Joined: Feb. 2006
Since science is really a collaborative exercise now, people don't realize that the days of the true science "rock star" like Darwin, Einstein, etc are over. Einstein was so brilliant that his ideas took decades to verify, as the technology had to catch up. There is so much out there now, no one can know it all. However, in their own area of expertise, there are lots of "experts" out there. We must trust that they can pass judgment on new ideas or new evidence for us. The importance of journals and peer review is greater than ever, but the public has no idea what peer review is.
I guess I really came to understand this on PT a couple of years ago. A radiograph of a fossil was posted, and various people were commenting on its traits. What became obvious is that these folks had worked with many, many fossils and could pick out details that were either reptilian or mammalian. Laypeople like me could not. I get angry when a hominid fossil is announced and creationists say "looks like an ape to me!" when they have no experience whatever in fossils. But the average citizen has no idea that people study things like this throughout their careers, and that mileage and experience really do count.
Recently a local paper published a story about the decline of amphibians in the area. The comments the website received indicated that no one even had an idea how scientists collected the information that showed the decline. Because they had "seen" a frog yesterday meant that they must be doing fine (no AGW therefore) so they clearly had no idea about the difference between anecdote and empirical data.