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Old 10-21-2014, 03:36 PM
 
Location: Colorado
9,889 posts, read 6,340,959 times
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This came up in another forum, where it is less relevant, so I'm bringing my train of thought here where it makes more sense.

I am concerned with the state of "science," especially in the internet age. It seems to me that anyone talking about anything can find a "scientific study" to back up whatever position they wish to have. When I state that my observations have indicated something different, people get upset that anecdotes do not trump large sample sizes, peer review, published journals, etc. The problem I have is that I believe that funding of "studies" tends to come from organizations that have a specific answer they want validated with "data." Which is bias. And taints the results. If the study indicates the opposite, it often won't ever see the light of day.

Furthermore, so, so often we see "studies" that are later disproven, debates in the scientific community, and so forth, which seems to indicate to me that on many topics there isn't a scientific consensus. Some matters are not settled yet, but people speak as though they are.

The example I gave (and I don't want to discuss this topic itself, I'm just using it as an EXAMPLE) is pot. For years, I think, science was only acceptable if it backed up the assertion that MJ is bad. Universally bad. Period. Prohibitionist views were the only acceptable ones to the large orgs allowing and/or funding the "science." Having observed it closely, as a user many years ago and as someone very close to many users, I have my own opinions. Not that it's universally harmless, but that some of the harms are overstated and others not properly understood, and there isn't enough real research on possible benefits that may exist for some people.

An "n of one" study is one that focuses on a specific subject for research. I read an article in a scientific magazine recently about this. It could be said that I have done such a study on my husband...I've seen him sober, as a habitual pot smoker, and as a habitual drinker of alcohol. I've monitored him for over 17 years. Unlike a person who says, "All pot smokers I've known are lazy" (thereby opening up the question of chicken and egg: which came first?) I can say that I have observed his habits and behaviors under many conditions and can set aside elements that are simply him. I think that my anecdotal observations are valid.

Then take, say, the ghost hunter people. I neither believe nor disbelieve, I refuse to have a yea or nay opinion on ghosts. But you have these groups out there gathering "data" in supposedly scientific ways...does this mean that we can post their findings as "proof" if we believe in them? Is it fair of me to say that I will form an opinion when I observe phenomena with my own senses, and not before? In a way, that is disregarding their "science" in favor of my own anecdotal observation.

I'm also very skeptical of any headline that says "Studies show that X may increase Y by up to Z%!" The words "may" and "up to" are huge red flags to me that there's no real scientific proof backing it up, merely corrolations and supposition.

So I want to ask for opinions on the state of SCIENCE. How skeptical are you? Do you think that there is a lot of good unbiased work going on in the "scientific community?" Do you believe studies regularly? Do you have concerns about their sources or funding? How much trust in modern science do you have?
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Old 10-22-2014, 07:56 AM
 
Location: Westwood, MA
3,509 posts, read 4,384,765 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonic_Spork View Post

I'm also very skeptical of any headline that says "Studies show that X may increase Y by up to Z%!" The words "may" and "up to" are huge red flags to me that there's no real scientific proof backing it up, merely corrolations and supposition.

So I want to ask for opinions on the state of SCIENCE. How skeptical are you? Do you think that there is a lot of good unbiased work going on in the "scientific community?" Do you believe studies regularly? Do you have concerns about their sources or funding? How much trust in modern science do you have?
Science is supposed to be messy, especially at the bleeding edge. Math is much cleaner--you make assumptions, you logically follow through those assumptions, and you reach a conclusion. Something is either true, false, unprovable, or not yet proved.

With science, you also make many assumptions and try to remove small effects from a background you don't always entirely control. The more you can control and vary, the more trust you have in the results. Physics experiments lend themselves to this complete control, whereas the effect of certain drugs on humans are nearly impossible to have more than a small amount of experimental control. That's why we're fairly confident about, say, the top quark mass, but less sure of the long-term effects of chemicals on people. This is especially true on the healthfulness of certain foods.

Many critics of science use this uncertainty--with which scientists should be forthcoming--as a critique of science. It's the hallmark of science, though. Science shouldn't try to enforce truth, only to clarify and understand it. Over decades or even centuries of study, even small effects can be teased out from messy data. It's important that society as a whole and the scientific community remains vigilant and skeptical. A good rule of thumb to use is:
The more radical the claim is, the more compelling the proof needs to be
Much of what is currently accepted in the scientific community wasn't originally accepted, but over the centuries enough proof has been generated that it becomes truth. Much of what we currently believe is likely to be changed (either in whole or in small part) by new evidence. If you want certainty, look to math. If you want absolute certainty, even math fails there, so look to religion.
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Old 10-22-2014, 04:18 PM
 
Location: Colorado
9,889 posts, read 6,340,959 times
Reputation: 17829
I'm an accounting nerd, so maybe that's why I become so cynical with non-mathematical sciences.

I think that the main problem I often have is that many laypersons take uncertain science, that does not yet have a definitive answer, and attempt to use it to "prove" a position that they have. I can appreciate the corroboration but don't consider it absolute proof. Many people are also very uncomfortable admitting that they (we) don't KNOW the answer to a question. I am willing to discuss things that I think, believe, or have observed, but I don't like standing there acting as though a thing has absolute proof when it might not. A promising study does not absolute proof make. And until such time as absolute proof exists, all information is data, unless it is possibly or likely misinformation, and this includes anecdotal information.

I am absolutely not interested in religion, although I do have my own sort of faith.

Thank you for your thoughts on the matter.
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Old 10-22-2014, 06:31 PM
 
1,152 posts, read 962,893 times
Reputation: 910
A lot of what you describe is not necessarily unhealthy in the practice of science. The problem you see is not the practice of science, it is the use of science as a justification for an interest groups public policy position. As usual, politics is the root of the evil you see
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Old 10-22-2014, 06:39 PM
 
Location: Pueblo - Colorado's Second City
12,105 posts, read 20,401,913 times
Reputation: 4143
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonic_Spork View Post
This came up in another forum, where it is less relevant, so I'm bringing my train of thought here where it makes more sense.

I am concerned with the state of "science," especially in the internet age. It seems to me that anyone talking about anything can find a "scientific study" to back up whatever position they wish to have. When I state that my observations have indicated something different, people get upset that anecdotes do not trump large sample sizes, peer review, published journals, etc. The problem I have is that I believe that funding of "studies" tends to come from organizations that have a specific answer they want validated with "data." Which is bias. And taints the results. If the study indicates the opposite, it often won't ever see the light of day.

Furthermore, so, so often we see "studies" that are later disproven, debates in the scientific community, and so forth, which seems to indicate to me that on many topics there isn't a scientific consensus. Some matters are not settled yet, but people speak as though they are.

The example I gave (and I don't want to discuss this topic itself, I'm just using it as an EXAMPLE) is pot. For years, I think, science was only acceptable if it backed up the assertion that MJ is bad. Universally bad. Period. Prohibitionist views were the only acceptable ones to the large orgs allowing and/or funding the "science." Having observed it closely, as a user many years ago and as someone very close to many users, I have my own opinions. Not that it's universally harmless, but that some of the harms are overstated and others not properly understood, and there isn't enough real research on possible benefits that may exist for some people.

An "n of one" study is one that focuses on a specific subject for research. I read an article in a scientific magazine recently about this. It could be said that I have done such a study on my husband...I've seen him sober, as a habitual pot smoker, and as a habitual drinker of alcohol. I've monitored him for over 17 years. Unlike a person who says, "All pot smokers I've known are lazy" (thereby opening up the question of chicken and egg: which came first?) I can say that I have observed his habits and behaviors under many conditions and can set aside elements that are simply him. I think that my anecdotal observations are valid.

Then take, say, the ghost hunter people. I neither believe nor disbelieve, I refuse to have a yea or nay opinion on ghosts. But you have these groups out there gathering "data" in supposedly scientific ways...does this mean that we can post their findings as "proof" if we believe in them? Is it fair of me to say that I will form an opinion when I observe phenomena with my own senses, and not before? In a way, that is disregarding their "science" in favor of my own anecdotal observation.

I'm also very skeptical of any headline that says "Studies show that X may increase Y by up to Z%!" The words "may" and "up to" are huge red flags to me that there's no real scientific proof backing it up, merely corrolations and supposition.

So I want to ask for opinions on the state of SCIENCE. How skeptical are you? Do you think that there is a lot of good unbiased work going on in the "scientific community?" Do you believe studies regularly? Do you have concerns about their sources or funding? How much trust in modern science do you have?
Science is better today then anytime in history as we are advancing faster and faster.
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Old 10-22-2014, 09:51 PM
 
Location: Somewhere in northern Alabama
16,916 posts, read 51,541,974 times
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I think that a lot of folks never had an actual science lab in high school, but took the nice neat information in books as being gospel. A few times trying to match the perfect graphs charting chemistry reaction temperatures can quickly disabuse a person of the exactitude of book science. Observer effects and placebo results can also skew results. Science is a tool at best. It makes a poor religion. Throw in the distortions of media and those with agendas and weird claims are common.
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Old 11-18-2014, 05:11 PM
 
687 posts, read 433,429 times
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Not a new topic, but one that should be discussed regularly by both scientists and laypersons.

I came to many of those conclusions after my first few science classes in college. I remember in my second chemistry class, we were discussing orbital theory. Orbital theories are a mess. Not one of the prevailing theories completely explains the behavior of electrons. The sort-of consensus is that the truth might lie somewhere between, where some new theory may yet to be discovered. Or rather, each theory comes from a different set of assumptions, and can only be described within the framework of those assumptions; which naturally leads to an incomplete truth that is not representative of all cases.

But in this class, the professor said, "We don't know precisely what an orbital looks like. Orbitals themselves are more of a concept than a fact. It is a guess at where the electrons are." And this severely disturbed about half the students in the class, and they voiced their dismay that scientists didn't know something for sure, but it was being taught anyway. And the professor says, "Welcome to science."

It is a shame that such a fact is often either dismissed as being inconsequential (science is the most approximate truth, infallible, therefore it's the only truth I need), or a reason to disregard science completely (you don't know? Well why should I listen to you at all?).

Another thing worth considering is the abhorrence for bias. There is nothing wrong with bias as long as it is acknowledged and understood. Everything has bias, no matter how hard you try to weed it out, because we're humans with limited perceptions. Denying it will only make us more blind to it.

It's irritating to me when a book gets dumped on in scientific literature or even popular science because "it has bias". It happens a lot. One example of that was the journalism piece about science ethics called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". An excellent book, and the bias was intentional and honest... and for a book about science ethics, bias is an extremely important topic because her point was to humanize someone that was de-humanized. But I had several of my peers and seasoned scientists/professors dismiss it because she didn't remain objective about her subject. They didn't get it at all. One professor of mine pointed out how silly it was that Henrietta's family marveled and fawned over HeLa cells when they were allowed to see them in a lab. "They're just cells," he said. It was really surprising to me that he didn't understand. But that is what years and years of glorifying objectivity will get you, in my opinion. To me, there is a balance. You want to be aware, and consider many sides of a coin, even if you can only see one face at a time. The omnipresent view is not attainable for humans (or if it is, we're certainly not there yet... maybe consult a Yogi? ).

Quote:
It seems to me that anyone talking about anything can find a "scientific study" to back up whatever position they wish to have.
This is an awesome thing to bring up. I've noticed myself behaving this way even! If I've got a hypothesis, I'll research it, and then find tons of evidence to support it. Also, some that rejects it. The natural tendency is to ignore the stuff that rejects it, and take the evidence for it as being valid. Always got to be on guard for that!

Last edited by Basilide; 11-18-2014 at 05:21 PM..
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Old 11-18-2014, 05:30 PM
 
Location: Somewhere in northern Alabama
16,916 posts, read 51,541,974 times
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He-la cells are strictly speaking not the cells of Henrietta Lacks, but cells modified by the cancer she had. The book was a bit of a ramble and exploration of culture and time using He-la cells as the hook. The contamination and mis-labeling of various cell strains is a real problem that continues to crop up. As a book it was a good example of a diffuse treatment of subject matter.

On electron "orbits," use of the word was ok in the original crude models, but perhaps should have been abandoned at some point because it is easy to infer that the electrons have rotational momentum, which they do not. Probability cloud is much closer to an accurate description. Beyond that, it pretty much gets ahead of me because the models are more mathematical than experiential.
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Old 11-18-2014, 06:09 PM
 
687 posts, read 433,429 times
Reputation: 984
Quote:
Originally Posted by harry chickpea View Post
He-la cells are strictly speaking not the cells of Henrietta Lacks, but cells modified by the cancer she had. The book was a bit of a ramble and exploration of culture and time using He-la cells as the hook. The contamination and mis-labeling of various cell strains is a real problem that continues to crop up. As a book it was a good example of a diffuse treatment of subject matter.
Diffuse? Really? I guess it would be diffuse if you think the only important topic the author brought up was the contamination of HeLa cell lines. That's grossly shallow, though.

Thanks for being a great example of the type of weird dismissal I hear for this book.
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Old 11-18-2014, 06:28 PM
 
128 posts, read 95,441 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonic_Spork View Post
So I want to ask for opinions on the state of SCIENCE. How skeptical are you? Do you think that there is a lot of good unbiased work going on in the "scientific community?" Do you believe studies regularly? Do you have concerns about their sources or funding? How much trust in modern science do you have?
Are there supposed peer-reviewed studies that are influenced by the parties that fund them, with the results being skewed in favor of the intended results? Absolutely. Should you be skeptical of all scientific studies and seek to find areas where data is biased or flawed? Absolutely.

Do we need to fall victim to the logical fallacy of conspiracy thinking? Absolutely not.

You should critically examine all articles and studies. That is science in itself.

You keep referring to "science" as if it's an entity, but it is not. Science is a method, and the best we have for removing bias and determining if we're fooling ourselves when seeking the answers to our questions.

You seem conflicted, but you're actually on the right track...keep thinking critically. If the data is weak or unconvincing, accept the null hypothesis.
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