Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?
February 16, 2015 8:49 AM   Subscribe

There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove in which Jack D. Ripper, an American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview—and the explanation for why he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol”
posted by josher71 (216 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably because it's reasonable to doubt science. Doubt is the heart of science.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 8:57 AM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


Doubting the process of science isn’t the heart of science.
posted by migurski at 9:03 AM on February 16, 2015 [75 favorites]


Also because science is a very vague term that ranges from meaning "empiricism" to "the consensus view of Western scientific institutions that's almost certainly mostly right" to "some new research paper published about a topic that isn't quite settled yet" to "a new research paper published by researchers paid by someone with a vested interest in the outcome"

The fact that all of these are popularly science can give many things undue distrust or undue trust.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2015 [56 favorites]


Jack D. Ripper, exemplar of the reasonable man?
posted by Segundus at 9:04 AM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Enemy of Joy: As the article says
“Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
Certainly one can doubt any particular result as a matter of science . This seems to be different. This is doubting the enterprise of science.
posted by adamrice at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline.

i'm still trying to get my head around how a sentient person could write this sentence.... it must be the flouride.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe Jack D. Ripper had a relative affected by the 1992 fluoride poisoning in Hooper Bay, Alaska. I mean, it *is* pretty close to the former USSR...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:14 AM on February 16, 2015


it is the wrongness of humanism, no one of us can escape it.
it is the importantness of what we care about.
posted by dorian at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2015


Also, pure grain alcohol contains very little methanol compared to alcohol fermented with fruit or sugar.

Mr. Ripper is not a science denier, he's just perhaps extremely risk-adverse.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:19 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


> i'm still trying to get my head around how a sentient person could write this sentence.... it must be the flouride.

Why? The next sentence reads "Like the rest of us, they’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe." Do you disagree with that?
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think some people are really anti-authority, so "folk wisdom" and the idea that vinegar or something will keep you healthier than medicine is very attractive to them. The people I know who shill essential oils and gluten-free non-gmo smoothies see themselves as brave truth tellers, fighting against "Big-Whatever." Because "they" don't want you to know.
posted by Biblio at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2015 [18 favorites]


Horseshit is still horseshit, regardless if the horse is facing left or right.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:35 AM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


Over the last year and a half, I've been reading the updates to everything we knew -- beyond a shadow of a doubt, per the scientific consensus, mind you -- about heart disease and fat, and which were good fats, and which were bad fats, and the same for cholesterol.

Everything we knew -- or rather, we were told -- was wrong. Wronger than wrong. In fact, so wrong, that the health of millions of people has been negatively impacted.

The story behind how we came to take these things as gospel (it was, after all, the consensus of scientists!) is fascinating and depressing, and ultimately a story of human fallibility and hubris.

I look at this story, and I look at the constant parallels to global climate change warming and I am gobsmacked: same damn errors, same appeal to consensus, same "it feels right" approach (of course humans impact the environment! of course fat makes you fat!), same same same.

I don't distrust science; I distrust the humans doing the science because I know how easy it is for humans to screw up, get led astray, get too wedded to one idea and not see the forest for the trees.
posted by gsh at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2015 [20 favorites]


That is what is so wonderful about the anti-vaccine sentiment now in the spotlight; public health issue politicised by anti- science from true believers of every stripe.

A pox on both houses.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2015



Over the last year and a half, I've been reading the updates to everything we knew -- beyond a shadow of a doubt, per the scientific consensus, mind you -- about heart disease and fat, and which were good fats, and which were bad fats, and the same for cholesterol.


Exactly, but the fact that, in the light of newer information, the consensus is changing, is a confirmation of the scientific method, not a refutation of it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2015 [41 favorites]


i'm still trying to get my head around how a sentient person could write this sentence.... it must be the flouride.

Science is a hard discipline, because intentional and unintentional biases are easy and rear their heads everywhere.

In Ripper's case, he was operating from a place of rational thought and game theory, which were rooted in falsehoods he would not let go of.

There have been scientists who operate from a similar (if not so extreme) place of bias or self-selection regarding their findings. It can be easier to look the other way at adverse results, particularly when research funding comes from monied pharmaceutical and agricultural interests.

Unintentional bias can come about when pre-existing expectations about the way things work are not challenged, which otherwise lead to false results. Sometimes, experiments lack adequate positive and negative controls, and so the process doesn't quite give a reliable answer. Feynman talks about this in Cargo Cult Science:

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

Being honest is as hard as being aware of all those details and testing them — sometimes harder. Science is hard work, and it demands integrity from its representatives.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I find it weird that there are hot-button issues which we seem to be required to have an opinion on even though 90% of Americans are not qualified to have a useful opinion. I'm a computer scientist. I don't require the world to have an opinion on P = NP or the use of singletons. Why should I have to have an opinion on evolutionary biology? It's not like I'm going to do anything with it.
posted by quillbreaker at 9:47 AM on February 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Over the last year and a half, I've been reading the updates to everything we knew -- beyond a shadow of a doubt, per the scientific consensus, mind you -- about heart disease and fat, and which were good fats, and which were bad fats, and the same for cholesterol...I look at this story, and I look at the constant parallels to global climate change warming and I am gobsmacked: same damn errors, same appeal to consensus, same "it feels right" approach (of course humans impact the environment! of course fat makes you fat!), same same same.

I think this itself is a biased approach, though. Why single out that one issue, which isn't even in the same field anyway, as another ostensible instance of a serious mistake? There are dozens of issues involving scientific consensus. People were wrong about the role of fats in health, for a time, but not because there was a (temporary) consensus on the issue. What "same damn errors" are you alluding to?
posted by clockzero at 9:49 AM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


The "new scientism", so richly present on Facebook and in drunken dismissal of "idiots", makes me a little sad as someone who's worked in and around "science" most of my life. "Doubting Science" is the whole idea. Doubting the "scientific process" is too, because it's not a crank that gets turned objectively to make truth or even theory come out - it's a creative, messy, human, social process, no matter how much you want it to be otherwise.

I see so many posts about how "stupid people" don't understand "reality based" stuff, and how can they be so idiotic since "there's irrefutable data". Look - Science gets it wrong. A lot. That's its job. I'm not going to bother listing the things data-based science has been dead wrong about in my life, because if you don't know you shouldn't be arguing about science at all. That doesn't mean science failed, it means the exact opposite. That doesn't mean it won't be wildly wrong next time - it means the exact opposite.

My point isn't that the anti-vaxxers or the anti-evolutionists are just as right as the scientists. There are odds and strong likelihoods and large bodies of evidence. But if you forget that science is not only robust to doubt but in fact requires it, if you insist that people should just "trust the experts" and "have faith in science", you may be right on a specific case but you're throwing the long term game. If we're to start making better decisions, we have to stop looking for shamans or priests or scientists to make them for us by knowing better. Scientists are just vastly preferable to the other options because (at their best), they tell us to doubt them, they tell us to think about it ourselves, they try to give us the tools to doubt well instead of foolishly.
posted by freebird at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2015 [37 favorites]


Why should I have to have an opinion on evolutionary biology? It's not like I'm going to do anything with it.

Because in the 2012 Republican primaries, nearly every single candidate declared they didn't believe in evolution (not to mention climate change), and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a clean sweep in 2016.

Whether they do actually believe or not is irrelevant; there's the fact that they all perceive they have to say they disbelieve in scientific fact in order to appeal to the tribal prejudices of their more fervent party members.
posted by Gelatin at 9:59 AM on February 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


How does me having an uninformed opinion that evolution is true help deal with their uninformed opinions that evolution is false?
posted by quillbreaker at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


if you insist that people should just "trust the experts" and "have faith in science", you may be right on a specific case but you're throwing the long term game

I agree with this in principle, but only as it applies to people who are actually playing said game. I don't think that the scientific enterprise -- specifically the imperative to doubt and revise -- requires anyone to give the time of day to people who doubt the whole validity of the game -- nay, the whole sport -- because of some handwaving about how it's in the pocket of Big Balls or something.

(That said, quite a lot of research is in the pocket of Big Something, to some degree or another, and this is something with which we have to be careful, but the solution to this kind of issue is more scientific inquiry, not less.)
posted by busted_crayons at 10:02 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


The answer quillbreaker will probably get is "because you are right and they are wrong." But that's a terrible answer.
posted by freebird at 10:04 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


My point isn't that the anti-vaxxers or the anti-evolutionists are just as right as the scientists. There are odds and strong likelihoods and large bodies of evidence.

But this is the rage-making aspect of this debate: in almost any other, more quotidian, area of their life, these 'anti-whatevers' are operating on the same odds and assumptions and systems of modern thought that we all are. They show up at the bus stop because the bus should be there on time. They fly because man can fly even though he wasn't born with wings. They drive 65 mph without their skin burning off. They accept all this implicitly, but then, seemingly randomly, they just pick a case and decide not to trust the numbers, while cloaking that decision as skepticism, personal choice, fighting corporatism, whatever.

It's like a weird intellectual auto-immune disease, with the defense being used against itself.
posted by eclectist at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2015 [41 favorites]


Freebird: And I want everyone who demands that I have opinions about evolutionary biology to let me know what they think about singletons.
posted by quillbreaker at 10:09 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The answer quillbreaker will probably get is "because you are right and they are wrong." But that's a terrible answer.

I was thinking more along the lines of "when you politicize scientific information whose conclusions you don't prefer it usually leads to bad results," but your mileage might vary as to whether that amounts to the same thing.
posted by Gelatin at 10:10 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


only as it applies to people who are actually playing said game

Honestly, you're fooling yourself if you think any human in history isn't in that game. Lots of people have waved their luddite flags and pointed out the serious harm science has caused, but I defy you to really find a part of the human (and non-human) world where in the end, science and technology hasn't raced ahead at near full speed regardless, eventually. Don't worry about science, it'll do OK. I'm more worried about "us".

Sure, you can argue (eg.) about climate deniers standing in the way of what The Experts know to be true. But that's not really science vs non-science: let's not forget that without science we wouldn't really be in much danger of causing climate change to begin with. Not that there isn't a debate, not that people aren't right and dangerously wrong. But it's not as easy as "listen to the experts", it never is. Like it or not, people need to either learn about things they want to make decisions about, or stay out of the decisions. And no, that doesn't mean you can't criticize politicians with wrongheaded or disingenuous on scientific matters: they aren't doing either.
posted by freebird at 10:13 AM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


“Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”

I don't think "laws of nature" really means what she thinks it does.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:23 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


How does me having an uninformed opinion that evolution is true help deal with their uninformed opinions that evolution is false?
posted by quillbreaker at 10:01 AM on February 16


It doesn't. If you want to deal reasonably with an issue like evolution and why we believe it is true, then you have to be informed on it. Go and read up on the topic (or watch some documentaries, or take a course, etc), try to be objective and open-minded, then make your opinion based on what you have learned.

What infuriates me most is that in this day and age, with the breadth of human knowledge literally at our fingertips, we seldom take the time required to just go and read up on a subject; instead we would rather argue back and forth with emotions and beliefs, but few facts. Just start at wikipedia and go from there, the amount of stuff you can learn in even 15 minutes is staggering, and will help to prepare you for a debate on any topic: vaccination, evolution, climate change, etc.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:24 AM on February 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


And I want everyone who demands that I have opinions about evolutionary biology to let me know what they think about singletons.

When people use singletons as "evidence" that their religion is the True Way and should have a seat at the governing table, I will accept this as a valid comparison.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:25 AM on February 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Suggested additional reading: Merchants of Doubt.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


How does me having an uninformed opinion that evolution is true help deal with their uninformed opinions that evolution is false?

Why do you accept your own authority when concluding that being uninformed is the reason they advance the positions they do, rather than some other motivation?
posted by XMLicious at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Freebird: And I want everyone who demands that I have opinions about evolutionary biology to let me know what they think about singletons.

I don't know anything about singletons and I'm unlikely to learn anything about them anytime soon. But evolution is different--it's the foundational theory underlying modern biology and every high school student is (supposed to be) taught it. A better parallel is atoms, or gravity, or heliocentrism. It shouldn't really be something people have varying opinions about, as a general concept. It should be something all moderately educated people understand.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2015 [22 favorites]


How does me having an uninformed opinion that evolution is true help deal with their uninformed opinions that evolution is false?

It would be nice for those of us who are informed on the situation to be trusted by the general public. Given that there are a lot of people being very loudly and willfully misinformed, to the point that evolution actually gets deliberately left out of a lot of science curricula despite being absolutely fundamental to the study of biology.... well, it would be nice if other people out there in the public would back us up and find out what it is that evolutionary biologists are actually saying.

If programmers start having to deal with a loud, concentrated sect of people who believe that singleton programming is an affront upon the Lord because it conflicts with popular theological notions of the Holy Trinity as simultaneously three-and-one or something, I promise to go and have a look at it, develop a slightly informed opinion, and figure out how to explain to the willfully ignorant that "controversies" aren't actually controversies. I do the same thing for anti-vaxxers even though I'm not a epidemiologist, and I have developed an informed opinion on climate change even though I am not a meterologist, palaeontologist, geologist, or geochemist. When public controversies pop up based on misinformation, I think it's an act of good citizenship to form an informed opinion and try to back it up in the public sphere. That's all on me, though.

(Incidentally, comparing climate change science to nutrition science is.... uh, interesting. The consensus on climate change has strengthened over time and is, moreover, a consensus across multiple disparate scientific fields. Nutrition science, on the other hand, is pretty notorious for not coming to a consensus easily and for frequently having what conclusions it DOES come to touted prematurely to the public by the media. That's not even apples to oranges so much as it is apples to sea urchins.)
posted by sciatrix at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2015 [22 favorites]


Disbelief isn't doubt. Doubt is a question. Disbelief is a rejection based on feelings. You can and should certainly doubt why science is better than other systems. We can have a conversation about that. Part of the answer is "Cuz planes fly and the earth isn't flat" but that's still an answer that needs to be explicated. Either you understand the epistemology behind why and how humans believe things based on experiment, in which case you have a duty to explain it as best you can to everyone who is interested, or you don't and you're just as unthinking as an anti-vaxxer and your help isn't needed.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


The decision that biology is more important than information technology seems a reasonably arbitrary one to me, Pater.
posted by quillbreaker at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2015


How does me having an uninformed opinion that evolution is true help deal with their uninformed opinions that evolution is false?

It doesn't. If you believe something is true just because, without any greater thought than that, well, you're not doing much to advance the cause of critical thinking.

That said, I would far prefer someone hold an uninformed belief in evolution and do nothing with it than hold the uninformed belief it doesn't exist and spend their life attempting to get it removed from textbooks.
posted by schroedinger at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


A better parallel is atoms, or gravity, or heliocentrism. It shouldn't really be something people have varying opinions about, as a general concept. It should be something all moderately educated people understand.

Gravity doesn't exist!
posted by naju at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


reminds me of exactly my friend who would only drink from newly purchased and provably unopened bottles of vodka when they experienced an acute schizophrenic psychotic break last summer and suffered from the delusion they were being poisoned by a secret cabal of chinese hackers.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2015


The decision that biology is more important than information technology seems a reasonably arbitrary one to me, Pater.

I think we can all agree that biology should be present in a basic education, no matter what specialization a person later develops. At the very least, people should have enough basic training to evaluate claims about life based in biological science. Evolution is fundamental to that basic training.

Whether or not information technology should ALSO be present in a basic education for all citizens is worth discussing--I actually think it would be good to include coursework on programming and technology at the same level as we do on basic science and humanities courses, because I think those skills are just as important to develop. But biology is sufficiently important that everyone is expected to at least have a starting point with which to evaluate claims--that's why we incorporate it as a required course in every state high school requirement I am aware of.
posted by sciatrix at 10:50 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


But evolution is different--it's the foundational theory underlying modern biology and every high school student is (supposed to be) taught it.

Man I wish that were true. It's one of the very best things we've come up with; horrifying and enthusing in its implications; anathema to the world views which have poisoned us. But even many of the people waving the "IFLScience" and "r/atheism" flags don't really understand it. I really think if we all just dropped everything else and made sure everyone got a decent understanding of evolution, statistics, and chiarascuro, we'd all be better off and well on our way to the Glorious Carl Sagan Future.
posted by freebird at 11:01 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

Because using your brain takes energy, and as living organisms, we tend to conserve our energy for things that have a direct impact on our individual and species survival. People tend to look to their scientists only when they don't know how to solve their problems respecting survival or procreation. The sticky bit is when existential problems have indirect causes, because then it is not immediately evident that a problem exists.

The decision that biology is more important than information technology seems a reasonably arbitrary one to me, Pater.

The notion that either is more important seems strange to me. Without information, there is no science, and without science there is no biology. Information technology is just about ways of obtaining and storing and processing more information faster and better. But without science, there would be no need for information technology. So it's circular.
posted by tempestuoso at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will henceforth use monotheistic religion as a means of explaining singletons.
posted by vbfg at 11:07 AM on February 16, 2015


The first time I heard the word "newbie" was in 1985, when I was in the tenth grade. A skinny, pale, bespectacled kid had just tried to push me out of the high-school computer lab. There were only a handful of Apple IIs in there, and he wanted one all to himself. I wanted to finish my assignment in learning BASIC. I think I was learning simple stuff, PEEK and POKE. He didn't want some football player besmirching his machine with a simple assignment that he could do in his sleep. He wanted to play Wizardry.

Fucking nerd, I said.

I often think about that moment -- me hitting him with the nerd tag, and his nerd rage at the sight of a letterman jacket -- when I think of pointy-headed scholars, and anti-vaxxers, and creationists, and people that consider themselves "intellectuals", and even Gamergate.

They're all just frightened nerds that think they're being oppressed by the Mighty Football Player in the Sky, who takes the form of the government, the religious, the Tea Party, "social justice warriors," or big corporations.

It harms our understanding of science if everyone thinks the other guy is dumb and dangerous. The anti-vaxxer is frightened. The scientist ridicules his lack of knowledge. The anti-vaxxer clings to pseudoscience. Now the scientist is frightened and double-downs on his ridicule. Both see the other as the great oppressor, the one with the power, the football player.

There's no football player out there.

There's just you and me and we're trying to work shit out.

Can I do my homework, please?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:11 AM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


You don't have to go to a lot of trouble to discredit an annoying statement if you employ the "pants on fire" riposte.

Now, wasn't there some flap about the difference between good fluoride and the tailings from aircraft factories? I don't like to put stupidity where greed belongs.
posted by mule98J at 11:12 AM on February 16, 2015


Freebird: And I want everyone who demands that I have opinions about evolutionary biology to let me know what they think about singletons.

As in, like, sets with cardinality 1?

They're all just frightened nerds that think they're being oppressed by the Mighty Football Player in the Sky, who takes the form of the government, the religious, the Tea Party, "social justice warriors," or big corporations.

Well, sometimes the scientific enterprise faces legitimate threats from government or corporations. (Its practical support also usually comes from those sources.) The scientific enterprise, in an environment where public funding is vital to research and the allocation of public funding involves at least lip service to the voting public, is also threatened when the voting public is hostile to science (for religious reasons, or anti-public-funding-of-any-kind reasons, or whatever).

If the science in question is investigating traumatic brain injury, I suspect there will literally be a Football Player hostile to science.
posted by busted_crayons at 11:27 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like: I am a scientist (demographically, though not epistemologically) and, in my field, a large proportion of the funding in the US comes from the NSF. I'm therefore very interested in not having anti-science people in Congress, and, because my livelihood is at stake, quite invested in not having unfounded, ill-informed, impressionistic, superstitious doubts about the very nature and validity of the whole scientific mode of thought (as opposed to doubts about specific scientific claims, or well-founded philosophical critiques of the scientific method, both of which exist) going viral in the public that elects the people who cut the cheques. It's not "you and me trying to work shit out". It's largely a bunch of people who have thought a lot about a bunch of shit trying not to be marginalized by largely incoherent complaints that somehow manage to get legs.
posted by busted_crayons at 11:45 AM on February 16, 2015 [19 favorites]


A friend of mine is a post-doc at a major Canadian university. He says the reason why science can go so wrong is that only the arrogant, stubborn, single-minded people can last for years on end, whereas the rest feel beat down by the system. You have to be really sure you're right in order to argue for funding and get your ideas heard. That's not science, that's politics.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:49 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


My parallel to evolution is usually plate tectonics. You don't have to believe it, by all means you can personally avow that all those mountain ranges just happen to be in those particular locations because that's what God's inner interior decorator wanted, but a geology education is pretty useless if you don't learn what plate tectonics is and the connections from all interrelated concepts are "just because" loose ends.

The decision that biology is more important than information technology seems a reasonably arbitrary one to me, Pater.

It doesn't matter how you would rank them. As your comment here implicitly accepts, teaching biology without evolution is treating the understanding of modern biology as unimportant. That's the point: the politician who wants to remove evolution from biology education, or replace parts of biology education with classroom time devoted to scriptural creation myths, is seeking to enact policy which treats biology education as unimportant. And that's what you can perceive without being an expert on biology.
posted by XMLicious at 11:50 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


But DO we understand genetics??
Self directed mutagenesis-- LAMARCK FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!

The stubbornness people have with accepting that "scientific consensus!!!!" is sometimes/often wrong and discarded/improved on makes me feel like the chorus of "trust science" ranges from obnoxious to dangerous when people's will and self determination- or large scale policy decisions are made my "experts" who claim to know all-- when the people pay the price.

Also I think the medical establishment itself bears a great deal of responsibility for the public rightfully not believing jack shit from them anymore. They fucked with human welfare for profit and self gain enough and people are sick of it. Now like the boy who cried wolf they have some "real" shit people need to believe but their cred is fucked. Don't get me wrong, the assholes evangelizing anti-vax shit bear the blame too, but if the medical establishment had weeded out its own bullshit to better serve people rather than money early on-- they could have countered that bullshit much more quickly.

"trust science"-- yeah and who is doing that science without having human bias, greed, personal incentive, investment in being right etc?

Sorry trusting folk, I'm a skeptic for life! Yes I'm vaccinated and my kids are-- that doesn't mean I trust that I'm getting honest info on side effects or relationship with health in 50 years or across generations- but I do trust there are people with good motives in science too, and I agree that scientific method and use of evidence and facts and wisdom to understand reality will ultimately be what dispells the things that make a lot of scientists claims untrustworthy.
posted by xarnop at 11:51 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Clockzero, I think you misunderstand my point, or I didn't explain it well enough. I stumbled into reading about the fat + heart disease controversy, and in the course of reading it, continued to see the parallels with what's being said about climate change/global warming. I didn't set out to do anything.

The consensus on the fat + heart disease issue emerged due to the enthusiastic, single-minded efforts of one man (whose own research never proved the hypothesis he subsequently convinced no less than the AHA on), many badly designed studies, tunnel vision, political pressure brought to bear, and -- of course -- the usual government 'by god, we must do SOMETHING' approach.

That this went on for decades, and dissenting voices were ignored and even ostracized, is mind boggling. Smart people with good intentions push agendas they don't understand. News at 11. People want to help. Science, on the other hand, couldn't give a toss about helping. This is the basic conflict.

These are the parallels I see. The climate change boondoggle is, alas, not far enough along, comparatively. It took 50-60 years for us to finally arrive at a point where the FDA is going to revise its official position on some issues related to cholesterol. I still think I'll be in the nursing home by the time carbs get removed from the bottom of the pyramid, but whatever.

Something might indeed be affecting Earth's climate. I have no confidence at all that the current emotional brouhaha masquerading as science will be able to uncover anything useful about it.
posted by gsh at 11:55 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Exactly, but the fact that, in the light of newer information, the consensus is changing, is a confirmation of the scientific method, not a refutation of it.

The problem is with how the consensus was formed in the first place. Take a look at the current move to drop warnings against cholesterol:

Yet many have viewed the evidence against cholesterol as weak, at best. As late as 2013, a task force arranged by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association looked at the dietary cholesterol studies. The group found that there was “insufficient evidence” to make a recommendation. Many of the studies that had been done, the task force said, were too broad to single out cholesterol.

“Looking back at the literature, we just couldn’t see the kind of science that would support dietary restrictions,” said Robert Eckel, the co-chair of the task force and a medical professor at the University of Colorado.


There are similar stories in Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" about how saturated fat became vilified without much scientific justification.

I think that people that strongly believe in the scientific process can also believe that politics can drive what becomes the consensus, and the public policy comes out of that consensus. Scientists are not purely rational beings; they have egos and needs for influence and power just like non-scientists do. They are also subject to confirmation bias just as other intelligent people are.

Unfortunately, when scientists in one area screw up public policy, it casts a cloud over what scientists recommend in other areas.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't distrust science; I distrust the humans doing the science because I know how easy it is for humans to screw up, get led astray, get too wedded to one idea and not see the forest for the trees.

This is an incredibly dangerous idea. The scientific process has skepticism baked into it at every level, from the individual experiments through publication and the establishment of a consensus. Once a consensus has emerged, it is a very powerful form of knowledge. Not perfect, but so far superior to any other way we have of knowing about the natural world that to ignore it is incredibly irresponsible. Not just in theory, either. We see the actual results of this willful ignorance in the current measles outbreak, and our kids will see it in spades if we don't act on climate.
posted by haricotvert at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, sometimes the scientific enterprise faces legitimate threats from government or corporations...

... which speaks to my point. The science hasn't been explained well or meaningfully, and is now under threat by people that don't understand it, or desire to monetize the alternative. The science isn't always intuitive or, in the case of carbon emissions, unclear how to deal with entrenched economics.

People are up in arms about a measles vaccine, but you know what vaccine doesn't get mentioned by anti-vaxxers?

Polio.

You know why?

Kids get measles and don't die.

Kids get polio and end up in iron lungs.

The iron lung, then, is the greatest PR a virologist could ask for. Don't want the polio vaccine? There's your alternative.

What's the "iron lung" for measles? It's out there -- kids really do die from measles, after all.

Calling Jenny McCarthy an idiot makes all us nerds feel superior to the high school cheerleader, but it isn't working.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]




Epistemology is hard (basically, there are zero or very close to zero provable facts).

Philosophy of science is hard (the scientific method is a philosophically shaky scaffolding at best).

In fact, even if we handwave away epistemology and accept a billion axioms, it is essentially impossible to prove relationships between them (Do like charges repel, or do they repel except for every hundred billionth Tuesday, on which they attract?)

The scientific community frequently comes to consensus conclusions that later turn out to be entirely wrong.

Science reporting and science based policy-making generally miss the mark by a mile even when discussing the most solid and best understood theories.

There are a lot of good reasons to doubt science. In fact, it's sort of crazy not to doubt science. And, if you are getting philosophical about it, it's even very reasonable to doubt the scientific method.

But, goddammit, stop burning coal and get your kids vaccinated.
posted by 256 at 12:17 PM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


"The scientific process has skepticism baked into it at every level, from the individual experiments through publication and the establishment of a consensus."

Pfffhahaha. Look I agree that using science, research, and gathering facts and data etc- is the best way to understand truth- I totally disagree that scientists are right about everything they make a consensus on. That is ALSO a dangerous idea because it can be used to uproot self determination or to carry out massively irresponsible acts of industry/gov upon innocent people claiming scientists had a "consensus" it was safe, and who forms this consensus? Is it majority of scientists rule? The prestige of the university they are associated with?

There are very good arguments for doubt which is why it's so popular. Accepting that your opponent has some valid points driving their perspective will get you further in uprooting their falsities than pretending they can't possibly be right about anything or have some valid concerns driving their perspective.
posted by xarnop at 12:17 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


xarnop, I agree very strongly with one point you raised, and in fact, I think we'd see less anti-science stuff if, on hearing the word "science", people weren't so ready to think "medicine", which (anecdotally) seems to be a frequent phenomenon. "Medical science" is just one component of medical practice; I have the impression that medical doctors are the face of science for a lot of people (well, medical doctors and ludicrously bad pop-culture portrayals of scientific activity), and this doesn't really help to clarify things.

... which speaks to my point. The science hasn't been explained well or meaningfully, and is now under threat by people that don't understand it, or desire to monetize the alternative. The science isn't always intuitive or, in the case of carbon emissions, unclear how to deal with entrenched economics.

It's very hard to explain something to someone who is hostile to the very claim that there is something to explain, or even to the idea that certain things are explicable. Climate change is going to have a pretty epic "iron lung", but this doesn't seem sufficiently persuasive yet. How does one explain things to people who don't want to know?
posted by busted_crayons at 12:18 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I totally disagree that scientists are right about everything they make a consensus on.

Nobody serious is making that claim, by definition.
posted by busted_crayons at 12:20 PM on February 16, 2015


Published: March 2015

So this is the future, feels the same to me...
posted by mnsc at 12:31 PM on February 16, 2015


As a layman, unless you have valid evidence-based grounds for questioning a scientific consensus, you are taking the position that you know better. I have granted, and continue to grant, that scientific consensuses have been wrong (although usually they are just updated rather than flat-out refuted, which is a part of the scientific process). But as a non-scientist, even granting that point, you are acting irrationally if you do not act in accordance with the scientific consensus, whee such a consensus is strong, simply because that consensus has so much higher a likelihood of being correct than the alternative.

I'm just some dude, though, so I'll track down Bertrand Russell explaining that when I get a second.
posted by haricotvert at 12:33 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Something might indeed be affecting Earth's climate. I have no confidence at all that the current emotional brouhaha masquerading as science will be able to uncover anything useful about it.
posted by gsh at 2:55 PM on February 16


Hi. My PhD is in carbon biogeochemistry. Like all scientists, I do of course work to falsify hypotheses and understand how the world works better. I would love to become famous and save the world by showing that anthropogenic climate change is just emotional brouhaha. It would make me go down in history, no doubt, and forever be a household name like Darwin or Einstein.

Unfortunately, all the data that we have so far support the hypotheses that humans have greatly increased the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and that these increases are altering the global climate. In addition, they are having other consequences, like decreasing the pH of the oceans. No data we have right now do not support these hypotheses.

Would you care to share your data that cause you to reject these hypotheses? They must be pretty dramatic. If you're worried about getting scooped, at least let us know when your paper is coming out in Science or Nature?

That's how science works. We test hypotheses. We publish the data. We work together to understand how the world works. If you think you can do it better, then join us, test your hypotheses, and publish your results.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:33 PM on February 16, 2015 [50 favorites]


Basically, science corrects itself every generation or two.
Compared to religion which is still going strong 3,000 years later... science ain't half bad!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:41 PM on February 16, 2015


Would you care to share your data that cause you to reject these hypotheses?

You just don't get it, do you? Let me spell it out for you:

1.) Cholesterol.
2.) ????
3.) Climate change is bullshit.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


I still think I'll be in the nursing home by the time carbs get removed from the bottom of the pyramid, but whatever.

You say that like there's better evidence that a high-carb diet is unhealthy than evidence that a high-animal-fat diet is unhealthy.

Dietary science is kind of a special snowflake. Pretty much every person on the planet has strongly-held beliefs about diet with insufficient evidence to back them up. We all have to eat something today and we desperately want to believe we're making a good choice about what to eat. The media jumps on and people run wild with every single study (or "study") that gets published. The food industry jumps on every supposed finding and tries to use it to sell you food. And it's a particularly hard thing to study because it's so hard to pin down what exactly people have been eating over long periods of time. To the extent you can, it's usually because a group of people is so homogenous that there's no good control group to compare them with.

I can't think of anything quite like it (maybe psychology?). I don't think dietary science should be held up as paradigmatic of science in general. I particularly don't think it has a lot in common with climate science.
posted by straight at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Here it is. I didn't mean to name-drop Russell. I really like this essay. His standard is absolute certainty, but I think you can see the argument applies equally well to a strong consensus that falls short of certainty (I doubt Russell himself believed in the possibility of absolute certainty.

On The Value Of Skepticism
posted by haricotvert at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Right, but the process of building in skepticism is imperfect and not reliable in the way the claim I was responding to sounded to me. It does not weed out falsities to the degree that scientists should be assumed to be speaking truth or that people can't have doubt especially when it concerns their welfare or the welfare of their community.


And I totally agree that refusing to even read the research, engage with the experts claims, and forming criticism that actually engage an what facts or evidence are involved is in opposition to seeking real understanding of truth. I think one of my concerns is that many people don't have the intelligence or time or privilege to be able to spend this time and energy on learning- and letting an entire class make all the decisions is understandably scary to some people because it's been disastrous for much of history including even by well intentioned scientists with very harmful class bias/racism/sexism etc factoring into their theories and understanding of data.

I think the skepticism is natural and healthy, and I also think reaching people who REFUSE to engage actual facts or evidence will take a lot of different approaches, including understanding what's driving their doubt and appealing to an acknowledgement of that, while asking them to actually engage the science (take some science classes etc!) when forming an opinion.

It also helps when the public has access to quality education, is challenged to think critically and to establish methods of logic and understanding of facts- and has leisure time/health to spend on these activities. (And are not being taught to discard all of science because GOD has all the answers in a book from 2000 years ago!).
posted by xarnop at 12:50 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Judging by the anti-vaxxer demographics people doubt science because they dropped out of college after two years. Classic Pierian spring sipping. They know enough science to defend themselves against it but not enough to fully appreciate it.
posted by srboisvert at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's a question of where you apply your skepticism. I think you have to apply it, first and foremost, to anyone who suggests that they have knowledge of the natural world outside the formal scientific process that should be privileged over knowledge of the natural world generated by the scientific method (imperfect though it may be!).

If you are going to make a claim that a particular consensus is the result of massive corporate/governmental corruption/collusion (the anti-vaxxers) or an anti-capitalist conspiracy (the climate deniers) or of scientific group-think excluding experimentally valid results (the anti-evolution movement), you face a very high burden of proof. None of the groups doing this come anywhere close to meeting that burden. And as others have pointed out, these groups hold the science to a standard that they do not apply to science in any other area of scientific inquiry (i.e. they act rationally except in the one area where they have a bee in their bonnet).

This would also apply to the allegation that scientific results are tainted by race/class/sex prejudices. There would need to be evidence, not just a general unease. Without denying the horrors of the past, I would suggest that most examples of this can be explained as people in power misusing valid science to justify actions that the science itself does not support. We see this all the time with claims about food health based on one or two studies. But even where an actual consensus winds up being wrong (such as, maybe, with cholesterol?), this in no way implies that we should reject other strong scientific consensus results.

My personal feeling is that a lot of the anti-science movements has to do with identity, the feeling of belonging to a group, especially one fighting a "good fight". There's (depressingly) some research showing that when you present people with evidence contradicting their strongly-held beliefs, they wind up believing the wrong thing even more. Other research shows that the best way to appeal to these wrong-thinking people is by telling them personal stories of people who have been negatively affected, and not refuting them with evidence. (But this research doesn't represent a consensus opinion, so feel free to make of it what you will! )
posted by haricotvert at 1:07 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


On the question of "why do I have to have an opinion about X...", the Trotsky quote "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you" comes to mind. If you honestly view the evolution "debate" as being a mere difference of opinion rather than the result of outright hostility toward science as a means of addressing public policy concerns, you simply aren't paying attention to the political context in which the discussion is happening. None of our progress in extending life, eradicating disease, and building a better society would have happened if we hadn't decided that evidence we can all observe trumps faith that none of us can observe.

Faith can coexist with scientific inquiry, but the moment someone casts doubt on scientific results because they conflicts with what their faith has taught them, we must push back. Putting yourself above the fray with inapt analogies to scientific questions in the CS community that have nowhere near as much of a political context to them is very misguided.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:22 PM on February 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


> The decision that biology is more important than information technology seems a reasonably arbitrary one to me, Pater.

The fact that we are all creatures evolved through the force of natural selection from much simpler creatures is a primary fact that should be fundamental knowledge to any rational human.

By comparison, the problem of singletons in information technology is a tiny little obscure speck of engineering - and I say this as someone who knows a large amount of about that particular area.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:25 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


we must push back

I think everyone agrees as far as I can see. But some people seem to say pushing back means arguing from authority. I think pushing back means engaging in debate and educating people about where scientific data comes from and the advantages of the scientific method. Yes it sucks for real scientists to have to do "What is science 101" all day. Which is all the more reason why engaged and enthusiastic fans of science should educate themselves on, say, why the studies of climate change are nothing like nutrition studies and then dive in in public when we can with patience and lack of rancor.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I still think I'll be in the nursing home by the time carbs get removed from the bottom of the pyramid, but whatever. "

Carbs were removed from the bottom of the pyramid in 2005 (in fact there was no bottom anymore). The pyramid itself was ended in 2011 in favor of something about a plate. The fundamental frustration of many scientists is in figuring out how to reach people like you, people who thought they were doing the right thing and reading up and "researching" and developing well-formed opinions, but ended up misinformed and overconfident.

I think a start would be to take back that "ended up" I said and recognize there is no end, just more learning, and implore you to rethink how, if you could be wrong about the food pyramid, you could be misinformed about other things too.
posted by traveler_ at 1:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are very good arguments for doubt which is why it's so popular.

I disagree, it's popular because people like to be right and they go looking for validation of what they already believe, or what their church or political party tell them to believe, rather than utilize some critical thinking to discover how it is we have come to hold certain 'truths' to be.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2015


"By comparison, the problem of singletons in information technology is a tiny little obscure speck of engineering - and I say this as someone who knows a large amount of about that particular area."

Yeah a closer analogy would be if half the Democratic presidential primary candidates declared their deep and abiding opposition to the Church-Turing thesis because the omniscience of God meant that there was no such thing as an undecidable problem. Not just wrong but bizarre, pre-rational, theologically misguided, and in a fundamental area of the field.
posted by traveler_ at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


But even where an actual consensus winds up being wrong (such as, maybe, with cholesterol?), this in no way implies that we should reject other strong scientific consensus results.

haricotvert in all fairness I have to point out that this is a much softer point than the claim you made above, in which you were faulting the layman for daring to even question a scientific consensus.
posted by XMLicious at 1:41 PM on February 16, 2015


gsh >

Clockzero, I think you misunderstand my point, or I didn't explain it well enough. I stumbled into reading about the fat + heart disease controversy, and in the course of reading it, continued to see the parallels with what's being said about climate change/global warming. I didn't set out to do anything.

The consensus on the fat + heart disease issue emerged due to the enthusiastic, single-minded efforts of one man (whose own research never proved the hypothesis he subsequently convinced no less than the AHA on), many badly designed studies, tunnel vision, political pressure brought to bear, and -- of course -- the usual government 'by god, we must do SOMETHING' approach.


I don't know very much about how that consensus emerged, so I am not well-situated to respond to your characterization of what happened.

I would mention, though, that the AHA (American Heart Association) is a non-profit which does advocacy rather than research. If the scenario is that people who weren't scientists themselves (including, I think you mean, politicians) got persuaded by a charlatan doing bad research, and then they advocated for this misunderstanding because it suited their prejudices or material interests, then if that resembles anything going on with climate science, it resembles the climate change denialists.

Something might indeed be affecting Earth's climate. I have no confidence at all that the current emotional brouhaha masquerading as science will be able to uncover anything useful about it.

Is there any empirical basis whatsoever for this position? Because characterizing climate science as "emotional brouhaha" makes it sound like you have no idea what you're talking about. Those "dissenting voices" you alluded to weren't correct simply because they were in the minority, they presumably had some insight that others were missing. What's the empirical basis for your skepticism about climate science? Can you point to studies that are demonstrably wrong? Can you refute the entire body of research on this topic?
posted by clockzero at 1:59 PM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


I don't meet many scientists. I don't read scientific papers. I don't have the background to be able to understand them. So if I happen to be skeptical about anything, it wouldn't necessarily be that I'm doubtful about the scientists and their science, but rather about the multiple layers of filter that happen before some news reaches me.

On climate change for example I often read, like in the posted article or often on this site, that there is scientific consensus about the risks. But by the time that reaches me it isn't the scientific method I need to assess, but popular culture and political opinion. The posted article is by a science journalist. I don't know if the writer has background as a scientist. I don't know if he has background as an enviromental scientist. I don't know what constitutes consensus for him. Or for the posters on this site.

I don't doubt climate change. For my own unscientific instinctual unresearched assessment, it isn't surprising that human activity on the intensive scale now performed could have damaging impacts on the earth's environment. I wish governments would do more to slow thngs down some. But Climate Change! in popular culture and here on the internet is something that seemed to me to bubble up after a prominent policitician made a popular movie. And as a result of that I'm probably being told there is scientific consensus by arts students who don't meet any more scientists or read any more scientific papers than I do. I can read a thread on Boston's misfortune of being in the line of a couple large weather events and someone will be Aha, Climate Change! as if that is some clear evidence of anything but the randomness of weather. I've lived long enough to see a few apocalyptic scenarios, from the Population Bomb to the real bomb, that eventually faded away from newscasts and coffee talk as the earth somehow muddled through. The article itself is something of an appeal to authority by suggesting that people are first doubting science itself rather than that they are trying to make sense of the multiple voices who are not scientists but are at street level most prominent in these often highly political debates.
posted by TimTypeZed at 2:10 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: I think everyone agrees as far as I can see. But some people seem to say pushing back means arguing from authority.

OK, but taking a firm position on nearly anything in science means arguing from authority. All lay people participating in scientific debates are to a large extent deferring to the judgement of experts and relying on the contents of peer-reviewed literature that they will never personally take the time to independently verify. There is therefore no realistic possibility of making a case for even the most widely-accepted of scientific conclusions that doesn't involve an assertion that something is true because thousands of independent experiments that we don't have the resources to reproduce have shown it to be true according to those well-versed enough in the relevant fields.

Furthermore, there's always an opportunity for someone to inject an unfalsifiable explanation (e.g. "because God") to cast doubt on settled science. In such a situation, where there is a long pattern of interested parties trying to cast doubt on scientific knowledge, I think we do ourselves a disservice by thinking that there's some more patient, civil form of explaining the science that they would be amenable to. Civil debate can only occur between two sides that agree to ground rules, and like it or not, scientists determine the ground rules of science.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:20 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyone who wants to sift through the ecological data is more than welcome. There's a lot more out there, but here's a start.

Go ahead. Show us the truth.
posted by underflow at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of good reasons to doubt science. In fact, it's sort of crazy not to doubt science. And, if you are getting philosophical about it, it's even very reasonable to doubt the scientific method.

But, goddammit, stop burning coal and get your kids vaccinated.


Why?
posted by dirigibleman at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a disingenuous question.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:39 PM on February 16, 2015


Why?

Pragmatism?
posted by 256 at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2015


I've lived long enough to see a few apocalyptic scenarios, from the Population Bomb to the real bomb, that eventually faded away from newscasts and coffee talk as the earth somehow muddled through.

I'm not going to address the Population Bomb, but I don't think there is any comparison to be made between climate change and a potential nuclear holocaust. No one disputed the reality of nuclear weapons. The holocaust nearly did arrive on more than one occasion, and a lot of people--politicians and otherwise--spent their time and talents trying to make it not happen. It was a specific, immediate threat. In contrast, climate change is a much more diffuse, more distant threat and is often disputed, and nothing much really seems to be being done about it year after year.

I just don't understand the "logic" that goes: I was told something bad might happen and it didn't, therefore nothing bad will ever happen.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:59 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


"But Climate Change! in popular culture and here on the internet is something that seemed to me to bubble up after a prominent policitician made a popular movie."

It's a reasonable question: how can people who aren't in a position to get a direct feed to the "real" science successfully navigate the layers of media and experts and propaganda that interpose themselves, and reliably understand what they want to be able to understand, and form good opinions?

It's a serious problem because, for example, what you said is false: Climate Change! in popular culture appeared quickly in the course of one year, 1988-1989, when an unusually warm and droughty summer hit, simultaneously with a major NASA report and public comments by Bush and Thatcher. But since then every attempt to bring the science to the people (with, say, a major documentary) has been met with carefully-crafted FUD (about, say, how AlGore is a politician so don't listen to those numbers and anyway look how much flying he does!)

It's a real shame that in this modern internet-connected age, actual scientists are blogging all the time about what they do, or about their views on things, and it just doesn't seem to matter. So take the initiative: seek out trustworthy sources of interpretation ahead of time, so that when you hear a news blahb about how coffee causes neuron protection and/or neuron death, you know what to do to try to make sense of it. Or if someone says something that sounds reasonable about how "climate alarmism" is misguided, you know where to get a good point-by-point takedown.
posted by traveler_ at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's a disingenuous question.

It's disingenuous in the sense that the overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus among scientist who work in the fields convinces me that burning coal is bad and getting vaccinated is good. But if "overwhelming scientific evidence / consensus" is not a legitimate reason to believe burning coal is bad and vaccination is good then what is?
posted by dirigibleman at 3:10 PM on February 16, 2015


Yeah a closer analogy would be if half the Democratic presidential primary candidates declared their deep and abiding opposition to the Church-Turing thesis because the omniscience of God meant that there was no such thing as an undecidable problem.

I am proctoring an exam right now and you made me laugh audibly!
posted by busted_crayons at 3:11 PM on February 16, 2015


But if "overwhelming scientific evidence / consensus" is not a legitimate reason to believe burning coal is bad and vaccination is good then what is?

Pascal's wager, basically, in at least the former case. The consequences of anthropogenic climate change are so dire that you only need to believe in it a little bit (i.e. believe that the probability of it being true that ACC is continually occurring is a small positive number) in order for the expected size of the disaster to be large enough that it is rational to take action to avoid it.

[The real problem is that the Pascal's wager analysis doesn't actually work for the people doing the most damage -- plenty of people would suffer economic damage, from acting to curtail ACC, of a magnitude exceeding that of the immediate deleterious effects of ACC on them. Some of these people can afford lobbyists. I don't think we need to throw out the conspiracy-theorizing baby with the anti-rational bathwater. We just have to conspiracy-theorise accurately.]
posted by busted_crayons at 3:18 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


People just aren't going to take what scientists say on faith. Nor should they. How many scientists work in the coal industry? In the nuclear industry? In oil and gas? The pharma-medical industry got a good smack-down last week from John Oliver. Scientists are forced now to live like everyone else: exposed to general criticism and contempt.
posted by No Robots at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2015


Somewhat eponysterical, if you associate robots with science. :P

I generally just go with the scientific consensus as best I can determine it. It's not that I necessarily believe they are right about every single thing, it's just that the smartest and most insightful thing I've managed to do is recognize that I have some limitations. I'm not great at math or statistics or deep analysis that requires those things. I'm not in a position to tell the collective voice of people who are that I know better than them. I just look at their track record and can see that they aren't just paying lip service to those concepts and the result of modern technology is pretty good proof of it.

I'm not talking down on my own intelligence, I have other strengths. But I've always found the dumbest sort of person is someone who is unwilling to admit they don't know everything. That's the sort of person I most encounter when science denialism is occurring, and it comes from right and left people alike. And people with vast amounts of training and knowledge and people with very little.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:52 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


These scientists work for the US government. They have no agenda except to tell you what's going on, using amazing technology to do so.

These scientists work for universities. They have no agenda except to tell you what's going, and explain it in painstaking detail, and reply to the same criticisms over and over and over.

The information is all available. It is entirely up to you if you would like to learn.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:55 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Calling Jenny McCarthy an idiot makes all us nerds feel superior to the high school cheerleader, but it isn't working.

It's not all nerds. Even CBC's cranky, off-season sea captain thinks people who follow McCarthy are selfish fools, and he is a noted apologist for climate change denialism. When you start to see even old cranks call out their own grinning, airheaded anti-science dummies, it's not just about nerds making gurgling sounds about jocks and cheerleaders, for crying out loud.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why should I have to have an opinion on evolutionary biology? It's not like I'm going to do anything with it.

You could decide to stop using anti-bacterial soap all the time.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I do not avoid science.

But I do deny it my essence.
posted by kyrademon at 4:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Regarding climate science, I think a part of the problem with how it is received comes from strident overreach on the part of those very much on the periphery of the science--meaning those who have taken it upon themselves to be the messenger of bad news. So, for example, we have people like Bill Nye, who quite frankly, needs to just shut the fuck up and stop talking about stuff he knows absolutely nothing about. When he starts making very specific claims about very specific weather events being caused by climate change--nothing good comes from it, because he is typically wrong about the meteorology--sometimes in spectacular fashion. And there are plenty of very smart meteorologists who can point out in 2 seconds all the ways he is wrong. And this produces distrust and breeds a level of skepticism in the general public about long term climate change that is unwarranted. So the climate science community should discourage people like Bill Nye and stick with communicating those things that they are very confident about. Making extremely specific claims lacking empirical evidence to some how scare people into believing this other claim with empirical evidence is a terrible strategy.

And I also think labeling people who are skeptical about climate change "deniers" doesn't help. It makes people even more hostile about science because it implies that there are only two types of people in this world: those who are not skeptical and idiots. And this just further distorts how science really works and the level of certainty that it can provide.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:46 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

As a hard-science major and geek, I certainly don't doubt the value of observing and gathering evidence. Or the value of modeling what's happening using math. All that effort has paid off greatly for the material (knowledge, health, comfort, entertainment, etc.) benefit of humanity.

OTOH, science is more vulnerable than science journalism and it typical scientistic fanboi-ism make it seem. The methods of science are constrained. The models are often only superficially consistent (and the warts and lesions are kept within the fold). "The Method" has limitations that mean it -can't- encompass some of the phenomena that mean most to us as sentient beings. Most people don't have time for the insights to make their feelings explicit, but they do recognize that scientists are also human.

Exploring those limitations in detail isn't particularly easy but there's a long history of it. Alas, the limitations are seldom explored by scientists; that's left to outsiders - and so you have to do your own intellectual homework. A couple of thoughtful old books that come to mind: JWN Sullivan Limitations of Science (1933), Tom Kuhn's fairly famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and Paul Feyerabend's Against Method (1975). Bon voyage.
posted by Twang at 5:04 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know what makes me mad? people who were concerned about flouride may have been right. "Trust science" to injure you and then when it turns our your concern over your own welfare was right it's "meh what can you do?" after the people who rightfully were concerned their welfare was not being considered were mocked and humiliated and turned into jokes and signs of anti-science nutjobs--- OH it turns out there concerns were perfectly valid.

This is the kind of thing that makes me think the "trust science" all the harmful shit that can be done to you with that mantra laughing at people's concerns and scoffing at them-- it makes me understand the anti-vax movement even more even though I find the evidence as I have read and understood it compelling regardless of risks.

Why are people not allowed to distrust this stuff from the start? Why are their concerns plowed over like this, and then they are mocked for believing that love, nurturing, fresh foods, sun and exercise ALL THING WE ALREADY KNEW WERE HEALTHY BEFORE SCIENCE are good for people? Or that adding a bunch of nonfood gunk into your diet could have negative unforeseen consequences. since when is common sense laughable?
There IS something to be said for the wisdom of ones ancestors and cultural practices. I am ALL FOR adding the amazing tools we have know to study things to that knowledge, but I think people should be allowed to distrust things they they feel are unsafe despite the scientists keep saying no one should be allowed to be concerned.

Keep your flouride away form my bodily essence!!
posted by xarnop at 5:07 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


fluoride

What's interesting: look into the historical relationship between the push to fluoridate water, and the need for uranium hexafluoride to build reactors and produce nuclear weapons. Both happen in the same time period.
posted by Twang at 5:13 PM on February 16, 2015


We're through the looking glass here.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Given that science is not any particular authority, what does it mean for reasonable people to doubt science?

It is entirely possible to be reasonable, to reason, without having the particular attitude to evidence that scientists have. The Ancient Greeks were highly refined in reason but did not do science, and much of their style of reason is still popular.

Doubting science simply means not doing science, not assessing arguments and evidence as a scientist would. Scientists especially believe people who seek to disprove themselves, an odd attitude that is far from being culturally fixed in place.
posted by pfh at 5:24 PM on February 16, 2015


Scientists especially believe people who seek to disprove themselves, an odd attitude that is far from being culturally fixed in place.

I'm a mathematician, so I also find scientists' position on evidence odd, until I remember that, just as no amount of observation has any formal effect on the truth of a mathematical proposition*, my deductive stance has nothing interesting to say about most of the questions that interest scientists. I can assume a hyperbolic cow and deduce truths, unconstrained by any relationship at all with evidence.

Similarly, regarding the particular questions with which science attempts to engage, the other "culturally fixed" attitudes have very little to say that is convincing or even interesting. The book of Genesis is literarily and historically interesting, but it's not interesting as a creation story. There's none of the tension between conflicting constraints that characterizes an interesting explanation. I can make something isomorphic up. I can get you a creation myth by 3, with or without nail polish.

What's interesting -- if your goal is a beautiful explanation, not a beautiful story -- is a narrative that navigates constraints imposed by the details of experience as tightly as possible.

This is obviously subject to change, since our collective experience changes. The assumption is that, in general, there will be some sort of convergence in this process (although I can easily imagine circumstances in which that fails). That's a philosophical assumption underlying science, too.

Most of the other culturally fixed methods of understanding things suffer from a lack of this kind of dramatic tension when applied to certain questions about the natural world: given the explanation, one could just as easily (given some imagination) propose something else, and nobody would be able to distinguish between the competing explanations. The only thing providing any hope of even a temporarily coherent, actionable understanding of the question would be the investigator's failure to imagine infinitely many competing explanations.

I think that's a big difference.

(Maybe a similar criticism can be made of scientific practice: an imaginative scientist, given a certain set of facts, should be able to conceive of arbitrarily many hypotheses that fit those facts. However, in practice, when science is being done properly -- maybe this is even part of the definition of science done properly -- there is so much information that we can't dream up an overload of viable hypotheses. I don't know.)

*It certainly can tell you which propositions to suspect might be true, though.
posted by busted_crayons at 6:02 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know what makes me mad? people who were concerned about flouride may have been right. "Trust science" to injure you and then when it turns our your concern over your own welfare was right it's "meh what can you do?" after the people who rightfully were concerned their welfare was not being considered were mocked and humiliated and turned into jokes and signs of anti-science nutjobs--- OH it turns out there concerns were perfectly valid.

They weren't really right, though, because they didn't actually know any of the things which this meta-analysis found. If someone takes a broad, intuitive but non-empirical position on a topic ("substance X is bad!") without any evidence, findings that suggest harm don't affirm the value of their position, because they themselves had no idea that their position had any particular merit. Being right about something entails real understanding; if not, then it's just another term for luck.
posted by clockzero at 6:14 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you're trying to infer that I'm on drugs to point out concerns about fluoride that's exactly my point that I would be mocked just for even bringing it up. It doesn't even make me mad that there is fluoride in the water- it does seem to be effective at fighting cavities and I am not negating the pro's could outweigh the cons- just it makes me mad that all the people who were (and are) concerned about it are mocked and claimed to be nuts or on drugs by virtue of bringing it up. Attacking a persons character is not engaging earnestly either and it's a way that many people, including indigenous people or anyone who has concerns about things being done to the land around them or themselves to be laughed and mocked. I'm just tired of "scientific progress" plowing over human beings and their concerns. Just because someone doesn't know how to do science or have access to a lab doesn't mean their concerns shouldn't be taken seriously especially when it effects them personally. Our environment is being destroyed by people who don't take safety concerns and long term unforseen consequence seriously enough, not the other way around.
posted by xarnop at 6:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually I just assumed you were being satirical because you referenced bodily essences. If you aren't...wow, I'll just assume you are over-committing to the satire instead.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:24 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah I was being a little silly. I'm not that worried about fluoride, I just think it's interesting that it may have more health impacts than previously claimed. As I think is often the case, and is sad because often people aren't allowed to have concerns unless they have a masters in science. It feels like scientists are very scary people who don't care if they hurt you and want to change your life in ways you don't want and you can't fight them because you'll never be that smart.

I get why people have a defensive reaction to being told what to believe, or what is or isn't healthy by scientists. Scientific consensus is wrong so often. I like science, I want to see more research, I think we gain so much from it. I just think asking people to trust it all as fact and ignore intuition entirely is also harmful.
posted by xarnop at 6:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


xarnop, can you please stop conflating "scientific progress" with "technological 'progress'" and "economic 'progress'", of the latter two of which you're voicing an extremely important critique? Science is a collection of philosophical stances and methodologies related to and directed at particular types of questions. Technological and economic and cultural forces, not scientific ones, are fucking up the environment, oppressing people, etc.
posted by busted_crayons at 6:29 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also: what is "intuition" in this context?
posted by busted_crayons at 6:31 PM on February 16, 2015


Like if a group of scientists want me to eat dirt because they did some research and think it's actually healthier than food, that would go against everything I know and I would need to see a lot of evidence, methods, and proof of long term health provided by eating dirt to believe it. Asking me to just accept it because a scientist said it even though it sounds really dangerous, and even after they tried to convince me with evidence I still likely would discard it because I would suspect they may be wrong regardless of the methods they used.

I think people should be allowed to do that? It means-- unfortunately-- the burden of proof and of finding a way to educate people without a science background, is something we might want to work on through specific initiatives that use an understanding of people's concerns as valid and bring to light the info in the least threatening way- but also have some degree of respect for individual autonomy whenever possible. When there's a public health threat I think it's fair to trust in expert opinions more than lay people to set policies (like regulations to protect environment, requirements about vaccinations that keep people safe etc) even if people don't understand, but I just think people's doubt makes sense and is often protective.
posted by xarnop at 6:40 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


See the reason I rely on scientific consensus is I've found that virtually every time there is a question about if you should do something as dangerous as eating dirt or not scientists are the people saying, "Eat food." Scientists aren't generally telling me kids aren't going to die of measles of we stop vaccinating them, for example. And yet, dead kids! Dead babies! For no fucking reason! Lancet study said it causes autism!

When the scientists ARE wrong, basically everybody else was saying "Eat Dirt" too.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I look at this story, and I look at the constant parallels to global climate change warming and I am gobsmacked: same damn errors, same appeal to consensus, same "it feels right" approach (of course humans impact the environment! of course fat makes you fat!), same same same.

Something might indeed be affecting Earth's climate. I have no confidence at all that the current emotional brouhaha masquerading as science will be able to uncover anything useful about it.


Wow, that's possibly the stupidest and most uninformed thing I've read, today. I really wish there were a more polite way to phrase that, but there just isn't. Anthropogenic climate change is something that's backed up by significant data and analyses across disciplines which are in broad agreement. The atmospheric levels of CO² (as measured at Mauna Loa) have increased by ninety parts per million since 1958. Current levels are well above those at any other point in at least the past eight hundred thousand years (we know this because of ice core data) and have increased by more than 100ppm over the period since the industrial revolution. The effects of increased atmospheric CO² are well-known and can be modelled. Basically, saying "something" may be affecting the climate but being all hand-waving about whether it's caused by human activity or not, in the face of all of the evidence we have and everything we've learnt over the past 50 years since this sort of climatology became a serious field of study, is the equivalent of "fucking magnets, how do they work?"
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:44 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


As I think is often the case, and is sad because often people aren't allowed to have concerns unless they have a masters in science.

But of course anyone is "allowed" to have concerns. Unless you mean this in the same way people complain that they're not "allowed" to say something nasty about women or minorities, which is that people tend not to react well to them. It's not reasonable to expect people to treat everything or anything we say or think with deference, especially when it entails a factual claim that we don't have evidence for.

It feels like scientists are very scary people who don't care if they hurt you and want to change your life in ways you don't want and you can't fight them because you'll never be that smart.

I think you must have had some bad experiences with scientists! We aren't, uh...psychotic? super-villains, maybe? as a rule. Sure, there are some bad people who become scientists, but there are folks like that in every profession. That's just normal human variation, I think. And as a group, scientists are a whole hell of a lot better than, say, cops or senators or drug lords. Well, most drug lords.

Scientific consensus is wrong so often.

Oh, come on. This is just silly. What are you comparing it to?
posted by clockzero at 6:45 PM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Critique of the paper mentioned in the article xarnop linked. For starters, the study only looked at areas of high natural fluoride concentration in China (high enough to cause discoloration of teeth, etc), and found no cognitive effects at the lowest concentrations, which are actually the highest concentrations allowed in artificially-fluoridated water in the US.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Christ on a cracker, people, nobody would be talking about fluoridation if it wasn't a paranoid right-wing conspiracy theory promoted by the John Birch Society, that's what General Ripper is blathering about.

Fluoridation of water is one of the most beneficial projects in history of medicine, right up there with penicillin, polio vaccine, antiseptics, etc. etc. I remember my dentist (who was Dean of the local dental school) did research on the dramatic drop in tooth decay and consequent dental diseases, after fluoridation became widespread. He told me that due to fluoridation, it was possible that Dentistry as a separate medical specialty might disappear entirely due to lack of demand. Fluoridation has resulted in billions of dollars saved by people who didn't have to spend that money on dental care, and the elimination of untold amounts of suffering by people with bad teeth. And if you have bad teeth, you are constantly miserable.

But alas, my dentist friend was overly optimistic about the elimination of dental caries, for the same reasons that epidemiologists were overly optimistic about the eradication of measles.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:17 PM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Like if a group of scientists want me to eat dirt because they did some research and think it's actually healthier than food, that would go against everything I know

Yeah, because you have a frame of reference. You know what dirt is, have presumably come into contact with it at some point, and if you're like a lot of kids, you ended up with it in your mouth somehow playing at the playground or in your backyard or something. What frame of reference do you have for fluoride?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:29 PM on February 16, 2015


Like if a group of scientists want me to eat dirt because they did some research and think it's actually healthier than food, that would go against everything I know and I would need to see a lot of evidence, methods, and proof of long term health provided by eating dirt to believe it.

That scenario doesn't really resemble any of the real scenarios we're discussing, though, for reasons tonycpsu just pointed out. More importantly, I think, a scientist who wants you to eat dirt is not expressing that desire in their capacity as a scientist. Dictating, or even recommending, behaviour is not part of science, which is just a framework for attempting to answer certain types of questions. Again, your complaint is with authoritarianism, or dishonest institutions, or something, not with science itself.
posted by busted_crayons at 7:33 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"On January 25, 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first community in the United States to fluoridate its drinking water to prevent tooth decay."

"During the 15-year project, researchers monitored the rate of tooth decay among Grand Rapids' almost 30,000 schoolchildren. After just 11 years, Dean- who was now director of the NIDR-announced an amazing finding. The caries rate among Grand Rapids children born after fluoride was added to the water supply dropped more than 60 percent."

My mom told me a child will eat an average of a bushel of dirt before they are five.
I have no supporting evidence.
posted by clavdivs at 7:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Christ on a cracker, people, nobody would be talking about fluoridation if it wasn't a paranoid right-wing conspiracy theory promoted by the John Birch Society, that's what General Ripper is blathering about.

I agree with the sentiment and don't dispute the fact, but damn. Reason magazine: more evidence that right-libertarians -- Libertarians -- make a mockery of everything they capitalize.
posted by busted_crayons at 7:41 PM on February 16, 2015


Like if a group of scientists want me to eat dirt because they did some research

Well, they're not exactly saying to eat dirt in the pica sense, but it's my impression (as a child of 1970) that the current understanding that exposure to dirt is healthy and good is a shift in thinking.
posted by Lexica at 7:56 PM on February 16, 2015


it makes me mad that all the people who were (and are) concerned about it are mocked and claimed to be nuts or on drugs by virtue of bringing it up.

Anyone can "bring up" whatever bullshit they want, but data or GTFO. There's no "wisdom of the ancestors" telling us fluoride is bad for you.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:43 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just reading about this stuff gives me a bad taste in my mouth, I had to go brush my teeth. With fluoride toothpaste. I'm not kidding.

BTW the version I learned from my Amish aunties was "You'll eat a peck of dirt in your day." I guess "your day" is your whole life from sunrise to sunset, so to speak. But nowadays, nobody knows what the heck a peck is.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:50 PM on February 16, 2015


A peck is 12 parsecs, SAIT.
posted by rtha at 8:54 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Christ on a cracker, people, nobody would be talking about fluoridation if it wasn't a paranoid right-wing conspiracy theory promoted by the John Birch Society

Note that the article linked by xarnop above is from The New American, which is, in fact, published by the John Birch Society. See the last sentence on their "About" page.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:57 PM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


xarnop, you've so far expressed respect for individual autonomy, alluded to the rights of indigenous people, voiced concerns about the environment, and advocated for high-quality education for the public. Are you sure you want to appeal to the "expertise" of the John Birch Society?
posted by busted_crayons at 9:29 PM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


A peck is 12 parsecs, SAIT.

This is all so simple, it is common sense. These are easy units that are at a human scale and can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Two cups to a pint. Two pints to a quart. Four quarts in a gallon. Two gallons in a peck. Four pecks in a bushel. Four bushels in a bale (unless you're using one of those infernal steam-powered balers that produce four foot long bales instead of three footers, in which case it is a somewhere north of five bushels).

Don't give me that metric crap, it's a commie conspiracy to subvert our god-given Imperial measurements. If god had meant for us to use the metric system, he would have made the distance between King Henry's nose and thumb to be a meter instead of a yard.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:50 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Denial of climate science benefits the oil and coal industries. Denial of evidence about air and water pollution benefits manufacturers, car companies. Monsanto and others benefit from selling patented seeds for GMO plants, and they heavily influence testing, reporting and information (They sued a dairy in Maine, unsuccessfully, over labeling about growth hormone). I have a certain level of trust in science. I have little faith in the 'experts' on tv who will take a complex report and reduce it to 1 phrase. In a month there will be another report contradicting it with another not very accurate simple phrase. When my son was a baby, we were told he should sleep on his tummy. Now he's told his son must sleep on his back.

I can't see a motive for vaccination denial, other than Entitled McSpecialpants wanting their precious scion to avoid the tiny risk of vaccines and coast on herd immunity, or gullibility if you've read the wrong data and gotten spooked. I kind of see why evolution is denied - fundamentalists need God to be all-powerful and the Bible to be literal.

Most people care more about the Kardashians and the next season of Game of Thrones than about nuance or developing a BS detector for crap on the tv and the Web. They believe what ads tell them they need, and they don't know/ care that a lot of what seems to be news is advertising. That must be how and why people vote against their own self-interest.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


A peck is 12 parsecs

Pfft, I can do the Kessel Run in half that.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:57 PM on February 16, 2015


LOL I had actually pulled four or five studies from pubmed, most from India actually that found abnormalities with thyroid functioning (actually this was years ago and it actually turned up because I looking up thyroid research and I was surprised about it, I wasn't out looking for info on thyroid. That research indicated the levels of concern ranged within the range used in US. Then I just grabbed one from google for the sake of expediency- but I had actually read the original source from harvard. This one found problems at 2.5ppm which is well under the US levels. Another find thyroids enlarged in children with higher levels of fluoride. Can't vouch for the accuracy of the studies, just that it surprised me when I found a few similar (there were different than the one I linked which is more recent.)

So the idea has been studied a while and a concern by people outside the radar of the birch society. Not to say they are right, I'm just saying it IS NOT laughable to have concerns or to feel that long term should be lifetimes and generations rather than 2 years or at most 10 or 20 years. Consequences can take a while to turn up.
posted by xarnop at 5:23 AM on February 17, 2015


Oh meant to link this one.
posted by xarnop at 5:25 AM on February 17, 2015


Oops "I wasn't out looking for info on thyroid" should be "was out" not wasn't.
posted by xarnop at 5:31 AM on February 17, 2015


I still don't understand what "trust science" is supposed to mean other than that I'm supposed to pretend people who are doing science are right about everything they say over my own concerns. I still think that's wrong. I think there were only a few people arguing the point that bothers me so much and everyone else keeps saying "w're not saying that"

I get it-- then it's not you I'm arguing with. I trust science to have some degree of accuracy however I do not believe I should be forced to discard my own judgements or concerns and accept what scientific consensus says without question especially when my own welfare is at stake.

"Trust scientific consensus" is not a clear statement- people are telling me to distunguish between industry/gov/authority figures using scientific consensus etc but that's exactly my point. My point is that scientific consensus should not be used as if THERE IS NOT CHANCE they could be wrong and people forced to accept the risks. Meaning my opposition to trusting scientific consensus as without chance of being wrong, is a dangerous proposal because people with then not be respected to make their own decisions and it underrides personal choice.

My own personal example is when I wanted to keep my child but there was "not enough evidence" to proove a maternal-infant bond exists- the scientific consensus at the time was that separating infants from mothers has no effect and could not possibly have an effect. A lot of research since the (fourteen years ago) has found the infant mother bond may itself be important.

It destoyed my life. So yeah I think FUCK scientific consensus and people pretending they know things they don't to destory other people's lives.
posted by xarnop at 5:41 AM on February 17, 2015


I think mothering and parenting is an area where people who "know science" have fucked up people's lives a lot. Too often a lack of effects is claimed as a fact of safety when it would be more honest to say we don't know- and SO FAR we haven't seen harmful effects but that could change. Bottle feeding/early daycare at 6 weeks-- there is a lot of research that this things could be harmful to some children but before that researched turned up the "consensus" was there was no harm. The people who were concerned and wanted to make different decisions were laughed and called anti-science.
posted by xarnop at 5:45 AM on February 17, 2015


So often things people say "science says it's not harmful" and the people concerned get laughed at. Then it turns out there were harms but no one apologize for laughing at those people, it's still "there were silly trying to use intuition"


Having concerns that scientific consensus is not always accurate about safety or long term consequences is not silly or anti-science.
posted by xarnop at 5:47 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wut?

I think it can be said with absolute scientific certainty that modern bottle feeding is preferable to being breast fed by a mother that lives in a cave on the edge of a savannah, foraging for food and protecting her child from predators with a pointed stick.

So yeah, science.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:10 AM on February 17, 2015


I'm going to suggest a parallel: markets.

I think that markets are the best way in the long run to set the value of things. They have failures, but for the most part they correct themselves over time, and we haven't found anything else that doesn't have worse behavior. However, as Keynes said, "Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent."

The scientific process is the best way that we've come up with to advance the state of human knowledge. It has failures, but for the most part it corrects itself over time. The problem is that the correction process can take decades, and policies made during those decades can cause real, significant harm to many people.

There are people that simply don't believe the scientific method works, just like there are people that don't believe that markets work. You can put those people in one category and set them aside. But there are also plenty of people that accept that both exist and are a reasonable way to do things most of the time and also think that they can be pretty flawed at times. I don't think it's useful to treat the people in the second category the way you treat the people in the first category.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 6:32 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


xarnop, it is really starting to sound like most of this is in your head. You are substituting one or two experiences you have personally had with some specific person for "science" and doing a lot of more or less fact-free handwavey straw man assertion which you then refute with some more waving of hands.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:37 AM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's a very uncharitable reading of what I'm saying. I'm saying that given I agree with this "It has failures, but for the most part it corrects itself over time. The problem is that the correction process can take decades, and policies made during those decades can cause real, significant harm to many people." I respect that people don't always trust whatever the consensus is at present.

I think the phrase "trust science" is completely vague and ultimately meaningless unless you're going to specify what type of science, who the scientists are that you deem credible etc. Since lay people can't always sort that out either, they often have to trust their guts- and are often safer doing so. All the people who think they are doing science claim they are the real trustworthy scientists. Many are wronga nd are not even that good at science.

Lay people can't do the science themselves so being able to tell which is which is very very hard and even good scientists and meticulously done research and consensus can still be wrong. So "trust" without any doubt? In science? All I'm saying is no one should be forced to trust in scientific consensus without being allowed to have doubt or make decision based in concerns scientists have not yet turned up harms that may be present in something.
posted by xarnop at 6:55 AM on February 17, 2015


I still don't understand what "trust science" is supposed to mean

It means that for certain types of questions (and you should go and read a bunch of stuff and decide which questions you think are amenable to scientific study), the most reliable -- but still always contingent -- answers are constructed by putting into practice specific philosophical positions on empirical evidence. These answers are in fact subject to change as the available information changes, and in fact it can be hard to say anything definite, scientifically, about many important questions. Scientists operating in good faith don't make such definite claims, though: they assert that some explanation best reflects the available evidence, at the moment. Science acknowledges the contingent and probabilistic nature of all non-deductive knowledge.

If people operating in good faith have addressed one of these questions through scientific inquiry, and, after penetrating the sometimes-intimidating membrane thrown up by ignorant journalists, paternalistic authority figures, and economically-motivated FUD-peddlers, you have access to those scientific answers then, for the very specific questions they are claiming to target, you should, on the usual temporary and conditional basis that should be the maximum level of belief that one ever has in a non-deductive conclusions, believe those answers. ("Temporary and conditional belief" can be quite strong in cases where the volume of evidence is enormous and the implication is clear.)

It's tricky, because many "human-scale" questions have strong scientific components, but are not scientific questions. I think that medicine, for instance, is mostly in this category (is there a medical doctor in the house who can speak to this?). Often, there is some macro-question of practical concern, and it's your job to break it up into smaller constituent questions, some of which are scientific, obtain answers to the smaller questions, and synthesize an answer to the large one.

It's also tricky, because there are simple scientific questions that have not received much attention, and scientific conclusions gain reliability, more or less, with more observation. (This type of thing can be measured using Bayes' theorem.)

It's also tricky, because answering scientific questions asks one to put aside personal impressions and prejudices about a specific issue, to the greatest extent possible.

It's also tricky, because the above description of science is only an approximation. That's okay; it's rare that an interesting hypothesis is consistent with all observed facts, since observation isn't perfect either.

The phrase "trust science" is not very useful, because "trust" has a colloquial meaning that is totally unrelated to the attitude toward claims that scientific inquiry requests. Science asks that you put aside the desire to have things be true and instead think in terms of consistency with evidence.

I'm still confused how one arrives at "judgments and concerns" about scientific questions independently of (roughly) scientific means, though. The nature of maternal bonds is not a scientific question, for example, but there are numerous, specific, scientific questions that go into understanding it (along with other types of knowledge). It's important to distinguish between the many different specific questions that one must understand in order to understand a very large, nebulous question.

The point is that you have to figure stuff out for yourself. Figuring stuff out is not the same as forming impressions. Listening to scientists is a reasonably good way to develop sound beliefs about certain questions (but check back, because science is flexible and shit gets constantly refined). For questions that have non-scientific components, this has to be integrated with other approaches.

It also sounds like you're having difficulty because your epistemological expectations are not entirely realistic. If you want certainty, it's the deductive arts, not the inductive ones, that should interest you, and the range of admissible questions in that arena is entirely different.
posted by busted_crayons at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I disagree with a statement made above "Always trust scientific consensus"-- that is what I'm aguing about. It shounds like busted_crayons and other and I are in agreement. There is no argument.

It sounds like you just agreed with me that "trusting scientific consensus" without any doubt or ability to question or make other decisions knowing there is a chance scientific consensus could be wrong is not what you're promoting. Right? There was I think, one or maybe two people who were essentially saying lay people should have blind adherance to scientific consensus and expert opinion:

I was pointing out why that is harmful and dangerous and I think my point stands and it's not "hand wavey". I love science, I love research and I do think science does and will help us understand the world better but it's a work in progress not a perfect depiction of truth.
posted by xarnop at 7:02 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Again, nobody worth taking seriously thinks you should "trust" anything without any doubt. You sound like you are shouting loudly that the sun is going to come up tomorrow.
posted by busted_crayons at 7:07 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, many people with far too much power think otherwise, so I feel like it's worth standing up to such ideas when I see them. I also don't assume someone I am discussing someone with is not worth taking seriously- they have an idea, an idea I think is dangerous and has harmed many people.

If it were easy to eradicate people abusing trust in scientific consensus to mock those who have concerns about then it wouldn't still happen but it does. So I think it's worth countering. I don't think ignoring harmful beliefs makes them go away.
posted by xarnop at 7:12 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: I think it can be said with absolute scientific certainty that modern bottle feeding is preferable to being breast fed by a mother that lives in a cave on the edge of a savannah, foraging for food and protecting her child from predators with a pointed stick.

I don't see how this claim could possibly fit into a category of things known with "absolute scientific certainty".

If indeed such a category even exists: that would be a set of scientific claims about which you would not "change your mind when the evidence demands it".

I think this really clearly demonstrates exactly the sort of thing xarnop and others in this thread have talked about and the OP article itself talks about when it says, "[...] science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else"

"Science" simply used as a mantle to hang upon some claim as a means to rhetorically bludgeon one's opponent, whether by a scientist or a non-scientist, or to pressure others into adopting some policy, is exactly what people don't trust and shouldn't trust.

busted_crayons: nobody worth taking seriously thinks you should "trust" anything without any doubt

QFT. But whether or not people actually think this in their heart of hearts, it actually gets said outright and implied pretty frequently, as evidenced by several comments in this thread. Fog of war and heat of battle and all that but it's not something that should be glossed over when we're specifically talking about trust and doubt about things identified with science.
posted by XMLicious at 7:20 AM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think ignoring harmful beliefs makes them go away.

Agreed. Where in this discussion are these harmful beliefs being promulgated by people who, in the context of this discussion, are any more powerful than you are?
posted by busted_crayons at 7:34 AM on February 17, 2015


Why do you care what I'm saying then? Why haven't you just ignored me and refused to respond? Why are you grilling me for responding to someone (I think multiple people!) in thread and then acting like I'm overly invested? Why do YOU care what I think or say anyway?
posted by xarnop at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2015


I've spent a lot of my life listening to men tell me how my concerns that the scientific establishment can come up with some very sexism, classist and damaging consensus on matters that hurt real lives are irrelevant- just to say I think I'm seeing a trend in this thread.

And there are fewer women in science to stand up to it. Especially with mothering- by default you HAVE to give up a lot of time spent mothering to advance in sciences, so prove that you want to get to spend time with your kids and the system should let you, you have to give up the time with your kids and by then it's too late!

But only trust those with degrees of course!
posted by xarnop at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2015


Also as a person with disabilities who knows what accommodations I need, I have to get a freaking masters degree before my opinion about that matters at all to influence public policy and ensure that I and many others with disability accommodation needs (or a rethinking of our needs themselves as being a sign of disability to begin with), I have to get a masters degree so I can prove I am "doing science right" and my concerns about my own and others health will make a difference at all. And as a mother knowing what accommodations would be healthy for my family, it's really irrelevant what I think because policy is set to being very destructive to mothers who want to spend time with their kids.

Meanwhile I have a kid to raise, I am in excruciating pain all the time and can barely work wage jobs which break me down even more, and I've taking cellular and molecular biology three times andthe most I can get is a D.

So tell me again that my voice doesn't get heard because I DO have less power than a lot of people here, and over access to things I really need. Other people's opinions or lack of knowledge or badly done science IS damaging my life, it's setting policies and social judgements about me that my opinion is powerless to impact unless I get a position of authority that proves my opinion os "Scientific" enough to matter. So it fucking matters.
posted by xarnop at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2015


And as a mother knowing what accommodations would be healthy for my family, it's really irrelevant what I think because policy is set to being very destructive to mothers who want to spend time with their kids.

How in the world is this the fault of "science"?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:18 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


People mean a lot of different things when they use the word science. Science as it is used by people, is an imperfect tool subject to human flaws. YES some sections of science in the hard science category are very geared toward accuracy and repeatable testable results. Others are very subjective and subject to human interpretation. This whole topic is about why people might not trust expert opinion. I think I'm giving you plenty of good reasons why.

There is no such thing as pure "science" that exists outside the realm of human error, as it seems you want me to treat the word.
posted by xarnop at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2015


This one found problems at 2.5ppm which is well under the US levels.

No, it's not. The current recommendation for fluoride is 0.7 ppm. If the level is above 2.0ppm, then the EPA recommends using alternate sources of water for children. Public water systems are not allowed to have more than 4.0ppm, and the EPA specifically recommends people not drink water with that high a concentration.

The study you linked to didn't even break out fluoride levels below 1.5ppm.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:39 AM on February 17, 2015


Oh! Sorry I linked the wrong study. and I got my info for US standards here
posted by xarnop at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2015


I think I'm giving you plenty of good reasons why.

I don't. Public policy (though I admit your wording is so vague I have no idea what specific policies you might be talking about) is rarely if ever set by scientists.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:52 AM on February 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I believe you if what was indicated on the page I saw is incorrect.
This would indicate the max level was still set to 4ppm at least up to 2011 if correct:
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is announcing a proposal to change the recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. And the Environmental Protection Agency will review whether the maximum cutoff of 4 milligrams per liter is too high."

At this point I'm not sure what or why you're arguing with me so I'm going to drop it.
posted by xarnop at 9:00 AM on February 17, 2015


To Steely-eyed Missile Man--> "At this point I'm not sure what or why you're arguing with me so I'm going to drop it."
posted by xarnop at 9:01 AM on February 17, 2015


Why do you care what I'm saying then? Why haven't you just ignored me and refused to respond? Why are you grilling me for responding to someone (I think multiple people!) in thread and then acting like I'm overly invested? Why do YOU care what I think or say anyway?

Because I am personally threatened when people aim their criticism at "science" when they are really criticizing something else, and because I gave a detailed, good-faith answer to your question about "trusting science" and was met with hostility.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am in excruciating pain all the time

Yup, me too, for the most part. Chronic back and chest pain leading to weakness in my lower arms, and some sort of inflammatory intestinal problem, all of thus-far inexplicable etiology and all making it hard to function properly sometimes, and non-excellent experiences with doctors.

But I'm not making large oversimplifications about all of science, conflating unrelated issues, lashing out at people who are merely asking for clarity, and quoting the John Birch Society, on this basis.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I love science!!! I don't however trust scientific consensus as defined by PEOPLE. There is a difference and I think I agreed the latter is the part that I - and many people who don't "trust science" have a problem with? Usually when people say "trust science" they mean trust what the scientists say as fact. In any given field there would be more or less probability of error or subjective interpretation of results.

So simply to trust what any given scientific consensus of any field is as fact- and to ignore any potential that safety assessments could be incorrect, could be dangerous to individuals who actually have to live with the consequences.

I think there's a semantic argument going on here and it bothers me since I don't think we're in disagreement. When people tell me to "Trust science" they are often telling me to believe PEOPLE who are doing science, that is what I have a problem with- not the institution of science itself. But for all purpose when you are talking about the problem of the public not trusting scientists all the reasons scientists have proven untrustworthy or inaccurate despite claiming to have certainty- are pretty valid aspects of that conversation.
posted by xarnop at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2015


I don't think you can take away all the abuses that the scientific community has carried out on the lay people out of the conversation on why the lay people have distrust for scientists. I think it's great to consult the science and to take it seriously, but I also think it's understandable that people might have their own reasons for exercising caution over matters scientists might claim are safe.

And on the fluoride issue, it looks like the consensus is that the max level might in fact BE unsafe and people had legitimate reasons to worry about fluroide exposures. Why do you feel you were met with hostility? I do not feel hostility to you I've enjoyed your comments and I think we're in agreement.

I think on a semantically issue I don't think you can use the word science to mean only the good parts of it and the expect the concersation about why people don't trust it to leave out the parts where it's been inaccurate or wrong or harmed people. And by it I mean the broad umbrella of all that we consider science. It's a big word and so trust in all of it doesn't seem a good idea (which I think we already established we are in agreement over?)
posted by xarnop at 9:35 AM on February 17, 2015


Oh! Sorry I linked the wrong study.

Again, the study's control group is children who drink water at levels at or just above the HHS recommendation. It says nothing about how low levels of fluoride affect the thyroid.

As far as HHS, CDC, and EPA recommendations, the recommendations you are citing are recommendations for naturally occurring fluoride levels. The 0.7ppm recommendation is for artifically added fluoride. Only about 5% of water sources have more than that concentration. As far as I can tell, the recommendation for artificially-added fluoride has never been above 1.2ppm.

And this is why I'm arguing with you: You cherry-pick studies that claim to prove what you've already decided, you misinterpret their results (and note I haven't addressed whether the studies you've linked are well-done or not), and then you blame scientists for being untrustworthy. And I care about this because this is a public health issue. Fluoridation has dramatically improved dental health in this country. Dental health is physical health. The anti-scientific opposition to fluoridation actively harms us.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:35 AM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


What certainties are we talking about? Because the most doubts of science and scientists out there are about VERY settled science, like climate change, the safety and usefulness of vaccines, that homeopathy is bunk, evolution, etc.

The point, I think, is most people who distrust science believe scientists are making $ making claims, or that our knowledge always changes so they are never 100% sure about anything, so why bother. Even a reversal about one finding on one area of science isn't enough basis to distrust all of science and all the people behind the data.
posted by agregoli at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love science!!! I don't however trust scientific consensus as defined by PEOPLE.

The practice of science is an activity conceived of and conducted by people, though. You can't just talk about "people" saying "trust science". Different people mean different things, in different contexts. Some of these people are being manipulative and dishonest and some of them have uncomplicated intentions. You have to distinguish. I think this is an important point to reiterate, since I think a lot of distrust in science arises from this source, namely failure to differentiate between things said by different people, with different motives.

For example, as was pointed out above, scientists don't, as a rule, set governmental or corporate policy, so it's uncritical to, for example, criticize "scientific progress" for damaging the environment. I think this is worth pointing out, not just to you, xarnop, but also to a lot of environmentalists who criticize "science" but actually mean something else. (In fact, most of the scientists I know are environmentalists to a greater extent than the non-scientists, but that's just anecdote and there are all sorts of potential confounding factors.)
posted by busted_crayons at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


"At this point I'm not sure what or why you're arguing with me so I'm going to drop it."

Possibly because with the exception of the fluoride thing (which I do not think you are getting the best of) you are speaking in extremely vague and thus virtually inarguable generalities?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:38 AM on February 17, 2015


I think what people would be referring to when they talk about "science" as a thing to trust or not, or to doubt or not doubt, is something like "the authority asserted when someone declares a choice amongst several options to be a matter of applied science, and asserts their own preferred option to objectively be the choice which a committee of all the existing scientists in relevant fields would arrive at were they brought together to confer."

I mean sure, go ahead and say "that's not really what science is and you should use a different word" but if someone is speaking sincerely it's pretty obvious that it's entirely rational and reasonable to not trust the thing they're saying they don't trust: authority that is asserted in this fashion.

I would think that scientists themselves very, very infrequently make assertions like that, especially not outside of very technically specific propositions advanced amongst their peers. But we can both acknowledge that and also acknowledge that for an average person going through their daily life a large enough percentage of such claims of authority they'll encounter will be bullshit, so as to justify extreme hesitancy when faced with such a thing. Regardless of the facts of any individual case we might hash out here and prove or disprove.

And yes, phrasing all that in a statement like "I don't trust science" is crude and reductive and misleading if said publicly, and in this day and age is probably frequently said publicly in an intentional attempt to mislead, but if someone does appear to be genuinely expressing their perceptions this way it may be a more effective approach to just straight up concede that there's some underlying substance there and then talk about the semantic issues, as opposed to running through all kinds of examples that require research to evaluate or trying to Socratically demonstrate more useful meanings of the term "science".
posted by XMLicious at 9:38 AM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I apologize about the link- I had already looked up the original articles in pubmed, when I pulled the link I did check that the links it linked to were the ones I had read but I didn't read the fluff part very closely. I assume mefites will look for actual facts and see the links went to harvard.

I don't say a peep about fluoride outside the mefite community where I know people are smart enough to look it up for themselves.
And it looks like they DID change the recommended levels, so mocking people for even wanting to see more research done or not thinking enough has been done instead of taking people's concerns seriously would not have brought us to those answers!!
posted by xarnop at 9:39 AM on February 17, 2015


it's pretty obvious that it's entirely rational and reasonable to not trust the thing they're saying they don't trust: authority that is asserted in this fashion.

I am all for an anti-authoritarianism and anti-paternalism festival, XMLicious, but not a confusion-festival. I think it's important to distinguish between scientific and non-scientific questions, and to distinguish between the practice of science and the practice of authoritarianism/paternalism. It's important precisely because the latter erodes trust in, and damages, the former. The mechanism of that erosion is precisely the misdirected backlash that we're seeing in this very thread.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2015


mocking people for even wanting to see more research done or not thinking enough has been done instead of taking people's concerns seriously would not have brought us to those answers!!

I would be surprised if this was even remotely true. I'm going to guess the impetus for continuing research came from researchers within the field and not from random people expressing "concerns" about fluoride levels.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


So the concerns of ordinary human beings should never even make their way to being researched? Talk about not taking people's concerns seriously.

Before it was researched , no one knew the answer. We lay people have to wait for a researcher to care about it before it matters- even though these issues often impact our welfare, in some instances more than researchers themselves.

I just think the people who are being discussed here that DON'T trust in the medical establishment or in the government's statements about facts- have their reasons for that distrust and you were get a lot further trying to understand those reasons and trying to bring the science to people in a way they can understand it- and also understanding that you can't prove something is safe in the long term unless you have done lifeltimes or multi-generation studies and with epigenetic research, toxicity can in fact impact multiple generations as can other exposures.

So let people be hesitant especially when their safety is on the line? And if people want more longer term or detailed studies, maybe that's a good idea anyway? That will only expand our knowledge?

There's a lot of baggage and judgements that come with the phrase often repeated "trust science" and it's a much more loaded term than just "consult the research and experts to understand things better when forming opinions )which I AGREE WITH. People are often trying to convert others to their beliefs when they say "trust science" and it's part of a lot of different debates that go well beyond the pure and good institution of science itself - which I think is of itself a great thing for humanity.
posted by xarnop at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2015


If their concerns make no sense, and are based on gut feelings, then no, they should not be researched. If there's any merit to a counter claim, scientists are more than willing to study it.
posted by agregoli at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2015


If their concerns make no sense, and are based on gut feelings, then no, they should not be researched.

They should instead be beaten out of them with moralizing and humiliation?
posted by No Robots at 10:02 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like that I had a very real bond with my daughter? If I can't prove that with science it doesn't exist and if scientists don't feel like studying it, we just can't learn anymore about it, we just assume that tearing children from their mothers is fine social policy and healthy for infants?

The things scientists research come from gut feelings too.
posted by xarnop at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2015


So let me clarify; I love science, I trust those working in hte hard sciences to be lightyears more accurate than I am about factual matters of how things function-- I do NOT trust "scientific consensus" in every field and every subject as equally worthy of my trust or to override my own instincts. If that still sounds like I am "Attacking science" then I guess we just don't understand each other.
posted by xarnop at 10:06 AM on February 17, 2015


No Robots, I have no idea what you're referring to.
posted by agregoli at 10:06 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mother and child bonding has a lot of scientific studies and proof relating to it as a thing that exists.
posted by agregoli at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


But it didn't 15 years ago. All I had was my extincts and the eperts saying I was wrong.

So... if my gut told me there were effects, is there any grounds for me to stand up to experts and say "I know you haven't found effects YET but my gut tells me there are effects?"
Am I allowed to stand up to scientific consensus on ground of what my gut tells me, especially that they are wrong and that with further testing they might find a different reality?

It turns out I was right but back when it was just me arguing it I took on all comers like we are doing now trying to explain it with people mocking me and telling me my gut feelings are silly and there's no evidence but I knew anyway.

Should I have discareded that knowing? Or rather, because I DID discard that knowing, because I DID trust the consensus at the time... I have to live the horror, the hell that is the consequence. And it all falls on my shoulders.

For being the fucking fool, who trusted the scientifc consensus when I should have stood up to it. EVen though I couldn't prove it with research at the time. That my daugher needed me.
posted by xarnop at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2015


xarnop, I don't think we fundamentally disagree, either (except about fluoride, possibly, and whose authority it is reasonable to appeal to, but those are minor issues in this discussion, for me).

At this point, as a person who's more interested in epistemology than in actual science, I mostly want to know, in detail, what "gut feelings" and "instincts" are. This isn't a scientific question and basically any elaboration would answer my question. I'm just interested in seeing a specific explanation about what those methods entail, since I also think that we have to employ a diversity of tactics in understanding stuff to match the large variety of types of questions that we confront. Obviously most conclusions are reached on the basis of various intuitive processes or applications of heuristics, and I think it's interesting to detail these. The problem of matching questions with effective methods is really interesting and important. On this note, this person's writing might interest you.

Sorry if some of my earlier comments were abrasive. (My "experiment" finished running, so I have to go for now.)
posted by busted_crayons at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


>charlie don't surf: I think it can be said with absolute scientific certainty that modern bottle feeding is preferable to being breast fed by a mother that lives in a cave on the edge of a savannah, foraging for food and protecting her child from predators with a pointed stick.

I don't see how this claim could possibly fit into a category of things known with "absolute scientific certainty".

If indeed such a category even exists: that would be a set of scientific claims about which you would not "change your mind when the evidence demands it".

I think this really clearly demonstrates exactly the sort of thing xarnop and others in this thread have talked about and the OP article itself talks about when it says, "[...] science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else"

"Science" simply used as a mantle to hang upon some claim as a means to rhetorically bludgeon one's opponent, whether by a scientist or a non-scientist, or to pressure others into adopting some policy, is exactly what people don't trust and shouldn't trust.


While it is impossible to say with absolute scientific certainty what the proto-human life conditions were in the Pleistocene era (which I was referring to), we can say with certainty that modern life conditions are a huge improvement, due to scientific research and technological applications of that science, for example, fire, the wheel, the lever and fulcrum, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, astronomy, navigation, etc. Humans may not be the only animals that use tools, but they are the only animals capable of recording and transmitting knowledge of their tools to successive generations, so that their descendants might make make improvements through scientific research, and consequently bequeath those ideas and scientific methods to the next generation, ad infinitum.

If you have any questions about the objective truth of my assertion, I suggest you look into this renown explanation.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:26 AM on February 17, 2015


Yes I regret mentioning the fluoride as I really don't care about it and drink fuoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste- My point was really that people are often bopmbarded with chemicals from industry etc that really just serve the industries, not the people's interest and people who question or are concerned often get mocked- when there are good reasons to not want to consume or try things that are new to the human condition, they could easily have harms or very long term consequences and you can't prove your concerns are valid until it's too late.

Either way the people pay the price when their concerns are ignored and often there is not accountability when things do go wrong. It's all "we thought it was ok at the time" but it was really serving someone's pocketbook to make the public take risks to their health they don't even want to take because very short term studies did not prove there were harms. That shouldn't HAVE to be good enough for people. People should be allowed to doubt and question.

I want good research to become accessible to the people and for people to engage with it, but questioning is good, not bad. Even good research can be questioned, but I do agree that for questions to be taken seriously it would help for the person to engage in understanding the material and hearing responses from people doing the research to their questions.

I think we need to have a selection of people paid- from different types of funding sources to get a variety of perspectives- to engage with the public making research easier for them to understand. I think this would really help- and to make it two ways, to bring concerns people have regarding how sceince is being used or how things may effect them to researchers who could better serve human beings.Just an idea that might alleviate some of the tendency for weird fringe groups that refuse to engage with research at all (which I think is always a problem) to get ot where they thrive so much.
posted by xarnop at 10:27 AM on February 17, 2015


There was definitely evidence of mother and child bonding more than 15 years ago. If you were subject to a bad doctor or public policy, it doesn't mean there was a deficit in the science. Even if you were told that, it doesn't mean that. But I think this is very personal for you, and I can respect that.
posted by agregoli at 10:27 AM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I agree, science is good! But whatever research had been done then was not accessible to me, and there was research that I had found which ( I was specifically looking on the impact of adoptees) stated that there wereno effects and everything was fine for adoptees and adoption was good.

It was promoted by experts and in books. And my gut feelings, as an adoptee, as the mother of a child who could potentially lose their own mom in this deal-- my gut feelings should have counted for something right?

When the Primal wound came out the REAL SCIENCE (so they claimed) community laughed and laughed, for one thing social science is kind of silly, and also it's just a theory? Making mountains of molehills! As other types of research came out each one, could be looked as isolated and easy to discard. Adoptees don't have any problems and the large population based studies that looked purely at economic success rates of mental health showed- well a little difference for adoptees but small, basically insignificant!

My own gut feelings about my experience were plowed over my people claiming science is how to understand these things! How to make decisions about health!

So at that time, do gut instincts count for anything at all? If my instincts said that infants can feel more than we give them credit for and that there's at least a chance they could be deeply harmed from such a separation, am I allowed to challenge without proof people who claim everything is fine?
posted by xarnop at 10:37 AM on February 17, 2015


Here's me, a lay person. On what grounds can I challenge these people if gut instincts are laughable? When people claiming to be on the side of what they call "Science" use claims of "science" to diminish people's ability to wiegh their instincts about what will be healthy for them and their children into their decision processes, I think that diminishes people's trust in "scientific consensus" on matters of health and welfare.
posted by xarnop at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2015


Your feelings about your own life, of course, count for something. But I'm not understanding what you're arguing...that scientific studies should be based on what the public feels is important, even if its contrary to established medical knowledge (vaccines are unnecessary) or non-evidence based? I want to understand what you're saying in the broader sense, away from your own life experience.
posted by agregoli at 10:42 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


And in the example of vaccines, it is VERY dangerous to let parents have their gut feelings dictate the giving or non giving of vaccines. On a vague tip, sure, let parents follow their gut. As scientific health policy, that's not an option. It depends what we're talking about, and I don't think any blanket statement applies.
posted by agregoli at 10:45 AM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I agree on that-- with vaccines, and environmental regulations- the threats to lives and the sustainability of our planet are compelling enough that I think it merits a unique override on gut instinct-- but I think it's understandable that people are uncomfortable with that, so starting with understanding and validation and some knowledge of the belief system they are coming from (like for anti vaxxers they don't tend to like excessive pharmaceuticals to treat everything and often have actual reasons for that backed by evidence-- you can acknowledge the reasons they have distrust of the medical establishment and in doing so build trust to present the facts you have they need to understand).

I also think we will succeed reaching those who are resisting better if we try to understand where they are coming from- provide a clear message of the suffering measles and other diseases causes and the damage to the environment currently happening (with visuals) and use an understanding of how to approach the people who are uncertain in a way that they will best hear it.

Like some people research usability, doing research on how to reach people who don't believe the evidence, could help reach them!
posted by xarnop at 10:53 AM on February 17, 2015


This is being done. Public officials of course are trying to present the facts on vaccines and figure out how to convince people. But that doesn't stop people from finding their own flawed "evidence" online. It's a huge problem, this idea that everyone knows what's best because they decided so.
posted by agregoli at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


We lay people have to wait for a researcher to care about it before it matters- even though these issues often impact our welfare, in some instances more than researchers themselves.

What is the alternative you are proposing? Gut feelings as public policy? We did that for thousands of years, and it sucked. However, public policy gets made without regard to scientific research or even contrary to what research might suggest would be beneficial to people all the time. This is not the fault of and has little to nothing to do with the scientific process, the scientific consensus or individual scientists.

My point was really that people are often bopmbarded with chemicals from industry etc that really just serve the industries, not the people's interest and people who question or are concerned often get mocked

I really don't think this is true at all, but you are mixing a lot of things together and changing from one to another when it's convenient for your argument. Lots of times concerned get raised about various things (for example, BPA), and studies get done, and the studies support those concerns or don't (or are inconclusive). What else can we do? There only alternative to evidence is just doing whatever without regard to how reality is actually constituted, and that's pretty much just madness.

Again, though, it really seems like this is a Very Emotional Issue for you stemming from one incident in your past that perhaps involved one individual (or small group of tightly professionally interrelated individuals) and you are generalizing from that to an entire edifice of human philosophy that has done more to reveal the workings of the world than anything else ever has. Is it perfect? Of course not, far from it, and no one in this thread has or would argue otherwise. However, there is no alternative that is more trustworthy or even as trustworthy. Study after study (ha!) has shown that human intuition is pretty garbage, and as far as I can see, that's pretty much the only alternative to evidence gathering and hypothesis making (outside of the domain of the purely logical, which is limited).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seriously, if research always dictated public policy, we'd have a cleaner planet, legal marijuana, and universal sex education that includes contraceptives, to name a few.
posted by agregoli at 11:10 AM on February 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


merits a unique override on gut instinct

Gut instinct is virtually always wrong on matters of fact, though. 'Gut instinct' is what many anti-vaxxers cite, is what many climate change denialists cite, etc etc etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:19 AM on February 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think "Gut instinct" is a bit of a sidetrack, honestly. Pretty much everyone in modern society including working scientists needs to delegate scientific truth seeking on certain matters to someone else. The problem is that for many people, the authorities they've traditionally delegated that truth seeking to have lost a certain amount of credibility, and others outside of the science establishment have filled the vacuum.

Well, how do you regain someone's credibility? Things that work are treating that person's concerns with respect, providing transparency, and aggressively dealing with people on your side that have done things to damage that credibility. Things that don't work are talking down to people, ignoring their concerns, and making fun of them.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem is, ignoring their concerns is exactly what we have to do with anti-vaxxers, for example. I don't have the link handy, but a recent study showed that more knowledge makes them even more resistant. So, time to ignore them. And the climate change denialists, and the anti-evolution twits, and everyone else--including politicians and demagogues--who'd rather spout of platitudes than pay attention to what the fact-based community is saying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:56 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I guess a lot of people who claim to be science based also seem to trust in psychiatry which really has much less "science" behind it's theory base than is often claimed here. So in the context of MEFITES claiming to be science based, there's a lot of issues I actually don't think are done all that well here, and yet people think of themselves as "Science based" and their opponents as anti-science.

So for me it's really a large range of issues, from health, which I personally like ayurveda and have found that it corresponds with science fairly well (except in ways it doesnt which science can improve on) but there is this knee jerk reaction to even CONSIDERING that it's worth exploring with research and lot's of mockery and rejection of the ideas.

Things like that make me think people who call themselves the "fact based community" have their bias and blind spots and I am even less likely to trust them.

It's not just me that has been battling for voice on adoption issues, there is a whole community of adoptees that feel impacted by adoption calling for better and more transparent research as well as moms who've lost children, and literally research that gets suppressed like a study I was in-- that found unspeakably high rates of trauma in women who lost children to adoption and the study was not released because IT DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH ADOPTIVE PARENT PERSPECTIVE. And there's big money and panels pushing positive adoption research and fucked up shit going on with it that is well beyond me having a bad experience with one fucking person.

If you have any familiarity with the adoption community, this is a huge ongoing debate and the experts have tended to be adoptive parents or have adoptive parent/middle class bias toward young/single moms losing their children to wealthier people. I have also been fighting to get medical care from people who don't care about me at all, disability services that are lacking- or eligibility criteria that rule out a lot of people that essentially can't work but their pain is not real enough etc and they all claim to represent the medical establishment and to be using science- however I don't trust them because they haven't served me well, nor are they serving a lot of broke people who don't have great insurance or ability to self pay for quality care.

I know when you say trust science you mean the REAL good science people! In my world I don't meet those people and they sure aren't trying to help me. Some distrust is very warranted and I imagine that's the same for a lot of people. I think you want people to trust you have to earn it, not expect it.


Throughout history science experiments on the poor, the imprisoned, minority races, and even orphans who have no parents to stand up for them, have shown me what the scientific community is capable of doing to people when it's given too much power and trust.
posted by xarnop at 12:40 PM on February 17, 2015


I guess a lot of people who claim to be science based also seem to trust in psychiatry which really has much less "science" behind it's theory base than is often claimed here.

Really? I won't pretend that psychiatry is perfect, but virtually every day there are studies published on human behaviour and responses to stimuli, responses to medications, and so forth.

personally like ayurveda and have found that it corresponds with science fairly well (except in ways it doesnt which science can improve on)

So... you take the parts that have been verified by science? Undermining your own argument here.

And there's big money and panels pushing positive adoption research

In all of your comments here you keep conflating what people with money and power do with what scientists do. Scientists don't make public policy, and very rarely have any control over which studies get funded; those decisions are made by knowledge-poor asshats for the most part. Usually we call them politicians.

In my world I don't meet those people and they sure aren't trying to help me.

Because those are not the people who make the decisions. The people who make the decisions are not scientists. I don't know how to make this more clear.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:53 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Scientists don't make public policy, and very rarely have any control over which studies get funded; those decisions are made by knowledge-poor asshats for the most part. Usually we call them politicians.

Ve vere joost following orders.
posted by No Robots at 12:56 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem is, ignoring their concerns is exactly what we have to do with anti-vaxxers, for example. I don't have the link handy, but a recent study showed that more knowledge makes them even more resistant. So, time to ignore them. And the climate change denialists, and the anti-evolution twits, and everyone else--including politicians and demagogues--who'd rather spout of platitudes than pay attention to what the fact-based community is saying.

First, let me be clear that I think it's totally fine (and correct in this case) to override anti-vaxxer's wishes. There are real public health issues, and minority rights aren't absolute.

Second, "more knowledge" presupposes that you are going to win the debate on facts, when those facts don't have much to do with why they have their position in the first place (and I can guarantee that not everything that you personally believe was arrived at solely through, Vulcan rational consideration).

If you care about eventually having these people on your side, you have to treat it like a political campaign and address what they're really worried about. If you don't care, you can say what makes you feel good until they vote you out of office. I personally don't want to see science voted out of office.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 1:06 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Heya, xarnop, you've been sort of hyper-engaging on this in here and at this point it'd be a good idea to just leave it at having said your piece and stepping away so the thread can breathe.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:08 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


While it is impossible to say with absolute scientific certainty what the proto-human life conditions were in the Pleistocene era (which I was referring to), we can say with certainty that modern life conditions are a huge improvement

Yeah, no. I'm amazed you're even willing to try to pull the bait-and-switch from "absolute scientific certainty" about bottle feeding over breastfeeding where you actually specified the diet and living conditions of the mother, to some hand-wavy crap about general living conditions and astronomy and fulcrums.

I can think of no better approach as far as terminology but I can't help but feel that perhaps all the effort to staunchly defend the single word "science" in public awareness and try to draw a sharp distinction between scientific/non-scientific is just accomplishing something like brand management for performances like the above, companies that want to stick "science" in their product names and trademarks, and the bazillion-times-worse abuses in the form of things like the climate change denialism et cetera.

It sucks that our society doesn't choose to devote bottomless legal resources to preventing science dilution the way we do trademark dilution. I suppose we got started out on the wrong foot beginning the twentieth century with even a religion that had "Science" in its name, damn you Mary Baker Eddy.
posted by XMLicious at 1:09 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


So at that time, do gut instincts count for anything at all?

I don't see how one can answer this, since it hasn't even been explained yet what a gut instinct is. Again, it's very worthwhile to discuss diverse methods of understanding things, but just because one is talking about methods that fall outside of the strict definition of science doesn't mean that the need for clarity and detail disappears.

and very rarely have any control over which studies get funded

In fairness, this isn't completely true. Agencies that award grants often do so on the basis of review of proposals carried out by people working in the same, or a similar, field. So, individual scientists have little control over whether their proposal gets funded, but scientists are involved in decisions about which research to fund, at least at a granular level. I suspect that at a higher level -- i.e. allocating "the science money" instead of dividing up the specific chunk already allocated to bovine excretodynamics or whatever -- the decisions are more political.

Also, I strongly support the sentiment articulated above, that considerable energy should be spent on making research results clearly and transparently available to the public. A lot of this involves science education, and philosophy-of-science education. In order to be the kind of educated layperson who can make meaningful use of scientific conclusions -- i.e. in order to be confident enough in one's own evaluative skills to intelligently trust scientific conclusions -- one needs to develop certain skills that, in principle, most people will readily develop given interest and opportunities.

A lot of these skills involve basic statistics and a general ability to think about things in a rough, approximate, quantitative way (e.g. the kinds of skills developed by thinking about Fermi problems). It's also important for beneficiaries of scientific research (I fucking hate the word "consumer", sorry) to understand something about what the scientific process is, what science purports to be able to do, etc., and also roughly what some current areas of research are.

Unfortunately, there's a chicken-and-egg problem. Achieving this kind of educational goal would require an enormous political effort by the people who consider it important; arrayed against these efforts are some of the very people at whom improved scientific outreach/education would be aimed (as well as more serious enemies of both the would-be educators and the skeptical public). So: how to get people on board with the huge collective efforts required to address both genuine public concern and unfounded public hostility to science, when those very efforts will be met with the same hostility and concern?

I write my cheques to the Union of Concerned Scientists, rant on MeFi, and then go and write the usual shitty formulaic "Broader Impact" statements in NSF grant proposals. Mea culpa.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:14 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed you're even willing to try to pull the bait-and-switch from "absolute scientific certainty" about bottle feeding over breastfeeding where you actually specified the diet and living conditions of the mother, to some hand-wavy crap about general living conditions and astronomy and fulcrums.

That is not at all what I said, and you know it. Let me be more explicit, without any metaphors that go whoosh.

What I said was, without science, we would be living like animals. Or more specifically, dying like animals.

Intelligent beings have self-awareness, and thus can think about their thinking processes, refining them, producing ideas like logic, the Scientific method, etc. and they can record and transmit those self-reflexive thoughts to others, who can incorporate them into their own ideas, improving on the arts and sciences of past generations.

To everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:18 PM on February 17, 2015


I suspect that at a higher level -- i.e. allocating "the science money" instead of dividing up the specific chunk already allocated to bovine excretodynamics or whatever -- the decisions are more political.

You're right, sorry, I should have been more clear that I was talking about high-level, not e.g. individual uni department funding allocation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:22 PM on February 17, 2015


You're right, sorry, I should have been more clear that I was talking about high-level, not e.g. individual uni department funding allocation.

That's cool. I actually have a very poor understanding of how, say, the US NSF operates at the medium and high levels, but I do have some more senior acquaintances who've either actually been in charge of various bits of it or who have been on proposal-review panels, and they had these positions because they are prominent researchers in the field. But, crucially, as you say, they're refereeing the fight over a politically-determined, specific chunk of money. You're absolutely right that somewhere, up there, in the US, Lamar Fucking Smith is determining whether the grad students will eat ramen noodles in the lab or go hungry; scientists just have a role in deciding which grad student is which.

Re the rest of my previous comment, I should add that integral to arming the public with the scientific knowledge they need to use research sensibly would be reinforcement of skills generally regarded as within the purview of the humanities. Clear thinking, precision, good communication, the ability to articulate fine distinctions, etc.

Actually, maybe an answer to the OP's titular question is that there's an enormous amount of high-quality research being carried out by a relatively small group of people (there's some shit research, too), in a population in which educational opportunities and skills are increasingly sparsely distributed. Moreover, when scientific results yield practical benefits (which is one of numerous motivations for doing science), those benefits accrue to the public in an increasingly unequal way. Thus, to most people, science looks at best rarefied and pointless (since the observer doesn't have the equipment to appreciate or evaluate it) and at worst like an active assault (when the science is being used in service of exploitation). The answer is at minimum more equitable, and all around vastly better education, but even that seems like a depressingly tall order.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:31 PM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


One more point about science and diet that I forgot is that there is, at any given time, always someone recommending pretty much any imaginable diet. So no matter what scientists discover, there's always someone who can go, "SEE! I was right all along!"

But that guy is like the person who "predicts" the Super Bowl by tweeting every possible outcome and then deleting all but the right ones.

Even if science eventually validates the low-carb diet or finds evidence that fluoridated water is harmful, that doesn't mean the paleo-enthusiasts or the John Birch Society knew something that scientists missed. It would just mean they were lucky and guessed right. And that luck wouldn't imply that vax-skeptics or climate change skeptics are more likely to be right than the scientists they're doubting.

Yes, there's a chance that scientists are wrong about any of their recommendations on any particular topic. But if your only reason for doubting a particular recommendation that current science seems to support is vague misgivings about groupthink, or "Science has been wrong before!" or just that you don't personally like the thing they're recommending, it's more likely that you're wrong than that they are.
posted by straight at 2:41 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


That is not at all what I said, and you know it. Let me be more explicit, without any metaphors that go whoosh.

Your very specific claim of "absolute scientific certainty" on a topic that just so happened to be the exact same aspect of infant nutrition mentioned in a preceding comment by someone who had been talking about parenting through half the thread was a "metaphor". Not intended to be a factual statement, huh?

This is performance art or something. Bravo for illustrating the crux of the thread through interpretive posting.
posted by XMLicious at 3:23 PM on February 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bravo for illustrating the crux of the thread through interpretive posting.

(facepalm)

Instead of you calling the kettle black again, let's look at exactly what I said.

I think it can be said with absolute scientific certainty that modern bottle feeding is preferable to being breast fed by a mother that lives in a cave on the edge of a savannah, foraging for food and protecting her child from predators with a pointed stick.

Perhaps it was regrettable to put this in terms of breast feeding, since I was primarily intending to compare Homo Neanderthalensis with Homo Sapiens, and it seemed obvious (to me) that there was no bottle feeding in the Paleolithic Era. Since this is distracting you, let's put it in terms of adult feeding.

Did you eat today? What did you eat? Was it something fresh and wholesome from a grocery store or restaurant, or was it some raw, rotten Mammoth meat with some roots and grubs, or maybe nothing at all? How did you get it? Did you exchange it for some monetary tokens, or did you chase it down and kill it with a pointed stick? What would you prefer, being a Neanderthal, or Homo Sapiens? I assert that there a scientifically quantifiable difference between those two creatures and their societies, and that Homo Sapiens is quantifiably, definitely better, and it is absolutely certain that much of the improvement in life condition is due to science and technology. I don't know what the hell you are trying to assert.

You remind me of a New Yorker cartoon I saw recently. Two Neanderthals are sitting in a cave, clad only in fur loincloths. One says, "We're on the Paleo Diet, and we get plenty of exercise. So how come we all die before we're 35?"
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:31 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


What a beautiful opportunity for a lesson in the type of heuristic reasoning that we have to apply in most situations, where science is inapplicable or too ponderous and our need to detect bullshit too immediate (or the evidence TL;DR). The heuristic in this case is: reference to Reason magazine, even in support of an independently verifiable fact: strike one. Use of the word 'savannah' in almost any context in an internet discussion: strike two...
posted by busted_crayons at 5:14 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suppose you are lucky then, that I didn't use the word "ibex." But I am not responsible for your triggers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:16 PM on February 17, 2015


I assert that there a scientifically quantifiable difference between those two creatures and their societies, and that Homo Sapiens is quantifiably, definitely better

Jesus, I'd rather talk about fluoride. Do you think that "which is better?" is actually a scientific question, or is this little discussion about the Stanley Kubrick Version of Human Evolution some kind of shorthand for a point, or what?
posted by busted_crayons at 5:29 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Science needs scientism, and the "scienceandtechnology!" crowd, about as much as it needs creationists and homeopathevangelism.
posted by busted_crayons at 5:31 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, gee, since you have ostentatiously mentioned a bunch of science-related things again and behaved as though they're what I've been disagreeing with and as though I think neanderthals had "modern bottle feeding", I can now see how wrong I was to get the impression that you simply made up an absolute scientific certainty when you wanted to contradict xarnop.
posted by XMLicious at 6:05 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If anyone wants to engage in rational discussion, at this point they will need to assert an objectively verifiable hypothesis, other than that someone is disagreeing with someone else.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:31 PM on February 17, 2015


objectively verifiable hypothesis

Like that one thing is "better" than something else? Will an objectively verifiable subjective thing like that work?
posted by busted_crayons at 7:50 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anybody want to speculate as to which subgroup of Homo sapiens is objectively the best?
posted by No Robots at 8:26 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


No Robots: the best Homo Sapiens are those that denied the savannah, bottled the homeopathic fluoride, vaccinated the Neanderthals, and breastfed Lysenko.

Actually, "Breastfed Lysenko" is, as a matter of objective, verifiable fact, the best band name to emerge from this thread.
posted by busted_crayons at 8:47 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


If anyone wants to engage in rational discussion, at this point they will need to assert an objectively verifiable hypothesis, other than that someone is disagreeing with someone else.

Oh, I get it—so if someone points out again and again that it looks as though you completely made up an "absolute scientific certainty" for which you are unable to produce any evidence and hence probably never had any basis for whatsoever, and you conspicuously avoid addressing how you learned of this certainty or what observations and reasoning within the scientific community confirm it so absolutely to your knowledge that you would punctuate it with a derisive "So yeah, science." and then you go on to affect confusion as to what the hell is being asserted by your critic, the proposal that you falsified scientific conclusions and consensus off the cuff for rhetorical purposes is really only a subjectively verifiable hypothesis, verifiable by you alone.

The rest of us are compelled by Rational Discussion to treat you as a sort of Schrödinger's Polemicist: was he full of shit and girded his own opinion with Absolute Scientific Certainty, or does he actually have an immense catalog of proof and signed affirmative statements from all the pertinent scientists in the world, and is merely declining to share all of that? Who knows! Either could be the case. Maybe the bullshit wave function has yet to collapse and the proposition is neither true nor untrue. There's no data and hence it's utterly beyond objective rational inquiry to determine the validity of the hypothesis.

I really have to applaud your degree of commitment to this character you've developed to demonstrate why people would doubt authority that is claimed to be based on science.

(As I said above, this is utterly insignificant next to most of the exploitations of science's good name discussed in this thread, it's simply shaped up as an excellent and entirely pertinent case study of how readily people will do so even for petty reasons. I'm sure I've done the same sort of thing myself to some degree, although I don't recall having declared an absolute scientific certainty de novo.)

Anybody want to speculate as to which subgroup of Homo sapiens is objectively the best?

In the course of researching this I was disappointed to find that Homo floresiensis is evidently not classified as a subspecies of Homo sapiens despite being so contemporary. If they had been then they totally would have won hands down; being responsible for casting the One Ring back into Mount Doom and hence bringing about the Dominion of Men would clinch it.
posted by XMLicious at 8:57 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are objectively provable propositions. Let's keep them simple. Example:

Homo Sapiens exists. Homo Neanderthalensis is extinct. After reading this thread, I may need more evidence to prove the second proposition.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:08 PM on February 17, 2015


There are objectively provable propositions.

Yes, of course there are, although the participants in this thread might not even be able to agree on any axioms, so we might be fucked, proof-wise. I still don't know in what sense "better" -- which denotes, pretty much by definition, a subjective measure -- is involved in any of those propositions.

Since you're talking about actually proving propositions, instead of reasoning inductively, accumulating evidence, and falsifying hypotheses in order to arrive at assertions warranting a high degree of credence, I'm assuming we've now moved to discussing mathematics, instead of science, which would be rad. Is that the case?
posted by busted_crayons at 9:16 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Homo Sapiens exists. Homo Neanderthalensis is extinct. After reading this thread, I may need more evidence to prove the second proposition.

Maybe some of the scientists who informed you of the consensus of absolute scientific certainty that bottle feeding of infants is "preferable" within the parameters you set there, are actually themselves neanderthals and that's why they took a personal interest in the topic. Either way, I guess we'll never know if they exist, trapped behind the Schrödinger's Polemicist curtain.

Time out though: Are you actually thinking along the lines of an "absolute scientific certainty" having nothing to do with scientists and physicians specializing in child development and child nutrition analyzing the pros and cons of the two different ways of feeding an infant you described, or some extremely closely equivalent subject, and trying to formulate a consensus opinion on which can be described as "preferable"?

Or does all of this talk of propositions down here and the other stuff you appeared to be throwing out as chaff up above actually mean that you think you can personally build some sort or Rube Goldberg chain of syllogisms from assumptions or other truthiness about fulcrums and mathematics and navigation and savannahs and ibexes, how those would have effects on human life in general, and connect that all up somehow to produce a final conclusion that would indicate that an infant would benefit more from one feeding method or the other? And then you'd anoint that as "absolute scientific certainty"?

I don't know if the first one is absolute scientific certainty but the second one, if that's what you're thinking, isn't even science. That's definitively bullshitting if represented as a conclusion or other product of science. It's basically just Vizzini and the Dread Pirate Roberts' "Battle of Wits" skit from The Princess Bride.
posted by XMLicious at 10:07 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I guess that in order for mankind to prove that it is objectively the best life-form, it would have to wipe out all other life-forms.
posted by No Robots at 8:29 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Working on it!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:19 AM on February 21, 2015


New thread at "Authenticity, anti-vaxxers, and the rise of neoprimitivism", but not based on a better article.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:25 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


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