This is a personal living document, subject to frequent revision.


  • Apply the scientific method with rigor and intellectual humility1
  • Science is about seeking the truth2, not group consensus
  • Several possible answers do not mean all of them are equally likely3
  • “Trust” is science’s main product
  • The public should strive to think in scientific ways4 to evaluate expert claims5
  • Guiding questions: How am I wrong?6 Can I be less wrong than I was yesterday?78

Service and public good:

  • First Canon: “To hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public”
  • Reduce human suffering, advance well-being, and promote collective flourishing
  • Public university obligations: Practice science as a public good
  • United Nations SDG #6.1: “ensure safe drinking water for all”
  • United Nations’ Resolution on the Human Right to Water
  • Engineer a “healthier and more resilient world” - National Academies9
  • Apply tenets of “Effective Altruism”10 to research
  • Prioritize issues in environmental justice communities11

How to think and act12:

  • Learn to navigate ethical dilemmas and cognitive biases
  • Exercise (and urge in others) civic and moral courage
  • Emphasize “truth over justice”13 to fight real (environmental) injustice
  • Defend free speech and open inquiry
  • Sign the Pro-Truth Pledge, or, at the very least, do not lie
  • Be charitable in interpreting others’ words and actions, unless there are reasons not to
  • With students and mentees, work hard to dispel “Excellent Sheep”-level conformity
  • Seek out direct feedback, especially the critical variety14
  • Support claims with evidence15, not calls for blind faith
  • Bring light to a debate over heat through evidence, conversation, and seeking middle ground
  • Avoid blind optimism or pessimism about social issues and bridge the Optimism Gap16 with facts
  • Cultivate rational optimism about scientific and human progress17
  • Counter perverse incentives by choosing quality over quantity18


  • Stats 001: Without data, you are just someone with an opinion19
  • Stats 001.1: Outrage, offense, and empty virtue-signals are not data points
  • Stats 101: Anecdotes are not reliable20
  • Stats 101.1: Large datasets are usually more reliable than anecdotes/anecdata
  • Stats 201: Correlation is not causation21
  • Stats 201.1: Correlation can tend to causation with multiple lines of evidence and tightly controlled studies (e.g., RCTs)

Last updated: May 2022


  1. Beyond the obvious, intellectual humility can help us realize the true priviledge of being a scientist, and asking and pursuing answers to big questions. Elizabeth Loftus articulates this beautifully in this Psychology Today profile. ↩︎

  2. Brandeis’ Eve Marder in her eLife article describes the pursuit of “truth even unto its innermost parts” and the professional need for “challenging anyone who spreads falsehoods,” the corollary of which is others will (and should) challenge our own claims. Separately, criticizing ideas is not the same as criticizing those advocating for them. Read Simine Vazire’s Slate article “Criticizing a Scientist’s Work Isn’t Bullying. It’s Science” for an extremely well-reasoned argument. Finally, marrying the above ideals of uncovering scientific truths with a deep reflection on what it means to be truly honest might also convince you to sign the Pro-Truth Pledge to bring more honesty in public discourse, even if it sometimes hurts your pet cause. ↩︎

  3. Read “The Fallacy of Gray” on LessWrong for perspective on the simplistic argument that everything in science is gray. Also, from Issac Asimov: “When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.” ↩︎

  4. Adoption of what Julia Galef calls the Scout Mindset can allow you to craft more accurate maps of reality. ↩︎

  5. Andrew Oxman and 24 other researchers have penned a brilliant Nature Comment on teaching non-scientist members of the public key concepts for making informed choices. ↩︎

  6. From Thomas Gilovich: For desired conclusions, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe this?”, but for unpalatable conclusions, we ask, “Must I believe this?” ↩︎

  7. Karl Popper in Knowledge without Authority: “All ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?'” ↩︎

  8. Good to strive for a balance between the careless “expertise creep” and the necessary “epistemic trespassing." ↩︎

  9. NASEM’s Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing Grand Challenges (2019) report. ↩︎

  10. As in, pursue research topics that are societally relevant, traditionally neglected or understudied, and can be addressed with technical expertise, policy/systemic changes, and/or behavioral interventions. Read up on Effective Altruism. ↩︎

  11. National Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s report to the US Environmental Protection Agency. ↩︎

  12. See the HxA Way for a guiding set of norms and values on pluralism, rigorous debate, constructive disagreement, and intellectual charity. ↩︎

  13. If you care about justice, you have to find out what is true first. Read this Atlantic piece for more. Also, from Cicero: For the discovery of truth, it is necessary to argue against all things and for all things. ↩︎

  14. In a culture of growing double-speak and toxic positivity masking true intentions, having colleagues, well-wishers or even adversaries who offer you the gift of valuable feedback you didn’t have before is a true blessing. Cultivate relationships, where tight feedback loops to collectively get to what is true, is the norm. ↩︎

  15. Read Scott Alexander’s clear-eyed perspective on honestly and responsibly using the phrase “no evidence” in science communication on Substack. ↩︎

  16. Or, the “I’m OK, They’re Not Syndrome”, the subtitle of David Whitman’s book. Also, from Steven Pinker writing in Enlightenment Now: “To look at data showing that violence has gone down and say “Violence has gone down” is to describe a fact. To look at data showing that violence has gone down and say “Violence has gone up” is to be delusional. To ignore data on violence and say “Violence has gone up” is to be a know-nothing.” ↩︎

  17. One of the core theses of quantum physicist David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity is that problems are inevitable. But, unless constrained by the laws of nature, problems are also solvable. What we need and will always need essentially are new knowledge, creativity, and human ingenuity that can produce good explanations that lead to solutions. This inevitably leads to cultivation of a deep and rational optimism. Or, consider Marquis de Condorcet writing in his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind: “How consoling for the philosopher who laments the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth and of which he is often the victim, is this view of the human race, emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue and happiness! It is the contemplation of this prospect that rewards him for all his efforts to assist the progress of reason and the defence of liberty.” E. O. Wilson’s Consilience is also a must read. ↩︎

  18. Read our paper: Marc A. Edwards and Siddhartha Roy. (2016). Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition. Env Engg Sci. 34(1), pp. 51-61. ↩︎

  19. Speaking of opinions: “viewpoints and identities are personal, but the interrogation of beliefs without judgement of those who hold them is not only desirable, it is an essential to a functioning democracy” - @jo_bartosch ↩︎

  20. Read “Anecdotes Are Not Reliable” from McGill’s Jonathan Jarry. ↩︎

  21. Read “Does X cause Y? An in-depth evidence review” on Cold Takes by Holden Karnofsky. ↩︎