Knowledge is greater than common sense

Common sense - sometimes not a good advisor

“That's common sense!” Is what you often hear when it comes to the question of whether you can trust an assertion. We have to ask ourselves: Is common sense really enough as a guide and basis for decision-making in our modern, complicated world?

The answer is yes and no: because sometimes you can safely rely on your common sense, but sometimes it is rather unhealthy.

An example: Last week, the private American weather service AccuWeather announced that Europe was threatened by major heat waves and periods of drought this summer. A lot of media - including 20 Minuten - took over the news without thinking too much. It wasn't until a few days later that meteorologists and climate researchers came forward and sharply criticized the report: It was not possible to predict the weather so broadly.

Everyone could - or should - have noticed that this weather warning is nonsense. Think: How good are the weather forecasts in general? For tomorrow they apply almost one hundred percent. They are also quite good for two or three days in advance. But for a week or ten days? Here it becomes more difficult or the prognosis less accurate. You don't need a degree in meteorology to realize that a weather forecast is nonsense for months. Everyday experience would have been enough - or just common sense.

But just: Sometimes this common sense leads us completely astray. For example, when we judge the dangerousness of certain things, such as cell phone radiation. There are two false conclusions here. First: Are children more sensitive to radiation, so are they more likely to get cancer? Common sense would say yes. But the exact opposite is correct. Even if children may appear weak at first glance, they are more resistant to certain harmful influences such as radiation than adults because their organism has even more self-healing power and their cellular repair mechanisms are still very active. Older people, on the other hand, are less able to cope with such influences. Which of course does not mean that children should be exposed to more harmful influences. But it explains why most cancers do not break out until they are older.

Second: The constant exposure to radiation must have a long-term effect. After all, common sense, or rather the proverb, tells us: constant dripping wears away the stone. This analogy is simply wrong. It is true that water can erode even the hardest stone over a long period of time. But many biological processes only take place when the external influence exceeds a certain threshold value. For example, you can crack an egg and put it in the pan, which is 40 degrees warm. It's just that it never becomes a fried egg. Because the yolk curdles at a temperature of 65 degrees Celsius, the egg white at 82.5 degrees. Even if the egg lies in the 40 degree warm pan for a day or a week, nothing happens. Another example is hearing damage: everyone knows that music that is too loud can damage hearing irreversibly. But no one suffers damage even after days of listening to music, as long as they don't turn the music up too loud.

That means: Not every principally harmful influence has to result in a harmful defect as long as it remains below a certain threshold value.

In these and many other cases, common sense is of no use. What help then? You know what's coming next: physics, natural laws, science - or just facts. And sometimes it's better to consult them before judging by your common sense. For example here on higgs.

The factist

The factist looks very carefully. He keeps an overview in the jungle of scientific study results. Shows what is related. And what just doesn't work. The factist is Beat Glogger, founder and editor-in-chief of higgs. Every Tuesday as a broadcast on Radio 1 and as a video on higgs.
Show all posts
We depend on you so that we can stay free and ad-free.