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

Science:

  • Apply the scientific method with rigor and intellectual humility
  • Science is about seeking the truth1, not group consensus
  • Several possible answers do not mean all of them are equally likely2
  • “Trust” is science’s main product
  • Guiding questions: How am I wrong? Can I be less wrong than I was yesterday?3

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
  • Engineering a “healthier and more resilient world” - National Academies4
  • Apply tenets of “Effective Altruism”5 to research
  • Prioritize issues in environmental justice communities6

How to act7:

  • Learn to navigate ethical dilemmas and cognitive biases
  • Exercise (and urge in others) civic and moral courage
  • Emphasize “truth over justice”8 to fight real (environmental) injustice
  • Defend free speech and open inquiry
  • Be charitable in interpreting others’ words/actions, unless there are reasons not to
  • Support claims with evidence, not blind faith
  • Bring light to a debate (over heat) through evidence, conversation, and seeking middle ground
  • Counter perverse incentives by choosing quality over quantity

Statistics:

  • Stats 001: Without data, you are just someone with an opinion
  • Stats 001.1: Outrage, offense, and empty virtue-signals are not data points
  • Stats 101: Anecdotes are not reliable9
  • Stats 101.1: Large datasets almost always trump anecdotes/anecdata
  • Stats 201: Correlation is not causation
  • Stats 201.1: Correlation can tend to causation with multiple lines of evidence and tightly controlled studies (e.g., RCTs)

Footnotes:


  1. 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. ↩︎

  2. 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. ↩︎

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

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

  5. 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”. ↩︎

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

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

  8. If you care about justice, you have to find out what is true first. Read this Atlantic piece for more. As Cicero said, “For the discovery of truth, it is necessary to argue against all things and for all things.” ↩︎

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