The Bottom Line On Science

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on December 20, 2010

Once a week, has a feature called Science Saturday. Some of the best feature John Horgan and George Johnson. They are pals, and say “oh really” a lot. This past week they discussed the business of scientific research, how big money can corrupt the findings. It makes cents sense … when you get government grants to fund your research, it is in your best interests to get the results the government wants. Or, if your employer stands to make billions of dollars from selling a new drug, you want to “prove” that the drug works.

Perhaps it is a semantic issue. People often say prove, when what they should say is indicate. Prove is a murky legalistic concept, full of smoke and mirrors. Indicate is what the numbers on the screen say.

John got mixed up in a controversy about this recently. While discussing this, he quoted an scientific journal to about Why Most Published Research Findings Are False . This caught PG’s ear, and made him put down his photo editing, and make a comment. ( Those pictures from the War between the States have waited 145 years. A few more minutes is not going to hurt.) This comment resulted.

chamblee54 wrote on 12/18/2010 at 02:10 PM Re: Science Saturday: Discovery and Invention (John Horgan & George Johnson) John makes a bold statement .
Further research comes to the same conclusion.

It seems as if an author, writing behind a paywall , wrote about corruption of the scientific method. At the end, he wrote
“Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.” ( John says it here. )
In a touch of irony, George begins the discussion by recalling a visit to California, and a report on the medical marijuana scene. Marijuana is a good example of the government deciding the results, and then commissioning a study to “prove” what had already been decided. If your lab depends on Uncle Sugar for funding, then your study is going to show that Reefer makes you turn purple.

When PG was in tenth grade, he had a geometry teacher. She had participated in LSD experiments (and said a shot of whiskey would do more for you.) Basic geometry is dependent on proofs, or a series of statements that show a theorem to be true. (There is a difference between a theory and a hypothesis.) A foundation concept of geometry is the Pythagorean theorem. This teacher said it was possible to disprove the Pythagorean theorem.

A couple of years later, PG grew shoulder length hair, and went to visit his uncle. The relative was known for being to the right of Herbert Hoover, and was not amused by PG’s fashion statement.
The uncle got into the firewater, and would say, over and over,
“What are you trying to proooove with your long hair?”

3 Responses

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  1. Morgan K Freeberg said, on December 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Good observations here. Someday we must come up with a name for this practice of figuring out what you want the “study” to say and then conjuring up (or filtering through) the selected evidence that “proves” it. I am tentatively blaming Rachel Carson for getting this lucrative trend started.

    I have noticed another disquieting pattern dealing not so much with publication, but with consensus. Science seems to be restructuring itself for susceptibility to a sort of “domino effect” — if enough members in good standing in the scientific community get suckered by something, the entire community can then be so suckered. Phrases like “broadly accepted,” “widely accepted,” “peer review” and “consensus” seem to be popping up with increasing frequency as modern scientific method is explained, such that the outcome is less determined by experimentation and more determined by some social hierarchy within a defined membership. Seems to be taking on a look & feel resembling the House of Lords in Great Britain, circa 1750-1850 or so.

    Argumentum ad Authoritarian is a recognized logical fallacy. For now. I’m afraid in the years ahead it may be stricken from the list of fallacies, as more and more “valid” arguments seem to depend on it. “Are you disagreeing with so-and-so, he’s on record and he won a Nobel prize,” etc.

  2. […] say, over and over, “What are you trying to proooove with your long hair?” This is a repost. Bloggingheads TV is having money problems, and is converting into a non profit enterprise. The […]

  3. […] with your long hair?” Spell check suggestions for proooove: ovenproof, groove. This is a repost. Bloggingheads TV is having money problems, and is converting into a non profit enterprise. The […]

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