As human beings we are constantly searching for answers. This curiosity, this drive for truth, can be a double edged sword. Curiosity compels us to lifelong learning, contemplation, and experimentation. It drives us to discover new findings, invent new technology, and create beautiful art. However the drive to know can also attract us to people who appear confident in their answers, even when the evidence is lacking.
Consider blinking. In general, people who lie or are stretching the truth blink more. Furthermore, we have developed a way to sense that people who blink at a rapid pace are less trust worthy. It has been proposed that blink rate in the presidential debates can historically be used, with high accuracy, to predict the winner of the election. The candidate that blinks at a lower rate appears more honest. This technique has also been mastered by many cult leaders. One of the unifying features of many cult leaders, those with little to no evidence to support their beliefs, is an abnormally slow blink rate. By maintaining unbroken, unblinking eye contact with their followers, they are able to give the illusion of honesty and answers even when evidence is lacking.
The appearance of being confident and having answers is not necessarily bad; but is absolutely deceiving when it is merely a guise for ignorance. Although as scientists, we hope that we are above the traps of the con artist, perhaps we are not as isolated as we hope. We are more interested in how well a scientist gives a talk than the quality of their data and the rigor and repeatability of their experiments. We impressed with pedigree, position, and power. If the proposed beauty of science is objectivity, we must work hard to reject these biases and pursue scientific truth through rigorous scrutiny and meticulous production of data. The single, constant difference between a cult leader and a scientist must be objective evidence. Many scientists and cult leaders sincerely believe the ideas which they are proffering. Many scientists and cult leaders have large followings with positions and power denoting someone in whom people trust. However scientists must be marked by a constant reliance on data, an eagerness to be proven wrong, and a utilization of methods that can be replicated anywhere on the globe. These are the scientists, those hungry for truth and not prestige, that will change the way the world views itself. When we value data over delivery, insightful questions over incorrect answers, and objective evidence above overconfidence, then we will have a truly scientific community.