knowledge, new puzzles, and the occasional beast from deep time. If there’s a topic that you’d like me to address here, please let me know – I’ll try to get straight to the facts.

James Hagadorn, Ph.D., is a scientist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Suggestions and comments are welcome at jwhagadorn@dmns.org.


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