There is a maxim that the man with two watches never knows what time it is. The funny thing about this is that the man with one watch certainly doesn’t know any better than the man with two, he just thinks he knows what he does not. The man with two watches can maintain no such illusion of certainty because he has two watches with two (possibly ever so slightly) different times. He has been forced to recognize the existence of error. Socrates would be proud.
Any decent scientific work will spend a fair bit of time devoted to thinking about where the error is in the empirical work and what can be done about it. Many kinds of error can actually be measured. Thus we get opinion polls with +/- 3 percentage points attached to them.** This number reflects a certain kind of error in polls and that error can be measured sufficiently well to give one the +/- 3 points calculation.
What is frightening is when one sets academics or anyone loose to start offering theories which cannot be pinned down by any data. These are people with one watch. They have a theory; there is either no attempt to confront the theory with data or there is no ability to do so. The proffered attempts to prove the theory are laughably bad in their inability to actually prove or disprove anything. So instead of recognizing that the theory is unsupported, the theory becomes the One True Way because it is unrefuted.
In Book of Mormon studies, one sees this with people betting their souls on the error-ridden claims stemming from archaeological digs or literary analyses. Or people being convinced that Marxism, Feminism, Post-Modernism (whatever that means), Neoclassical economic theory, evolutionary origins to life, or whatever are perfectly correct and so judging the gospel or the world through that lens. It is fine to use these theories to think about things. But one should always end the discussion with a disclaimer like one gets in the opinion polls, “what I believe is true with a 90% chance, +/-90%.” If one doesn’t actually know what the chance is that what you are saying is correct, watch out! You’ve only got one watch.
This post is mostly true. In fact, I’d say that I am 80% sure that it is at least 75% correct.
** Opinion poll disclaimers actually represent an interval that is right nineteen times out of twenty. Thus the real disclaimer should be: “There is a 95% chance that the true number is within 3 percentage points of the number reported here”.