How to Think Like a Scientist

Uncertainty and Misinformation

Scientists share certain habits of mind, regardless of whether we study pathogens, people, or plants.

As legendary astronomer Carl Sagan wrote: “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” Today we launch an occasional series on “How to Think Like a Scientist,” starting with three key values we scientists hold dear.


…even those from the other side of the political aisle (gulp!). Our brains unconsciously prefer new information that conforms with our existing worldviews – called “motivated reasoning” – so scientists work hard to seek out credible arguments that disprove our favorite hypotheses.

Looking for good sources that explain both conservative and liberal ideals on contentious issues? Yes, these really exist!! Check out the website OpenMind and other resources included in the terrific Wired article about busting through partisan information silos. To quote educator Sharon McMahon, “Until you can passionately make arguments for both sides, you don’t understand the issue.”

➡️ Think Like a Scientist Tip #1: Actively try proving yourself wrong by entertaining the most convincing arguments from the other side.


Our brains trick us into believing that we’re better or more correct than most people. This isn’t a moral failure, rather it’s a quirk of evolutionary psychology called the “bias blindspot.” Happily, we can train ourselves to counteract this bias by actively practicing “intellectual humility.” Intellectual humility is an openness to new ideas…essentially a practice of intellectual self-scrutiny. Being mindful of the limits of our own knowledge is a hallmark of intellectual humility and is the basis for all meaningful learning.

➡️ Think Like a Scientist Tip #2: Anchor in curiosity, prioritizing listening and learning over talking.


The mantra for environmental activism holds for science ambassadorship, too. To state the obvious, we scientists believe in science. And many of us have taken up the call to become science communicators as we see anti-science forces growing in scale and impact. The science of science communication (yes, it’s a real field!) convincingly finds that trusted science messengers have two qualities: credibility (e.g. educational credentials; work experience; longstanding intellectual interests; etc.) and audience relatability (e.g. you are my son’s beloved baseball coach). In our highly fragmented information environment, trust is hyperlocal. Trust is greatest in places and spaces like the school PTO, the local pediatrician’s office, and the Facebook page of the friendly Nerdy Girl next door! 😊

➡️ Think Like a Scientist Tip #3: To stand up for science, act locally. You are a credible, relatable messenger to folks in your personal networks – and you hold sway with them!

A final note:

We humans are information seekers. It’s part of our DNA. Scientific habits of mind are the best protections we have as a species for making sure we seek out signal and don’t get fooled by noise in the hunt for information. Thank you to our science-loving community for standing with us in supporting science!

Your Nerdy Girls


Psychology Today’s Introduction to Motivated Reasoning

Intellectual humility and the bias blind spot

More tips on thinking like a scientist in this earlier DP post

Trusted science messengers

Humans are wired to be information seekers:
Ulrich Boser’s “Learn Better.” NY, NY: Random House. 2017. pg. 13.

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