So if a body like NASA admits to spraying chemtrails from airplanes then I guess that part of it is not a conspiracy ... I say "that part" because the other part of the conspiracy theory is that the chemicals are for mind control (get out the tinfoil hats).
All good crackpottery and consiracy has a kernel of truth. That is what makes it so compelling to the nutters. You could just as easily point to the fact that burning jet fuel does put chemicals in the air, or even point to crop dusters that put chemicals in the air.
It is the massive leap from "putting chemicals in the air" to "a government wide conspiracy to control your mind" that differentiates the sane from the nutters.
When we request each other to provide evidence in an argument, should we be referring to source papers that contain original data, or is referring to authorities good enough?
If you are citing specific research, then you should always try to cite the original peer reviewed paper that the research is found in. If you don't understand the material, a good alternative is a quote from one of the scientists in a secondary article, like those found in Scientific American. In those articles, the scientists will "dumb down" the findings for a more general audience.
For general knowledge, a well respected college level textbook is a good place to start, and can usually be found in your local library. If you are talking about biochemistry and you quote Stryer, then I know it is probably solid info. Stryer's textbook is still considered to be one of the standards.
If you lack that reference, then your best bet is to qualify your statements, and ask if an expert in the discussion can verify what you are saying.
if I'm not a nerdy book-worm whose primary interest is learning about the natural world, how do I participate in your democracy?
By supporting nerdy book-worms who do study the natural world. Investment in science is an investment in society.
Or more generally, how do you expect a general public who is not necessarily compelled by knowledge to interact with you?
Science and scientists should always be held accountable by the general public. This is done through oversight and making sure that safeguards are in place. For example, Congress makes sure that administrators watch over how public research money is spent, and that research adheres to the ethics set forth by Congress in law (i.e. HIPAA rules for human subjects). As far as the science itself, it is inherent competition in science that keeps things honest. I think we expect the public to leave that to the scientists.
Yes, exactly! I feel like we (people focused on science and empiricism) have really failed to do this, in politics, conversations, and everything else--to the detriment of getting real traction on many of our ideas.
There will always be times in history when people prefer to believe in comfortable lies instead of uncomfortable truths. We can supply the facts and hope people pull their head's out of their asses.