Because theories can never be proven true, there is always a level of uncertainty when it comes to reporting scientific results. This can drive journalists and the public crazy, especially when the data supports two widely differing theories. The news media likes to deal in certainty and the public wants truth, yet even the best scientists cannot categorically state that their theories are true. However, unscrupulous scientists who work for vested interests can often obfuscate an issue by presenting data that supports the views of the highest bidder.
The situation worsens when we ask scientists to predict the future based upon the results of their experiments, hypotheses, and theories. Go back over the scientific method and ask yourself, what part of would lead you to believe that a scientist would be able to extrapolate his findings to predict an earthquake in Los Angeles, the rise in sea level over the next 20 years due to global warming, or the chance of life on Mars? Scientists are trained observers and spend their careers building explanations of phenomena based upon the results of their experiments. They produce theories that explain past results and, at best, allow educated guesses to be made about future events. Scientists are not soothsayers or prognosticators, yet we often expect them to be and are disappointed when they waffle about the timeframe or the scope of an impending disaster or new discovery
All of which brings us back to our beloved automobiles. There is ample evidence that the profligate overuse of fossil fuels is not only depleting the amount of petroleum in the world, but also gradually changing the planet's climate. Scientists have developed numerous theories about how fossil fuels are changing our society and world, and hypotheses that could support those theories, if they could be tested. Given the scale of the questions we need to ask, there is really no good way to perform an experiment on the entire planet to test any of these hypotheses in scientifically sound ways. Therefore, when pressed, scientists speak in generalities and probabilities, and the public is left scratching its head, wondering what to believe.
If no theory is 100 percent reliable and we can't be certain that any prediction will come true, should we discount science and continue along a business-as-usual path? We could do that and hope that the most dire consequences never occur, but that wouldn't be responsible. As a society we need to rationally assess risks and act to mitigate the consequences of our actions or inactions. As car enthusiasts we need to be responsible too, understanding how the choices we make in what we buy, what we recommend others buy, and the ways we use our cars will affect others and our own automotive future.