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Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #5: John Rock’s Error

thought-leadersScience, while purportedly the objective study of what is natural, is by its very structure anything but.

Yosemite Falls plummets 2,420 feet in a series of seven parts. What you observe about Yosemite Falls depends entirely on whether you are standing at the bottom, the top, near the middle cascades or on the other side of the valley.


That these various observations are different from each other, (for example, from the bottom you would not know that any middle cascades existed), would not make any one of them inaccurate. But if you based your climbing plans on that one perspective—however accurate it might be—you would draw incorrect conclusions about how best to reach the top.

That science takes its observations from particular and possibly limited perspectives, means that its findings don’t form the necessarily adequate basis for the conclusions we draw and/or the subsequent courses of action we choose.

Hence the fascinating story that looking back with 20/20 hindsight at the conclusions about whether the birth control pill was a natural or unnatural contribution makes.

Viewed from the “bottom of the falls,” as a means to prevent ovulation (the natural process being observed from this perspective), the birth control pill has been opposed by the Catholic church, in Gladstone’s example, as unnatural.

But if upon its introduction the pill was viewed from the “top of the falls,” so to speak, as a means to help women’s bodies menstruate on a more “natural” cycle, i.e. less frequently, there may have been no opposition. Instead of opposing something unnatural, quite possible the Church might have been quite willing to support something that supported the health and well-being of women everywhere.

Same pill. All science. But limited information seen from different perspectives led to different conclusions. So much for the objectivity of science. All we can do is wonder what might have been if the information was presented the other way around.

What was your main take-away from this chapter? Where might you be basing decisions on a limited perspective?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Here's My Thought...

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