In a recent Sam Harris article, he cited the statistic that twenty percent of Americans believed that Jesus was going to come to Earth and judge the souls of the living and the dead within the next fifty years. Another twenty percent said that it was likely. Nearly forty percent of Americans are living under the idea that within my probable lifetime, Jesus is going to return. That’s truly a stunning fact. For a second, let’s just keep that in the back of our minds.
Now, I want to give you another fact. I was reading about a mathematician who was working on Kepler’s theory that the best way in terms of space to stack spheres (like a cannonball) was in a pyramid. He had spent five years, performed countless calculations (including some with a super computer), and submitted his work to a panel of experts only to learn that they found his results not entirely conclusive.
I feel like there are different measurements for being correct here. One is requiring no proof from its believers while the other is demanding everything from its source. At times, this divide feels unfair for an academic. There have been moments where I have submitted an article for review to a peer reviewed journal where everything I said was held to such close examination that I ever wondered if anything ever got published. If I wrote, “blue is different than green,” then they would have written back to be more specific. If I replied with, “blue is different than green to most people,” then they would have asked what I meant by most people. This game can go on all day.
While there is certainly a initial reaction to get angry about this level of scrutiny, I have started to think differently about it lately. What first first felt like a burden, now feels like a point of pride because this burden is the price of being correct (or at least as correct as people are capable of being). While even with this review, there are mistakes, I know that I am trying my best to be right. In our current world where facts are constantly being examined for bias and alternative facts are floated up as truths, the need for real facts couldn’t be more desperate. We need the facts. So when your review comes back with what feels like a minor point in language, thank them, and think about the poor mathematician, staring at his pile of cannonballs.