My short bio: My book, A Brief Guide to Thinking Like a Scientist is out NOW! Click here to find out more: The book is aimed a everyone and attempts to promote scientific thinking in a fun and accessible way. I am happy to answer your questions on scientific thinking, the scientific process or what makes a good scientist. For scientific questions, my area of expertise is animal behaviour.

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Comments: 167 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

chadpatrick28 karma

How do we ask the appropriate questions while guarding against our own biases which may influence which questions we actually ask?

jamie_samson43 karma

That's a skill that you have to learn over time. Depending on the context your questions should be falsifiable so that you do not experience phenomenon such as the confirmation bias. So for example if you want to buy a new phone, do you ask 'Why are Iphones good' or 'What are the pros and cons of a Iphone'. With the first question you set out to confirm your statement rather than trying and reject it.

Sumidiotdude27 karma

What is an area of science that you feel should be more prominent in schools' curriculum?

jamie_samson106 karma

The scientific method. This is best taught by using fun examples from across the scientific disciplines. Sections of the scientific method are applicable to our everyday lives, such as an objective analysis of the evidence. Teaching this will encourage more critical thinking within society

Obtainer_of_Goods6 karma

The thing is, in my primary school we started nearly every year of science class learning about the scientific method. It was actually pretty tedious and boring after a while.

hoomanwho8 karma

That's because Richard Feynman wasn't your teacher. It's more profound than one might think.

jamie_samson10 karma

To quote the great man 'Science is like sex: sometimes something useful comes out, but that is not the reason we are doing it.'

Barley125 karma

Instead of the scientific method I think it would be better to go into the philosophy of science. Talk about objectivity and falsification, the concepts on which the scientific method is based. Otherwise people will think they know more than they do.

jamie_samson3 karma

I think the philosophy of science and the process fall under the same heading. I have recorded a podcast on the philosophy here if you're interested:

Cookietina24 karma

If you had all the money in the world to advance your particular field of science, what would yoU choose to do?

jamie_samson29 karma

Ooh that is another fantastic question. To give you a bit of background, my field is in animal behaviour, more precisely, animal cognition and learning. What is missing in our field (we are slowly getting there) are batteries of tests (a number of tests) on cognitive capabilities (such as problem solving, responses to novel stimuli) for a whole range of species from apes to ants. Currently, due to our study biases towards groups of species such as primates and corvids (crows, ravens etc), we base our understanding of animal cognition on this. However, new studies such as those on bees (, are showing us that 'clever' behaviours, that we previously assumed were confined to a handful of species are now more widespread than we first thought.

The endless pot of money you teased me with would fill as much of the unknown as possible so we can determine how widespread seemingly complex cognitive behaviours are in the animal kingdom.

guylostintheuniverse7 karma

i find it particularly strange that we, humans, didn't think that other animals are 'clever' I mean they all have brains, they all work in their communities, they all live their lives and they all have free will too. Why would we assume them to be any less.

fringleydingley20 karma

Cows never built a battleship

guylostintheuniverse16 karma

Neither have I and (I suppose) neither have you. Does this mean we are only as smart as cows?

jamie_samson24 karma

Having worked on a number of animals and been outsmarted by a lot of them, I am not in the 'all non-human animals are not clever' camp

Cookietina5 karma

Good response. Has anything in Science ever shocked you?

jamie_samson10 karma

Bees pulling a string to solve a problem!

parasocks2 karma

He would buy more parentheses

jamie_samson2 karma

Very 'good'

Scodi110 karma

What work have you done where the results have surprised you?

jamie_samson12 karma

When you work with wild animals, you are always finding out things are surprise you!

One such example is that the squirrels I was studying (the Cape ground squirrel, endemic to Southern Africa) use cues from the sun to hide and relocate food ( The squirrels appear to use the sun as a heading guide, moving at a slight angle to it when hiding food. They then reuse this information when they recover food.

Whats more is that they can use the sun in a partially flexible way, recovering food more quickly when there are more potential thieves around!

sunnydownsouth7 karma

Hey, I saw in one of the comments that you're studying Cape ground squirrels... Well guess what? I live in SA and where I live we are absolutely swarmed with ground squirrels!

So my question: where did these squirrels come from and why the sudden population boom? Up until about 3 years ago I had never seen one, now I can't go anywhere on our farm without seeing them.

jamie_samson10 karma

Hmm that is an interesting question. I worked in the Northern Cape and due to the many years of bad rainfall (not this year), I found that the squirrels tended to disperse a lot. So perhaps the squirrels on your farm have dispersed there from local areas which are food poor

chanley0127 karma

What has been the most fun and interesting animal to work with during your studies, and what sort of practical applications can we derive from our studies of animal behaviors?

jamie_samson10 karma

Definitely the Cape ground squirrel. They are funny, cute and super inquisitive! There are so many applications of animal behaviour that we use in our everyday lives. I will give you two very different examples.

  1. Plane boarding: The collective movement of ants has been studied to airlines board passengers more efficiently on to planes.
  2. Conservation: The study of behaviour allows us to conserve species more efficiently. For example the study of ranging behaviour of an animal will have implications for the size of the reserves we need to build to conserve them.

maskedmarksman6 karma

How can a person say "I Dont know" to a superior without the statement sounding as a failure? I feel many times at work, school, or life not knowing an answer is looked down on, but if you are trained to affirm you know everything rather looking to learn something you will never grow.

jamie_samson2 karma

"I know that I know nothing". Is a quote stated by Plato in reference to something his teacher Aristotle is meant to have quipped. Aristotle knew there was plenty to learn about the universe and was not at all ignorant of his own failings. Aristotle was a wonderful philosopher, so I hope this provides some good ammo.

darkages116 karma

What was your greatest struggle throughout your scientific career?

jamie_samson7 karma

Impostor syndrome is common amongst young scientists, belief that you are not good enough despite your accomplishments

darkages112 karma

What got you through Imposter Syndrome?

jamie_samson2 karma

You never really get over impostor syndrome, but you can reduce its effects. One thing I have stopped doing is comparing myself to others as this is a key driver of this negative behaviour

darkages111 karma

Thats interesting. So now is it more of of a side thing now or do you still struggle with it day to day?

jamie_samson2 karma

I don't struggle with it day to day, but I know colleagues that do. The ones that do tend to constantly compare themselves to peers

machu916 karma

How do you make science your job?

jamie_samson3 karma

There is no real easy answer to that. It depends entirely on what branch of science you want to go in to. If you let me know what branch of science interests you I can answer your question better

machu911 karma

I dunno, I always loved chemistry in school.

jamie_samson4 karma

With chemistry there are a number of routes you can go down. You do not need to do straight chemistry at University either, you can specialise in subjects such as forensic chemistry.

After university, chemistry graduates can find themselves working in the chemical, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries and in areas such as forensics, environmental protection and healthcare.

Doing more applied science such as chemistry will offer you more opportunities for permanent jobs compared to some other areas of science.

box995 karma

What are the latest discoveries about about dog or cat cognition?

jamie_samson6 karma

I have a friend who is a researcher on dog cognition. She directed me to the Facebook page of the institute she works at that regularly showcases work they have done and that of other institutes on dog (and cat) cognition:

marlow415 karma

What's the one thing you think laypeople should understand about science and why is it dimensional analysis?

jamie_samson4 karma

Science gives us the most probable answer given the available data. Science is not a static pursuit, but a dynamic one, changing with the evidence

vault20085 karma

Would you become immortal if you could?

jamie_samson8 karma

Absolutely not. You have one life, so live it and live it well

samwise09124 karma

On a personal level, what are a few of your favorite films?

jamie_samson7 karma

Four Lions, Shawshank Redemption, The Goonies...what a strange mix

HypnoDave3 karma

Brexit, Trump, UK General did the pollsters get it so wrong? Is it sample size? Incorrect data analysis? In the past they have been pretty accurate indicators as to a result...what changed?

jamie_samson7 karma

This is a great question and something which I can attempt to tackle from a scientific perspective. First of all, I am not a polling expert or pretend to be, and so I can only hazard a guess on why the polls were so wrong. Below is only my opinion on the topic and should be treated so!

Results were probably pretty accurate in the past due to the comparative simplicity in defining demographics. As information in the past has been less freely available than we find now, you would expect there to be conformity in how groups of people think. So for example working class people in a rural northern town would have had similar ideals. However, now days, due to the huge abundances of information we are exposed to, these blocks of demographics are broken down, working class people in the same town might now have very different political ideologies, sculpted by the information they are exposed to. Polling agencies may have constructed these polls based on representative sample sizes from classical demographics without considering how these demographics have changed over the years.

To increase accuracy of further polls, polling agencies should run pilot studies to determine a good model for a robust representative sample (that is samples of people from a variety of socio-political demographics).

Turd_King3 karma

The idea of thinking like a scientist is something that I've been wondering about for a while.

Would you say there is an umbrella term for someone who puts the advancement of science for the good of all mankind in front of petty disputes and world affairs?

jamie_samson2 karma

A progressive thinker?

vault20083 karma

How long do you think Earth will last?

jamie_samson5 karma

This is not my area of expertise, but I will give you the most hopeful answer that has been provided by science! 5 billion years from now (life on earth has lasted at least 3.5 billions years), the sun will slowly transform in to a red giant through the process of stellar evolution. This expansion will engulf earth and life as we know it. So I would not worry too much!

huskallion3 karma

I assume being a scientist involves asking the right questions. Is there a specific mind set that you start with before you approach questioning an idea or experiment?

jamie_samson3 karma

Science is more about curiosity than asking the right questions. When I approach a topic (usually something quite complex), I'll make an unbiased prediction of what I think might be occurring and then look at the evidence for and against my prediction.

artfixed2 karma

Another question:

Which scientific outlets do you follow?

jamie_samson2 karma

I have found a great tool is Apple News. I have various filters on it, so that in the morning over coffee I can catch up on all the science news.

Sciencedaily is also a very good resource

big_tuna_142 karma

If you could study one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?

jamie_samson5 karma

Humans! I love behavioural economics, specifically the study of human irrationality

dave-n-knight2 karma

What is your favorite animal to research?

jamie_samson3 karma

The Cape ground squirrel

ValleyNet2 karma

Do you think politicians should think more like scientists?

jamie_samson2 karma

I think politicians should think more critically. A subset of critical thinking, scientific thinking would be an added bonus. I would also like to see more scientists making the leap in to politics as they would be of great worth on debates about the environment or stem cell research for examples

kendragon2 karma

Will this be available as an audio book?

jamie_samson2 karma

If you follow @forloveofsci I will update people on the book developments. I have no current plans to record an audio book, but I hope it will happen in the near future

littlebirddown2 karma

Hi Dr. Samson,

What do you think scientists can do better to bridge the widening gap between how they perceive their work/purpose/findings and the perceptions of the non-science public?

Your website isn't loading for me right now so I can't read the full description of your upcoming book, but I'm guessing from the title that you're writing it largely for a general (non-science) audience and I think that's fantastic!

jamie_samson2 karma

I'm sorry the website is not loading (I can't see any problems)!

I think the main thing that needs to be addressed is the presentation of science by the mainstream media. This is partly due to the media misinterpreting the findings, but also the reluctance of some scientists to engage with certain media outlets.

canadevil2 karma

Who is your favorite popular/celebrity scientist e.g Bill Nye, Carl sagan ect. ect.

Are there any popular/celebrity scientists or people that call themselves scientists that you really disagree with and we should be wary of?

jamie_samson3 karma

Neil Degrasse Tyson is my favourite because he does not force a belief on people, more gives peoples the tools to discover the answers by themselves.

I think you should be more weary of pseudoscientists, non-scientists who try to promote material that appears to be science on the surface but is not

PraetorianPotato2 karma

What is your view on the interplay between science,(the study of the universe), and religion,(Atheism/theism/etc)?

jamie_samson3 karma

I think there should be a separation of science and religion as they are two very different schools of thought. However, I still think religion should be taught in schools. I was lucky to be brought up in a very multicultural area where I studied religion at school and this has made me more tolerate and sensitive to other peoples beliefs.

gmwdim2 karma

Which topics in science do you wish you understood better but for various reasons struggle with?

jamie_samson3 karma


UnpreparedGuesser2 karma

From what I have understood of those who think the Earth is flat, all their ideology centers on the unreliability of, not the scientific method itself, but on the veridity of most scientists, since their work (and so their salaries) are based upon results. How would you taclke this lack of trust?

jamie_samson10 karma

This is an interesting one. I think it is very hard to build up trust with people who have very extremist beliefs. People such as this have a 'moving the goal posts' mentality, whereby what ever evidence is presented to them, their ideas of sufficient evidence shift. The way to build up trust is to help them understand the science rather than chastise their beliefs, which can ultimately lead to the furthering of their ideals.

Novaraa2 karma

what would you say is something anybody could do to instantly make them that much closer to thinking like a scientist? and what is a major mistake people make in the science field that makes them bad scientists?

jamie_samson2 karma

I would say that science thinking doesn't reduce the wonder and awe of existence. I think some people look at scientific thinking and assume it is a discipline devoid of mystery. Showing people that scientific thinking not only allows you to observe the mysteries of reality, but also explore them.

I think planning is a key mistake all scientists make at first. I have been guilty of it in the past. Now when I do experiments I refine and clearly define my hypotheses and plan how I am going to test them down to every little detail. This makes the proceeding stages such as analysis and interpretation a lot easier!

artfixed2 karma

I hope that for your next book you'll have preorder available during the AMA.

My question:

What do you think about bad/biased science being propagated by corporations and their "scientists"?

If a medical doctor or a lawyer abused their authority they'd face consequences but this doesn't seem to be the case for "science" funded by corporations? Is there something that can be done about that?

jamie_samson5 karma

Apologies. I am a first time author who is self-publishing and doing everything myself!

The scientific community constantly chastises and condemns bad/biased science. Even if science passes peer review, post-publishing the science can be attacked and the paper retracted. This oversight is often done away from public view and so public understanding of these controls are limited. You can find a good resource here on exposing bad science:

I think this is an issue across the board and something which is hard to overcome as big corporations have a lot of influence and sway, not only in science but also politics.

ClassicPervert1 karma

What can't you apply the scientific method to?

jamie_samson1 karma

I would say that you have to pick and choose your battles. Employ this robust type of thinking when examining important questions and not when choosing ice cream

shinigamisid1 karma

I am very bad at solving problems that require clever ideas. How can I change my thinking so that I can improve this?

jamie_samson1 karma

Does a problem always require a clever idea to solve? I was taught the principle of Occam's razor ('s_razor). The simplest solution is more often the right one. Remove yourself from the problem, break it down and try to find the simplest solution.

chillzbain1 karma

2 things, 1 is a question, why animals and not humans? We have the same last name, first time I see that on Reddit.

jamie_samson1 karma

And without a p?

Humans are animals of course. I prefer working with animals because they are easier to work with. What I mean by that is that even doing simple behavioural experiments with humans can quickly become quite complex due to our high intelligence.

The_Godlike_Zeus1 karma

Is critical thinking mostly nature or mostly nurture?

jamie_samson1 karma

A bit of both! But a tad more nurture

DarkPatriarchy1 karma

how do we remove postmodernist nonsense from academia?

jamie_samson2 karma

By scientists writing books like book is aimed at everyone trying to enthral them in science. I have also tried to write it in a very laid back way so that the content is easily digestible! Although a lot of popular-science books are amazing and wonderful from my point of view, they do not do too well at breaching the gap between scientists and non-scientists.

stockyscholar1 karma

I'm a BME undergrad right now but my love for biology and biochemistry is coming back to the forefront. Should I get a phD in natural science?

jamie_samson1 karma

A PhD is something that is a very stressful and taxing venture. If it is something you are very passionate about then I would recommend it.

Eat_The_Burger1 karma

What are your thoughts on the March for Science?

jamie_samson1 karma

I think unless it gets enough exposure and support from non-scientists, it will not have a huge impact. However, I feel so impassioned by the level of spirit scientists are currently showing.

fluffycat7081 karma

What path led you towards working in the study of animal cognition and learning? What's a recent development or finding in your field that you find most fascinating?

jamie_samson2 karma

I have always been interested in studying animals from a young age. When I finished a postgraduate degree I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful scientist who did a lot of work on teaching, culture and other aspects of cognition in animals.

I think the most recent developments that have fascinated me have been research in to non-classical animals such as bees that have been displaying some really complex problem solving and learning behaviours