I'm really happy to see that someone else sees this. I've been harping on this for a long time -- that the reason people believe things like anti-vaxx propaganda is not because they are idiots but because scientific authorities, the media, and the medical establishment have not earned their trust.
People subscribe to kooky conspiracy theories and fringe/quack medical ideas because those advancing those points of view appear more credible than our society's institutions. Much of that appearance of credibility is by default -- it's more that our institutions have ruined their own credibility by being overconfident or in some cases actually deceptive. I personally think it extends way beyond medicine. When the president tells us we're invading Iraq because it has "weapons of mass destruction," and that turns out to be almost entirely hot air, should people be considered stupid for suddenly trusting Alex Jones more than they trust the POTUS?
Trust is hard to earn and easy to squander. In addition when you have someone trust and then stab them in the back, the emotional reaction from that is far worse than if you never had any trust to begin with. Betrayal inspires some of the deepest negative emotions.
Another phenomenon that I think is at work, especially with people like Alex Jones and wacky conspiracy theories, is a kind of "fuck you factor" that they have. Believing such things and perpetuating them is an act of (often subconscious) protest -- akin to things like calling yourself a "Satanist" in protest against fundamentalist religion. You might call these kinds of things "protest beliefs."
I have a friend who leans toward the view that we didn't land on the moon. He's a very intelligent person. I personally believe -- and I've told him this -- that this "belief" is more of a big fuck you to the backward-and-sideways direction NASA and America in general has taken post-Apollo. "Fine then... if you're going to cancel visionary projects so we can have more war and tax breaks for the financial industry, then I'm going to deny that you ever did it in the first place to spite you." He didn't really deny that, just kind of shrugged.
If there's any blame to be placed on scientific institutions it's not that they are bad at communicating to the public, but rather that they need to start communicating to the public. This is really a question of incentives - what do scientists have to gain from communicating reasonable conclusions about their results? And how can they compete with exaggeration by media outlets?
Nutritional science is particularly bad in this regard. The recommendations that were advanced from (roughly) the 70s through the 90s lead to obesity and heart disease.
One thing in particular comes to mind: margarine.
I understand the nature of scientific theory, and that scientific theory is not dogma or absolute revealed truth, but does the public? And was that ever communicated? Vastly and systematically exaggerating your knowledge and certainty of something in order to present a "unified message to the public" is dangerously close to just lying.
I also think science is much more vulnerable to corruption by moneyed interests than many people will admit. Research payola is very real.
While I'm personally pretty convinced the CO2 problem is real, I do not blame people from being skeptical when government-backed science and jet setting rich do-gooders tell them they must accept higher energy costs and possibly a reduced standard of living in order to combat a threat they cannot directly perceive. It's particularly easy to understand in cases like China and India where fossil fuel energy is lifting billions out of abject poverty. I could afford to pay 3-4X for energy. A Chinese peasant or an American member of the working poor can barely afford to pay 1.01X for energy.
People used to eat a lot of fat which we still think is a bad idea. More recently we found that eating too little fat was also a bad idea.
As to dietary guidelines, if you pick a target for a 2,000 calorie diet and someone on a 5,000 calorie a day diet tries to hit that same target there is a clear miscommunication going on. And yes, you can eat a relatively healthy 5,000 calorie a day diet if you’re tall and active enough. Or, you can rapidly become morbidly obese on 3k/day if you’re short and inactive.
PS: I would suggest to most people that they talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Diet is far from a one size fit's all thing.
We used to think that eating too much saturated fats caused heart disease. We switched people onto different types of fats. Tragically, we switched people onto trans-fats which we know now are terrible.
The current advice (avoid saturated fat) is questioned by some calm scientists.
It's frustrating that shifting scientific advice provides space for fucking wingnuts to spout nonsense.
It even works against religions -- this sort of thing led to the protestant reformation. "I am infallible, but the last Pope was wrong..." If you really look into the history of it, the protestants led by people like Calvin were often as bad as or worse than the Catholic Church and the understanding of theology was often quite crackpot. They gained power because the Mother Church discredited itself through hypocrisy, corruption, and self-contradiction.
Just to take the simplest case, there is something like a 20 minute delay between food hitting your stomach and any sort of satiety signal hitting your brain. So if you have an abundance of easy-to-eat food, then you may end up consuming more calories than someone who doesn't. (You could call this the "second bowl of cereal effect": when you've eaten a bowl of cereal and still feel hungry afterwards, it's because you ate too fast because you didn't want the cereal to get soggy.) Easy weight loss plan: cook your own meals, tasting along the way; by the time you're sitting down with the food you won't be quite so hungry.
And none of that picture has to do with calorie-counting. Calorie-counting is important if you can stick to it, but most people keeping informal calorie-counts will be victim to their cravings, and those cravings are dictated by parameters of the food other than the food's caloric content.
EX: "The American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee strongly advises these fat guidelines for healthy Americans over age 2:
•Eating between 25 and 35 percent of your total daily calories as fats from foods like fish, nuts, and vegetable oils."
Note both the lower and upper bound. Eating say 75% of your daily calories as fat is generally a bad idea for most people. But so is limiting yourself to 1%.
PS: This is one of those cases where oversimplification can be harmful. But, while looking at people with extremely high fat diets demonstrated a problem the translation from limit to eliminate is what most people heard.
Studies, including recent ones, show that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces cardiovascular disease risk (IIRC, in both sexes, but moreso in men than women.) Mostly, what's changed is that we now also have evidence that replacing saturated fat with trans fat or carbohydrates is, at best, no better than just staying with saturated fat.
There is probably no harm replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat, but that's not what happened based on decades of AHA and govt. recommendations. What happened was that people replaced saturated fat with simple carbohydrates and trans fats, got fat, and had heart attacks. Take a look the heart safe foods the AHA currently approves. Bagels, rice, tortillas, orange juice, potatoes, cheerios. It is a recipe for obesity and illness.
Butyric acid and stearic acid are both saturated fatty acids, but they serve very different roles in the diet. Similarly, ALA and LA are both essential unsaturated fatty acids, but they compete for the same desaturating and lengthening enzymes in the body. So if you eat sufficient quantities of those fatty acids in the wrong ratio, you can still see symptoms of dietary deficiency. And different people produce different quantities of those enzymes or different variations with greater or lesser effectiveness.
The AHA made insufficiently informed recommendations, and the nonscientific population followed them, often by replacing animal-based fats with vegetable-based fats with vastly different fatty acid ratios.
These were sometimes chemically treated to turn them into trans-fats, which in a key-keyhole model of body chemistry is like bending a kink into the key to your front door, then jamming it into the lock with a hammer and forcing it with vise-grips every time you wanted into your house. The trans fats resembled saturated fats enough to be used in the same way, but that kink in the key would cause persistent damage.
And foods manufacturers also replaced fats with sugars and sodium salts, which caused different problems.
Different foods have different fat profiles, just as they have different protein profiles. Eggs and milk have amino acid ratios that very closely match what humans need, whereas beans and rice are insufficient in isolation, but complete in combination. Similarly, beef suet, pork lard, olive oil, coconut oil, and soybean oil have different fat profiles.
We still don't know what the "best fat" food is, like we know that poultry eggs are very nearly the "best protein" food. And "fat quality" might not even be as homogenous between individuals as it is for the amino acids.
Any recommendations at this time are almost certainly unfounded or unsupported by rigorous and repeatable research. You really have to do your own homework on this one, and avoid making any conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
One of the leading hypotheses is that omega-6 fat - which is a subcategory of polyunsaturated - is very very bad for you. So there is absolutely potential for harm in replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat.
Assuming that you were in perfect calorie balance before, any additional exercise without additional calorie consumption will produce a calorie deficit. This may or may not produce weight loss depending on the exercise profile and a lot of other factors (including, IIRC, what and when you eat relative to when and how you exercise), since its possible to gain weight with a calorie deficit while if you are building muscle fat enough (since fat stores more energy per unit mass than muscle.)
 - http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-chocolate-bar_f...
The effect of exercise plus an additional Big Mac does not reinforce the claim that "exercise on its own doesn't lead to weight loss", because "plus a Big Mac" is not "on its own".
> and they probably already had a caloric intake in excess of maintenance (hence why they are exercising to lose weight, and more likely to go for that reward)
The reason why they are exercising to lose weight is probably that they have a current weight above their desired weight. That doesn't mean that they have a current calorie surplus -- plenty of people seek to lose weight when their current weight is stable but above their desired weight.
beer both causes and prevents cancer (1 prevents: 5 causes) - http://kill-or-cure.herokuapp.com/a-z/b#term52
wine both causes and prevents cancer (not counting dups - 14 prevents : 17 causes) - http://kill-or-cure.herokuapp.com/a-z/w#term234
So I'm likely going to be in the "doesn't drink dies earlier than average" column, but it has nothing to do with alcohol.
That's a tough one. From the perspective of a person whose livelihood depends on CO2-producing resources, or for whom the additional cost would push them into poverty, I can't blame them for feeling resistant - particularly when there is still debate as to the veracity, credibility and authenticity of the science. On the other hand, what if the climate scientists are correct? The idea that we must immediately take action or risk consequences ranging from disruption to extinction is terrifying.
It is my hope that rather than forcing a small segment of the population to fall on their swords for the rest of us, we could instead transition gently to alternatives. This requires that we heavily invest in research and development for renewable sources in addition to providing tax incentives so that this reaches price parity with fossil-fuel-derived energy. I think that's very doable, but it means making this a priority; this is why Palin's "drill baby, drill" instantly lost my vote.
I share that. I actually suffered a short-term deppressive period because of that (as weird as it sounds, for few months I felt guilty and afraid whenever I turned on the gas stove). We have maybe 50 years to fix worldwide energy usage if we want to maintain a technological civilization, and so far every attempt at that seems to be torpedoed by a combination of lobbies and ignorant fear-mongering.
Yes, people are generally not hostile to science and understand it's a best-effort work-in-progress-type thing. The problem is that the Science Zealots haven't gotten this memo, and go around flashing "studies" in peoples' faces (often completely without specificity) like it justifies something. When they do this, people get defensive. The "rejection of science" is the rejection of science as inviolable truth, dogma, religion, not the rejection of the continuing enterprise of cooperative human improvement.
If someone says "I can't even speak to someone who is anti-vax/anti-climate change/anti-same-sex marriage/etc", this is religiously motivated bigotry.
I don't know why the hell you brought up marriage.
You have a point about people getting zealous about climate change, but I think that's a response to people's horrific innate reaction of doubling down when faced with evidence against something they believe.
I wouldn't say that does more harm to science than creationists etc. Instead, I'd say it contributes to the same mentality. It treats science as a label for a certain belief system, rather than a label for a set of processes and the data/explanations tied to those processes. As you say, it replaces scientific epistemology with religious epistemology -- stripping away the thing that makes science universal, and replacing it with something that makes it tribal.
That said, I am taking a grant writing course here in grad school, and have been specifically told that the 20% outreach portion is 'complete bull.' The grants are still graded on the feasibility portion and not much else. The PIs teaching the class were, to me at least (take it with a grain of salt), disdainful that they had to ever go out and justify their research to the general public whatsoever. I got the impression that they felt it was a gimmick to appease Washington. Their general reaction to the public, at least in one meeting, was of disinterest verging on contempt. Again, this was my read, and may be totally offbase.
Well, we've seen lately an uptake in science evangelists like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Both have been around for a long while, building reputation, but as-of-late both have been on a full assault against fallacies perpetuated by the media and the like.
We need more publicly-accepted household-named science evangelists to promote science, how it works, it's principles, etc.
A lot like asking porn stars for investment advice
For every big "scientific" view that has an agenda behind it that either vastly overreaches the available research or lags decades behind the available research, you can generally point a finger at one or more corporations, government agencies, or not-for-profits.
GMO fearmongering? Largely environmentalist NFPs.
Breast cancer overdiagnosis? Largely cancer fundraising NFPs.
Nutritional science? Largely the government.
Let's tell pregnant women to live in a thick cocoon of craziness? Medical insurers.
And so forth.
If a journalist doesn't have the skills to understand what they're reporting on, then they shouldn't be reporting on it. We wouldn't put up with a report on Afghanistan that says the place is full of Arabs because the reporter was told that by some nutcase and couldn't be bothered to check the CIA World Fact Book before he went on the air, but we're constantly exposed to the scientific equivalent.
The world is an inherently confusing place. Media's job is to filter out the noise and present us with the signal. Instead, they just amplify it all, and we all know that amplifying a noisy signal doesn't really help.
The media does light fact-checking, and it's exactly that fact-checking that allows institutions to set an agenda. If a reporter sees a press release about a new study in, say, the field of cancer, and they try to fact-check it, they're likely to go and talk to the American Cancer Society. Which, as it turns out, has a point of view about cancer that it promotes.
What the hell else is the journalist going to do? They Just Can't read up all the relevant literature -- that's a full time job, and they already have jobs.
Interview some random scientist whose name they pulled out of a hat? That's not likely to help.
Surprisingly, I don't recall a relevant xkcd, but then there's the famous Science News Cycle: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?n=1174.
> What the hell else is the journalist going to do? They Just Can't read up all the relevant literature -- that's a full time job, and they already have jobs.
Well, you're telling us that Reddit and Hacker News can do what journalists can't, even though people posting there are definitely not employed to fact-check things.
The problem there is that journalism has been decimated and they have to do something (to get clicks) to survive. I'm just pointing that out, not defending it.
This is true only of some media. For example, The New Yorker has a fact-checking department that holds their journalists to high standards. Reading their long-form articles, it is clear that the writers have taken the time to understand things deeply. Nobody writes a 10,000-word essay on science the night before on a deadline.
It's quite reasonable to expect a journalist reporting on science to read dozens of articles (or review papers) about a field and to interview many scientists. It's not hard to find people with that level of understanding in a field who would be happy to write public-facing magazine articles. Many of the best science writers do.
If someone wants to pour over tens of thousands of press releases, do some light fact-checking on them, discard the ones that are just obviously crazy or unimportant, and sort them by topic, maybe get a bit of context on them or flesh them out a little, then that strikes me as pretty useful. Certainly I don't want to deal with a raw torrent of press releases. I want someone to filter them for me, if even lightly.
If the end result is not a one-stop shop for all the truth and accuracy in the world, well, that's unfortunate, but it also strikes me as life. It'd be great if someone could just synthesize raw, objective truth out of all that data, but I don't believe that's possible. Given that it's not possible, I won't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
And since those institutions-with-agendas are pushing their agendas in other ways than just through the media, we should probably try to address that problem at the root instead of just blaming journalists.
What would be certainly possible though is for them to stop putting lies inside. Exaggerating claims and inventing linkbait nonsense actually requires work - work which shouldn't be done in the first place.
That's what a wire service does.
There are a few things we are pretty much past the flip stage on, vaccines are one, smoking is another, but get much beyond that and its up in the air. Welcome to Woody Allen's Sleeper; hell he got it right on the phone company.
Then throw in, who watches the watchers, as in who polices those who claim to know. When you see government and education malfeasance everyday these institutions become even less likely to earn or hold the trust of the public
The popular perception is that science tells us facts about the world. This is false.
What science is, at its core, is a complete and utter acceptance of an extremely high level of doubt and uncertainty. It is living with the unknown, and working with it anyway to try to get closer to the truth.
Framed this way, science always "changing its mind" about what's right should be revered and celebrated by everyone in the world! We're looking at the advancement of civilization with our own two eyes! Not always grand and not always perfect, but that's how science works, in its own extremely productive way.
But we don't teach this. We do not teach, deeply, this version of science. No people except a chosen few will reach this level of understanding. The 99% of society which are not scientists will look at it as untrustworthy, because it always looks like it's wrong, all the time.
That is what needs to be changed. Not science itself, not what we recommend based on science—which is just the best thing that we know at the time—but the public perception of science itself. Science education must be deep, ingrained, and profound; not simply functional.
It would solve a great many problems of society if the average person were able to look at a situation with a respect for both what we know and what we do not, and understand the procedure for moving closer to truth, and respect it. It is unlikely to ever happen, but that is the systemic problem, and that is where we should direct our attention.
He was criticizing the practice of shouting "Hey! We're ultra-certain about this! Very important! You've got to do this!" when the truth was more like, "We kind of have some preliminary evidence this might be bad for you, stay tuned."
(And I don't buy the claim that it's just the media overblowing this; why weren't the national academies of science criticizing the food pyramid, at least in the sense of "okay it's not actually that important to eat 11 servings of bread a day".)
The point, then, is: don't be surprised when people are skeptical in those cases where you really are deservedly confident (e.g. vaccines).
If your evidence isn't very good and prone to being updated, that's fine! Just don't pretend to be confident it it.
This is almost always a result of the "Science News Cycle."
Aside from that, there's a lot of pressure on scientists to produce actionable results. People who fund science don't really understand it, and approach it with a mindset of, "I'm investing X dollars per year into this, and I should get Y dollars in return." So scientists either fake confidence in their findings, or fake their data to support their benefactor's cause.
But it's not just that. It's the fact that a) government experts believed it b) with high confidence that c) isn't justified, and d) are so confident that they plaster it in every classroom with all their authority behind it, and e) no scientific authorities go on record saying the real state of the research in case anyone bothers to get the real story.
You can't blame the media for those parts.
Why are you so confident in vaccines?
There are papers saying your right to be confident
... and rebuttals to those papers.
Should we, as non-scientists automatically discount the rebuttals?
That's not someone challenging us to be skeptical and seek out information.
That's "All vaccines bad. Ever."
"Autism, autism, autism."
"Vaccines Did Not Save Us - 2 Centuries of Statistics"
"Autism in Amish Children - 1:10000" - Hmm, this "study" doesn't really consider why the Amish community might be measured differently.
I just see lots of links to studies that were either discredited, or original opining with little objective evidence.
So, automatically? No. But some rebuttals are easier to discount than others - this is one.
I confess that I had not noticed the "Vaccines Did Not Save Us - 2 Centuries of Statistics" article, and when you mentioned it, it did give me pause. However, I went back, found it, and read it. Did you? It sounded very "sciency", with lots of graphs and data. Is it correct in it's conclusions? Should be, if it's data is correct. Is it correct in it's data? I honestly have no idea. Is my gut instinct to discount it? Yes, absolutely it is. However, I certainly can't refute any of the data it's presenting me with, so why am I so quick to discount? I shouldn't be.
You're either able to independently judge the veracity or lack of veracity of any given scientific claim, or you're not. If you're not, you need to remind yourself of that, and not be a voice in the mob. I need to remind myself of that too.
This is fascinating to me. I've read ample studies about how people do this, and I can't understand it as anything but the worst form of petulant childishness. Changing which FACTS you believe in because of personal reasons? I suppose this excludes people who don't actually believe them but just say they do, but then I guess those people aren't just stupid, they're just kind of dicks...
Unless you're a member of the space program or know someone who is, whether the moon landing happened or didn't won't change your predictions about anything else. And precisely because of this, it's something that can be debated on either side to signal allegiance to some greater ideal.
Such things are inherently dickish and often a bit petulant. Our evolutionary forebears liked to fling their own feces to express these kinds of emotions. We do it symbolically. Go listen to some punk rock.
"Punk" style and sentiment isn't popular around here -- this is largely an upper class forum full of top-ten university graduates. When the system is good to you, it's hard to understand why others hate it so much that they're willing to engage in this kind of petulant rage-driven feces-flinging behavior.
Having been raised in a barn in the flyover country on food stamps, I personally really get it. I do not think Apollo was a hoax, but I do think advancing that crackpot theory is a good way to say fuck you to NASA for losing the will to actually go anywhere and to the US government for deciding that Vietnam was more important than humanity's future.
The "fuck you beliefs" effect is IMHO a bit broader than I implied. One of the reasons people are not vaccinating their children is that the president lied to us about Iraq. That's because if you are middle to lower class, the "authorities" start to look like an unreachable monolithic bloc from your perspective... like how a light source loses detail and vanishes into a point at infinity. This effect is magnified if you are both socially and physically distant from your authorities -- which is why a number of these beliefs are much more popular outside of coastal alpha world cities.
I thought of another way to explain it, returning to the moon hoax theory...
If you are living in an underwater house in the flyover country somewhere and are working a dead-end job to service that and your mountain of student debt, "we" did not go to the moon. They went to the moon -- the same they who hold your writs of indenture and tell you what you must inject into your children. That "accomplishment" is one of the things they lord over you, so denying it is a way of denying their authority over you. Not vaccinating your kids is another. You don't have the power to escape your socioeconomic situation, but you do have the power to do those things. Protest, like water under pressure, will find whatever holes in a structure it can.
This process is only semi-conscious, and is driven by emotion. The process whereby an elite comes to believe itself above law and decency and to lord its "meritocratic" status over people is also only semi-conscious and driven by emotion. We all share 99.9~% the same genetic material, and none of us are perfectly rational beings.
The popularity of these "antagonistically irrational" beliefs is a major leading indicator of social trust collapse. This will be followed by the collapse of our society, since mutual trust is the basis of civilization. I think the rolling out of things like the surveillance state are due in part to our elite's understanding of this coupled with the fact that they lack the spine to take the high road and actually repair their lost trust by owning up to past mistakes and offering to remedy current wrongs. This in turn will only accelerate our social collapse as people, contrary to popular belief, are not utterly oblivious and see these moves for what they are.
I don't get why people have such tolerance for being lied to. People should be fired from their jobs for spewing such nonsense and misrepresenting facts. Of course news sites and marketers have zero incentive to say the truth, but I hoped that at least the recipients would care. Apparently, most of them don't.
As a side note:
> "Fine then... if you're going to cancel visionary projects so we can have more war and tax breaks for the financial industry, then I'm going to deny that you ever did it in the first place to spite you."
Well, I recently learned that US Congress basically got fed up with all those "visionary projects" and preemptively shut down the space race. From :
"Wernher von Braun also proposed a manned Mars mission using NERVA and a spinning donut-shaped spacecraft to simulate gravity. Many of the NASA plans for Mars in the 1960s and early 1970s used the NERVA rocket specifically, see list of manned Mars mission plans in the 20th century.
The Mars mission became NERVA's downfall. Members of Congress in both political parties judged that a manned mission to Mars would be a tacit commitment for the United States to decades more of the expensive Space Race. Manned Mars missions were enabled by nuclear rockets; therefore, if NERVA could be discontinued the Space Race might wind down and the budget would be saved."
 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NERVA
My point: I find it difficult to talk about "earned trust" when not also acknowledging that the truth is often confusing yet boring, and there are people who actively espouse a simple, exciting, yet false alternative.
The scientists were actually pretty clear about that particular bit of data.
I think the politicians squarely deserve the blame for that one.
Given the developments and accomplishments of science and medicine in the last few hundred years... if that doesn't earn peoples' trust, what will? When it provides cancer cures and hoverboards, will that satisfy people, or will they still want more? Sorry NASA hasn't done anything as cool as the moon landing, but if your friend thinks pretending it didn't happen will get us flying cars or space elevators any sooner, I don't have much sympathy for his position.
As an example with vaccines. Mercury containing substances have been phased out (thiomersal). Doctors and news outlets keep pumping information about the bad side of Mercury, etc, etc (which are true for the most part, but maybe exaggerated)
But thiomersal is still used in a lot of vaccines. So people get all the negative messages about Mercury but they're supposed to think "it's OK to be used in vaccines"?!?
Ethylmercury and methylmercury are not the same thing.
Yes there's a lot of nuance here, and a lot of cost/benefit analysis around the risk of a tiny amount of mercury (in excretable compound form) vs. the risk of nasty diseases. But it becomes harder to communicate that nuance and be believed when you've just been telling people to eat margarine (artery plaque) for 50 years.
"New science challenges old notion that mercury dental amalgam is safe"
Mercury dental amalgam has a long history of ostensibly safe use despite its continuous release of mercury vapor. Two key studies known as the Children’s Amalgam Trials are widely cited as evidence of safety. However, four recent reanalyses of one of these trials now suggest harm, particularly to boys with common genetic variants. These and other studies suggest that susceptibility to mercury toxicity differs among individuals based on multiple genes, not all of which have been identified. These studies further suggest that the levels of exposure to mercury vapor from dental amalgams may be unsafe for certain subpopulations. Moreover, a simple comparison of typical exposures versus regulatory safety standards suggests that many people receive unsafe exposures. Chronic mercury toxicity is especially insidious because symptoms are variable and nonspecific, diagnostic tests are often misunderstood, and treatments are speculative at best. Throughout the world, efforts are underway to phase down or eliminate the use of mercury dental amalgam.
"Imagine an engineer who normally comes to work in jeans and a t-shirt. One day the boss says "I want you to present your product tomorrow. Here's the address." So the engineer cobbles together a demo, dresses up in his khakis and a polo shirt, and shows up to present... at a nationally-televised, black-tie event. That's analogous to the situation in which climate scientists now find themselves.
For the most part, climate scientists are doing normal science, and thinking in terms of presenting their work to other scientists. But their work has become the centerpiece for huge global initiatives with large economic, environmental, and political impacts. This means their results, methods, and even personalities are being subject to an unusual degree of criticism (some valid, some not.)"
This creates a credibility gap. The science they're doing is perfectly acceptable in the "getting less wrong all the time" sense, but not really acceptable in the "we have a completely proven solution" sense.
We've all heard "science ... it works, bitches". Yeah, science works and planes fly -- but individual scientists will tell you it's more like http://www.twisteddoodles.com/image/86414780702 or https://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-pro... . Loads and loads of uncertainty, repeating experiments, interpreting results, criticism from other scientists, and then eventually you get something that improves on pre-existing ideas by a small amount. So the emphasis on the "planes fly" kind of science ends up increasing the credibility gap for the sort of ordinary science done by most scientists, because most science doesn't have flashy "now we have airplanes" type results.
Then there's the problem of science being presented by polarizing figures rather than scientists, and often being tied to specific policy recommendations that aren't actually all that closely tied to the science. Politicians are both overconfident in the science, and overconfident in their favored solutions.
So people end up buying anti-vaxx BS, even though that's an area where the science works in the "airplanes fly" sense. The data is overwhelmingly in favor of vaccinating for things like measles. But if people can't tell the difference between that kind of science and Al Gore saying "we need cap and trade" or some guy on TV selling nutritional supplements who uses the word "science" 12 times per minute in his infomercial, they'll have a hard time trusting even the best science.
1. The general public is very interested in the results, and so there's a lot of motivation for people to misunderstand or exaggerate the results in conveying them to the general public.
2. The connection between nutritional intake and results is very complicated, and ties into pretty much everything about how a person lives. The data is very noisy, and so it's hard to get good results. Other sciences, it's a lot easier to get clean data.
And yet the needle moves forward, slowly. Ideas get refined, the details get filled in, and bad ideas get tossed out. We go from "fat = bad" to "some fats are bad and some are good". That's the natural progression of science. I'm sorry Scott Adams doesn't like that's how science works, but it's the best thing we've come up with so far.
The widespread non-publication of negative studies (and, tragically, their datasets) has, rightly, tarnished the validity of all published scientific results.
You can't blame normal people for doubting "scientific" results. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce the worthlessness of published results, when it is disclosed that negative results have been withheld:
Just do studies until you get the results you want, then publish that one.
This has been de rigeur in medical science for some time.
Which sounds pretty similar to "science is broken", from an outsider's perspective.
I say in theory because this would cost a rather large fortune and would probably be illegal in most nations, so it's not likely to actually happen.
This is the expected input; candidate scientists are told to only expect to move their field forward by a tiny amount.
The expected output, however, is off the charts. Every time I see one of those "Here's what NASA has contributed to the consumer lifestyle" news pieces, I cringe. There is way too much unhealthy pressure on scientists to say, "well, look what we did!"
The general path of science is much more like a progressive series of "hmmm. HMMM!"s than these astounding chains of discrete discoveries that people are being conditioned to expect. But I guess when money has to pay for science, and tax money to boot, a certain type of person needs the dog and pony show. Bah.
The basics of nutrition and health are well-known and easy to understand. You can see them in action on The Biggest Loser in prime time on ABC. It's this: eat the basic food groups in moderation, and get enough exercise and sleep. That's it. Every contestant on that show improves their health markedly by following that simple formula.
So I would argue that a lot of people don't want just good nutrition; they want nutrition so good that it can make up for failings in other areas of health. That's a MUCH taller order, and no surprise when it fails.
The article isn't totally wrong, but I think reflects a misunderstanding on how science works, and where the problem actually lies. What the author describes is (generally) science working as intended, but it doesn't mesh well with bite-size news headlines. You can think of it in terms of a leaky abstraction, if you want. People think of science as a relentless progression of improvement, but that's an abstraction that leaks when you react to ideas coming out of it too quickly.
No one in the public discourse is saying our thinking on vaccinations is being continuously refined. No one is publicly urging caution and moderation in evaluating the risks and benefits, or calling for better longitudinal studies. Instead, on the one had, you have the white house saying "the science is clear," people calling anti-vaxers morons on social media, and on the other side people yelling that its poison pushed by a global conspiracy. Whatever calm, analytic discussions are being held behind closed doors at the NIH, the public discourse has degenerated into a screaming match.
Adam's problem with that is that the pro-science people are screaming just as loudly as their opponents... but they should be the ones that know better! Unfortunately, people of a certain age have seen dogmatic claims from "the scientific community" before, and then seen those claims be overturned and reversed countless times. That's a problem. If you really are "pro-science" you should ALWAYS be couching your recommendations in uncertain terms, but there are lots of demagogues out there doing exactly the opposite.
The problem is that it takes giant leaps backwards, too. See the discussion in other comments about margarine, saturated fats, and the links to heart disease. The scientific recommendations that were made promoted the very problem they were trying to address. As others have pointed out, this problem may largely be attributed to misinterpretation and miscommunication (rather than bad science). But since the vast, vast majority of people get their scientific information from schools or media rather than reading papers directly (which isn't a bad thing, since scientific papers are not written for interpretation by non-scientists), that's not a helpful distinction.
You can start by teaching kids how real science is actually done in order to get them to understand and trust the process rather than the we-only-deal-in-absolutes pop-news headlines.
There's a component of reading research papers, trying to understand other people's work, etc., but, fundamentally, science works and moves forward independent of "belief" -- that's the whole point. You don't like that "science" told you to drink 8 glasses of water a day, and now they're telling you not to? Great, go read the research and figure out how much water you need to drink in a day. Don't write a blog post harping on "science" because it "lied" to you. That just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what science actually is.
Who wrote those research paper you take for granted, scientists? Are you saying that these papers are always right in what they affirm, or that, worst case, their result cannot be forged?
Science is the doubt and uncertainty part, not the results part. New and better results should always be celebrated, and when framed right, they are.
We need better science and liberal arts education for everyone. We no longer live in a world where it is optional.
In Linux distribution terms, OP and the public want the stable distribution while in fact due to the nature of the field you can only get rolling updates.
Nothing belongs anywhere, and nothing exists on purpose. Nothing is "designed" for us. So many diets and fitness fads tap into this idea of what is "natural" and try to implicate that there are certain things we are supposed to do. That the human body is "designed" to consume certain things in certain proportions. When you think about it for a second it becomes obvious that this is patently wrong.
Everyone is different. Everyone is going to be genetically predisposed to certain conditions as a result of consuming certain things. There are some things we all have in common (basic need for certain vitamins and minerals), and there are certain things we know are bad for us. Our natural evolution has lead to the current state of things, but our consumption habits, behavior and understanding have now surpassed our natural evolution. Even when we try to get back to our most primal it doesn't make sense, because even humans running around 50,000 years ago eating berries weren't "designed" to do that. They simply didn't die as a result of doing it before reaching sexual maturity.
We need to stop thinking about food as being good for us, as if we are going to find some magic diet that works for everyone. It's never going to happen. Our understanding of genetics and the human genome may lead us to a point in the future were we have a better understanding of how our individual genetics are affected by different foods—and we can synthesize substance or specific diets that are optimal for each individual—but we will never reach a state where we "figure it out." Why? Because there exists no correct answer.
Nutrition is actually what I think of when considering this. I am supposed to take their word for it on this complex topic, but we can't even decide if eggs are good or bad for us?
As an example, science is just now coming around to is that the bacteria in our intestines has a huge impact on how our body reacts to food - and that those bacteria vary wildly from person to person. Some peoples' intestinal bacteria are better at breaking down different types of fat, sugar or protein than others. Some people are lactose intolerant. Slight variations in the intestinal bacteria levels might even lead to obesity or other metabolic disorders - we just don't know because nobody's found a good way to study it yet.
The net is that the human body is far more complex an organism than I think many people realize. DNA only tells part of the story. The entire way we design studies and test hypotheses is practically prehistoric - there's so much noise in the data that we can't pick out the signal because we don't even know what to look for. We're getting better data - which is helping - but we're still flying in the dark about this subject because there's no ethical way to disassemble a living human and perform the types of horrible experiments we can perform on machines or animals.
The US has an enormous prison population. They get fed for $2.50 per day.
Is it possible to recruit prisoners ethically to take part in diet research?
Or to link back to the nutrition topic, what if we could just take prisoners and replace their intestinal bacteria with different mixes of gut bacteria? Continue to feed them a control diet and see who lives, who dies, who gets fat and who loses weight. Obviously, that experiment would be terrible -- but we'd find out pretty quickly what the "magic formula" is.
Could we bioengineer a gut bacteria biome such that an otherwise unmodified human could consume crude oil as a source of nutrition? How about one that can't get drunk because the bacteria break down the ethanol right in the stomach? We probably could -- but many people would die in the research process.
I'm not saying that we should do this type of research -- but our lack of ability to do it has hampered our understanding of the human body, and will continue to slow progress relative to other scientific fields where such research IS ethically possible (e.g. building the LHC to understand subatomic particles).
It's a debatable point -- a lot of things that ethics boards forbid might be, in some way, reasonable to study in some specific cases.
But you have to draw the line somewhere, and ethics boards (correctly) draw simple lines in a place where they'll forbid a very high percentage of the bad stuff and a small-ish but not very small percentage of the good stuff.
You're going to get errors when you draw simple lines. Ethics boards are conservative about where the lines go. They should be.
That is - it is not ethical.
I think what it really highlights is that, for most food items, there is no right or wrong answer as to how good/bad it is for you. There is some directional information, but even that should be taken with limited confidence.
This is in stark contrast to anytime someone says that 'we should eat x because it's good for us because cavemen ate x', or worse yet, 'humans are good at pattern recognition because it helped our ancestors pick out lions in the grassland'. This is straight conjecture, and while it does occasionally come from the mouth of scientists, it's from psychologists studying human pattern recognition or something, not from anthropologists studying how pattern recognition developed in Australopithecus.
I think you're referring to the latter, or maybe you're confusing science with religion?
A better question would be, "How bad are eggs for me, given my specific genetics?" We can't really answer that question yet. Perhaps in the future.
Science is an evolution. What's "right" today might be proven wrong tomorrow (after more studies and research are done) -- and science is one of the only fields that admits that they got it wrong previously.
Average-joe's just want someone to tell them "what is right" and leave it at that. Unfortunately that's just not how good science works.
Well, the problem is perhaps more precisely that scientists say "We have evidence to suggest...", and then marketers and propagandists say "It is proven that...", and that "Average Joes" mostly never hear what scientists say, only what the marketers and propagandists say.
It's also true that diet et al. are actually hard problems. We're dealing here with complex systems. It's not easy to find optimal answers, assuming such answers even exist.
My father said that cigarettes were popularly called "coffin nails" when he was a boy in the 1920s, and that doctors routinely advised their patients to quit smoking. I've never heard of science advising people to smoke.
Any scientist who cut open a smoker and saw those black, puss-filled lungs knew it wasn't good for you.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchants_of_Doubt
 - http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2014/06/26/the-publi...
EDIT: references for claims about cigarettes, radiation, and coke being said as good for you (though I think I may have exaggerated about doctors recommending coke)
No, it hasn't.
The general scientific consensus may have been that most Americans are consuming fat in general, and certain varieties of fat in particular, at levels which are unhealthy, and therefore that most Americans would be better off reducing fat intake in general, and certain common varieties of fat intake in particular.
It may be that many people have overgeneralized this scientific consensus into a popular misunderstanding of "fat = bad", but that, again, is mistaking popular view (and the mass marketing of "low fat" products) with scientific consensus.
Unfortunately, Ancel Keys etc were recommending vegetable based fats over animal ones, and ironically it's the animal based fats that tend to be healthier. They were also recommending that a lot of the fat in the diet be replaced by carbohydrate sources, which caused its own issues.
Got any sources to back up that claim?
The Yerushalmy and Hilleboe paper is usually the study that people quote when they try to debunk Ancel Keys. In that study, they show that there is a distinct correlation between fat as a percent of total calories and heart disease. And they show that animal fat is more highly correlated than other types of fat. (That paper said that Ancel Keys screwed up on methodology, and they re-did with proper methods and found essentially the same result)
Big thing to keep in mind is that the data showed (and still shows) a distinct correlation between animal fat and heart disease. One theory suggests that the true cause is simply how wealthy a given nation is. i.e., wealthier nations eat more animal fat, and wealthier nations have better health care which prevents other types of deaths.
On the specific issue of saturated fat and heart disease (saturated fat isn't the only problem fat -- trans fats are also an issue), its been shown to be more complicated than earlier thought; there's pretty strong evidence that certain high-saturated-fat foodstuffs are associated with higher risk of heart disease, but some large scale studies that seem to indicate that saturated fats overall do not appear to be (and there is some indication that certain saturated fats may actually be beneficial to an extent.)
No matter how upset you get about people being a bit glib about what the consensus said (and frankly I'm not sure I couldn't establish "science said saturated fat is bad, full stop" with just a bit more effort than I'm willing to put in right now), you can't get out of the fact that the pounding was apparently unjustified, and there's a nontrivial chance it was flat-out wrong. Science and scientists shouldn't expect to escape from those decades of being wrong at maximum volume and the corresponding vicious evils inflicted on the world (because after all the US consensus has been exported all over the world), and it would be utterly and completely irrational for me not to update my beliefs based on this evidence.
Go to the grocery store. Go to the dairy isle. Look at the various products. If you can't find "low fat" or "light" versions of most of things there, I would be dumbfounded.
If major corporations have picked up on the "low fat" movement then I think it's fairly safe to say that it's prevalent in society.
Its true that once the health concerns about saturated fats first started appearing, the marketing of margarine and related products leveraged it to imply that there product was more healthy, but that's not why those products were invented.
I'm pretty sure that's not the case, and that there's a direct link between high saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels, for example.
That recommendation was never "the scientific consensus" -- for most of the time after saturated fat was identified as a concern and before trans fats were identified as a specific concern, the scientific consensus was that the best change was to eliminate the saturated fats and not replace them, since most people that were getting too much saturated fats were also getting too many calories and too much of their intake in the form of fat of any kind.
Obviously, marketers of alternative fat products had a different viewpoint.
And, actually, the scientific consensus still seems to mostly be that saturated fat is bad from a cardiovascular disease perspective, what has mostly evolved is that trans fats and carbohydrates as replacements now appear to be equally bad, and the value of monounsaturated fats as replacements is unclear -- studies focusing on replacement show that replacing saturated fats with polyunsatured fats generally is beneficial. There's also some reason to think that more research is needed on particular kinds of saturated fats, and that there may be significant differences between them (milk fat may be beneficial, for instance.)
I don't think it is anymore.
A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease
Insufficient evidence (≤2 criteria) of association is present for intake of supplementary vitamin E and ascorbic acid (vitamin C); saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids; total fat;
Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease
There were no clear effects of dietary fat changes on total mortality (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.04, 71,790 participants) or cardiovascular mortality
Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease
no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.
What kind of useless recommendation is this. You can say the same thing about carbs, other fats, pretty much everything that supplies calories.
If you believe the headlines, however, you'd never know that the science hasn't changed.
Would it really have been so bad to put a "nutritional" into the title to produce something related to the actual topic?
The media is responsible for people's distrust of science, because not only do they push bogus claims, but they also push FUD as well. Particularly oil and coal industry anti-climate change FUD for the past 20 years. That is precisely why people doubt the scientific fact of global warming.
And yes I would prefer to live in a world where people defer to experts. It's great that people have "pattern recognition" but trusting your own half-assed judgment on an issue where there are experts who have studied something for 30 years is not "pattern recognition", it's hubris.
Perhaps it was accidental in most cases. However, in the field of medical studies, the withholding of studies with negative outcomes (and their data) could be rightly described as "highly unscrupulous" researcher behavior. And this has apparently been de rigeur in medical studies for some time, and continues today:
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that published results are near worthless, if those publishing results are allowed to withhold studies. You just do studies until you get the results you want, and then publish that one.
So, it is difficult to blame people for doubting things, when there is evidence of widespread "hacking" of results by so-called scientists.
So Scott and I are in agreement about this: what the media and our leaders have been, are, and will continue to tell of about nutrition is probably utter nonsense. And in their attempts to shove their agenda down the public's throats, they will wave around cherry-picked questionable "science" and accuse their detractors of ignorance. That's how effective PR works.
I would see this as a failure of the press and our elected officials. Mr. Adams sees it as a failure of science. But what is his alternative? I don't know, but I do know that when somebody first tries to convince you that reason and evidence are not to be trusted, what they want to convince you of is probably not in your best interest.
Science is not truth, and it does not produce facts; Science is the process of getting it wrong over and over again and learning from it. Science is at its core a profound respect and love of doubt and uncertainty, and the ability to live and work inside that doubt with the aim of doing something productive with what we do not yet know.
If people understood this one fact about science, they would be able to frame these issues correctly, and see this "being wrong" as what it really is: the expected function of an amazing process of advancement.
This is why I advocate for universal, complete, liberal arts education. Scientific understanding and the humanity to know how to live with it. It's our only hope.
The end of his book "The Dilbert Future" calls for "new ways of looking at existing things." And then claims that all of science is just "looking at things" which, he points out, is pretty unreliable, and that we need to improve our ability to perceive the universe in order to move forward in science. Of note is that he doesn't consider technologies which enhance our perception to be actually doing that (microscopes, telescopes, and other types of sensors are just more forms of "seeing" to him, and are lacking).
He then rather poorly explains double slit experiment and suggests that the arrow of time might just be a figment of your imagination, as well as the motion of objects in general, and gravity.
He skirts around the idea that looking at existing ideas in new ways can be important (who would deny that?) but then devolves into useless examples, claiming that instead of gravity "existing", everything in the universe could just be expanding at just the right rate to create the illusion of gravity. He questions causal relationships and posits something no better than leibniz's monads.
I've derailed a bit here, but man, that book irked me.
Well, at least he got one thing correct. Mostly. Science is a system for generating a model of the world. It just also happens to be the best one we have, insofar as it has generated the most accurate model of the universe to date. Is it perfect? No. Should it be criticized? Yes, otherwise it won't improve. Should we throw it out altogether? Perhaps that question should be put to the literally billions of people whose lives have been saved and improved by the results of science. Or not. Those same billions are probably very badly informed about science, which is what Adams should be railing against, not science itself.
In the book, he dismisses science because it's just looking at things and our eyes can deceive us (he uses the example of thinking the earth was flat).
At the same time, he calls for expanding our "perception" of the world. But the many, many ways in which science/technology have legitimately expanded our perception of the universe are dismissed by him, because it's all "just looking at things." A readout of a signal from a radio telescope is just looking at things with our fallible eyes. A measurement of the voltage of a battery is just looking at a readout of a voltmeter.
That is what is supremely frustrating with his view of science.
What he's saying shows evolution is wrong is actually...evolution. It's more of a misunderstanding than a disbelief.
Evolution might be the science topic with the most people wrong in believing they understand it.
This has even affected some of my family members for whom English is a second language, but who learned both meanings of the word simultaneously in the 80s in the US. Some of them can't separate the concepts, no matter how hard I try to explain to them that they are mostly unrelated.
I used to think vitamins had been thoroughly studied for their health trade-offs. They haven’t. The reason you take one multivitamin pill a day is marketing, not science.
One reason to take the latter is to make sure you don't get a deficiency disease.
I used to think I needed to drink a crazy-large amount of water each day, because smart people said so, but that wasn’t science either.
I don't know about "crazy-large" amounts (and too water much will kill you), but as far as I know, plus a little bit of time with Google just now, which indicates this has been the "scientific consensus" since the time of Hippocrates, unless you drink a fair amount, you're setting yourself up for kidney stones. Which I can attest are no fun at all.
And yet, what has started to come out (from what I understand and have read) is that taking a straight up multivitamin or something isn't that helpful. The general reason people seem to be finding being that the body doesn't absorb the stuff in the pill you just took very well, meaning you really aren't getting much benefit, if any, from taking said pill. Instead you would actually want to eat things that give you the vitamins and minerals that the body needs in order for it to be able to absorb those. Possibly including something such as a healthy fat which would promote absorbing the good things in stuff such as broccoli that much more. (again, from what I have read and understand) This is the possible reasoning behind the article saying taking multivitamins is marketing.
Any specifics on this claimed problem? Like some interacting with others, or with various foods?
In an industrialized society, you will have a difficult time finding a way of eating that can be justified as both optimally healthy and "as nature intended." By that measure the choices are bad, or less bad.
Eating a balanced diet every day gets you way more vitamins than your body can absorb. I learnt this from a biologist who studied digestion about 18 years ago. According to him vitamin pills were completely unnecessary.
I have never heard of people getting a deficiency disease with a balanced diet (say, a typical Mediterranean diet). So it's probably a combination of marketing and quick-fixes (The real message behind the pill is ... "Want to sit on your couch and eat pizza every day? No problem, just pop-in a pill!")
The changing advice on fat might help with that.
And in addition to a one-a-day multivitamin multimineral tablet (split in two, each half in a different meal to improve absorption), I separately take 5,000 IU spread across all my meals, which has got my blood levels up to what they apparently should be. That's all the vitamin and mineral supplementation I take.
The problem is media. News programming is constantly looking for something to breathlessly report, and is delighted to find one or more so-called experts who will loudly extol / lambaste the latest findings.
If you look at the leading causes of death, understand your own history and risks, and follow the advice of credible doctors, you'll be doing great. Most of us don't do that, and then we scramble for fix-alls.
It's these silver-bullet, "all-x-is-bad, all-y-is-good, z-causes-cancer, w-cures-cancer," reports that are jerking your chain.
1) Diet and fitness are hard problems because humans evolved as opportunistic hunter-gatherer-scavengers, so we are moderately well adapted to almost any imaginable lifestyle. When the optimum is broad and shallow (which it necessarily is, especially for diet, unless you are an evolution denialist) it is easy to wander around in the noise.
This is made worse by snake-oil salespeople who are dedicated to the idea that the optimum is narrow and deep, and they can sell you its precise location. They take any minor wobble that scientists identify--which based on evolution is almost certainly noise--and declare it the One True Location of Perfect Health.
2) Science fails to get traction with the public because it lacks narrative, which is an idea I explore in a lot more depth here: http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Theorem-TJ-Radcliffe-ebook/dp/...
This is asking the wrong question. A cost-benefit analysis needs to be done, when weighing scientific claims to act on, not just saying "this is right" or "this is wrong". If scientists are pretty sure that me eating an apple (for instance) is a good thing, it costs me little in exchange for a decent potential benefit.
This is why a scientifically literate populace is so incredibly important; without it, you get this all-or-nothing hogwash that this article makes out to be a good thing, for whatever reason.
If you look at the history of the popularity of vitamins, orange juice, the promotion of carbohydrates and sugars over fats and proteins etc.
Not a problem with Science per se.
The underlying problem is an insufficient diversity in sources of funding for science. Scientists are people, and most just want as safe a career as science allows, which isn't very safe at all. Rocking the boat is, for them, a bad idea.
It's also the reason why I was, at first blush, rather suspicious when the Gardasil vaccine came out a few years ago. It was heavily, and extremely aggressively, marketed. And I know that vaccines don't tend to be moneymakers in the way that blockbuster drugs are, but it definitely raised my eyebrows that Gardasil was being marketed so aggressively, because of the reputation of Big Pharma, where money often comes before ethics and due diligence.
If we cut government spending on science, then we are more dependent on private sources and their interests. Public funding is decided through a democratic process in the public's interest; private funders have their own interests and motivations, which even if altruistic might not be the best use of resources.
Hey I want to make a new product that X segment will like. Can you guys go find some science that backs this up?
I could have written the same article after reading the book. A real eye opener and I suspect a similar book will be written about climate science in 30 years.
Come to think of it, science related stories about what food is/isn't good for you etc are the original clickbait. They're a headline, when the devil is actually in the details.
A great example is why you hear that horrible list of side effects during every prescription commercial. Once, during testing, someone got cancer. Therefore, it's in theory possible cancer was caused by that medication, however unlikely.
The "experiments" we do are extremely limited in scope, and thus the results are limited in scope. Sadly, the authority of "science" combined with the desire to do something grand means that a lot of marginal, limited results get turned into authoritative broad headlines. ("Scientists say eggs bad^Hgood^Hbad")
The overwhelmingly dominant interface non-university people have with science is through news media. How else are you going to get your facts? By going out to different countries by yourself? By researching into all areas of interest? That's insane.
The top four salient science media personalities are probably Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Dr Phil. Though, I wouldn't say that any of these people hold a candle to Bill 'O Reilly or Rush Limbaugh in terms of influence over public attitudes and opinions on science, and that's the problem.
Science, in the eyes of the many, is just another fact in a news media report, and it can go any way the host or reporter wants it to.
Yes, science has been inconsistent. Yes, science media personalities have been belligerent or not diplomatic on camera. Yes, there has been corruption of metrics and statistics. But... it just doesn't hold a candle to Bill O' Reilly. Or Sarah Palin, for that matter.
My impression is (but someone with actual knowledge please contribute here) that modern medicine and science have achieved what no other institutions or ideas in human history have achieved, significantly extending human life and curing diseases that cursed humanity since the dawn of time. It is a miracle, and it continues -- life expectancy continues to improve and more diseases are coming under control of prevented (except measles, of course).
Scott Adams' cartoons are insightful; he does not seem to apply the same depth of thought to his writing. This piece is poorly thought through. "Science" has told him nothing, unless he reads the research himself. News about science, and the public's poor grasp of uncertainty, risk, and the significance of scientific research (i.e., is this one study? settled science? etc.) are what generate confusion.
I think there is a lot of conflicting science about nutrition (exacerbated by advertising), and people assume it falls in the 98% certain category when oftentimes it falls in the 50% category.
a) Is the data made available?
b) Is it a Bayesian analysis?
c) Has a power study been offered?
As a statistician, I have a keen awareness of the ways that p-values can depart from truth. You can see Optimizely's effort to cope (https://www.optimizely.com/statistics). You can read about it in The Cult of Statistical Significance (http://www.amazon.com/The-Cult-Statistical-Significance-Econ...). This Economist video captures it solidly (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/10/daily-c...).
The key component missing is a bias towards positive results. Most scientists only have two statistics classes. In these classes they learn a number of statistical tests, but much less how things can go wrong. Classic, "just enough to be dangerous."
In order to cope, I have a personal set of criteria to make a quick first sort of papers. It's a personal heuristic for quality. I assume some degree of belief (Bayes, FTW!) that those that offer the full data set along side conclusions feel confident in their own analysis. Also, if they're using Bayesian methods, that they've had more than two stats classes. Finally, if they do choose Frequentist methods, a power study tells me that they understand the important finite nature of data in the context of asymptotic models / assumptions.
I'd suspect that other statisticians feel this way, because I've heard that privately --- what do you think of my criteria?
I also tend to be very sensitive to failure to correct for multiple hypotheses, as this is something I see all the time, particularly when people start sub-setting data: "We looked for an association between vegetables in the diet and cancer incidence, but only found it between kale and lung cancer." This happens all the time, and people report such associations as if they were the only experiment being run, whereas in fact they have run some combinatorically huge list of alternative hypotheses, and unsurprisingly have found one that looks significant at p=0.05 (which is a ridiculously lax acceptance criterion.)
I also pretty much categorically reject case control studies: http://www.tjradcliffe.com/?p=1745 They are insanely over-sensitive to confounding factors. They can and do have legitimate uses to guide further research, but should never be used as the basis of policy or action beyond that.
There's also a sense one gets from many papers that the researchers are black-boxing their statistical analysis: that they have plugged the numbers into some standard package and take the results at face value. While I appreciate that maybe not everyone can have a solid technical grasp of this stuff, it always bothers me when I see that because it is far too easy to generate garbage if you don't understand precisely what you're doing.
[Disclaimer: I am an experimental and computational physicist who has never taken a stats course, but believe myself to be competently self-educated in the subject and have spent part of my career doing data analysis professionally using primarily Bayesian methods.]
I'm also involved in enough medical research where data just can't ethically be made available that, well...you and I clearly disagree.
But you cannot do that for most things to do with nutrition. You can't check your gut biome, see a problem, take a specific probiotic, then check again and confirm improvement, because we don't understand the gut biome well enough yet.
You can't do it with most supplements. And even when you can, we hardly ever do. Insurance is not going to be a big fan of it.
You also can't do it with switching from margarine to butter, or drinking more water, or whatever it is you think might help. Without some concrete measurable change that you actually measure, you're taking shots in the dark.
I hope wearable devices can make some inroads here, at least for low hanging fruit (easily measured, well-understood things).
So the question is not "why don't people trust science," the question is "why do people very selectively mistrust small segments of science?"
A plausible answer is because there are people and organizations who are encouraging them to mistrust those small segments of science--by purposefully feeding bad information into the marketplace of ideas.
I think Adams is making a fundamental error of attribution, blaming good actors (real scientists) for the actions of bad actors. He's basically arguing that unless scientists can stop all bad information from anyone, they can be blamed for the bad information. Doesn't seem fair or sustainable.
The problem seems to be, people don't care about being lied to. Politicians spew bullshit all the time, there's hardly a true fact you can find in a newspaper, and yet everyone just goes "meh". There should be back-pressure. Journalists should lose their jobs over lying to people, and that includes all that nonsense science reporting that is killing trust in life-saving research. But no one seems to care.
 - I honestly believe abusing people's trust in something is one of the most dickish move you can pull.
Nutrition works like this: your boss reads an article in some rag and thinks that there might be an opportunity to target a new market. They tell you to go find some studies or something that could back up your claims. Usually, this would not survive any kind of rigorous scientific investigation -- but it sounds good enough to use for marketing.
Done. There's precious little science in nutrition. Just follow the money.
EDIT> I remember the eighties and the beginning of the whole low-fat craze. It was clearly a marketing push, not anything based on reputable science. Hey our product contains Plutonium, but no fat. So, let's emphasize the positive.
Also Scott Adams is using very choosy topics to make his case against science which may not hold true in generality. The difficulty of getting sugar rich diet and drinks out of schools shows how obesity is not primarily due to lack of credible science. This also applies to Tobacco. I think this whole blog is a sensationalist piece which jumps from one extreme to another.
> I’m pro-science because the alternatives are worse. (Example: ISIS.)
ISIS is not an example of lack of science but an example of lack of empathy and humanity.
I agree that the layman is not an idiot but there is a whole system built into society to patronize them and to make him/her feel that way. People are constantly told to rest their judgement and let the authorities tell them what it implies. This happens right from childhood where parents for the fear of being exposed of lacking knowledge on the topic use their authoritarian powers to suppress curiosity. A child who is constantly being exposed to that treatment will outsource his/her judgement for the ones put across by pundits in the media when they grow up.
I think the "The Clean Room" episode  in NgT's COSMOS brings the fault in our system quite effectively by showing how Clair Patterson had to battle great odds to bring the ill effects of lead in Gasoline primarily because there was a big vested interest group who were against it. It's available on Netflix and I would recommend it highly.
And if what you say is the case, you present a stronger reason for skepticism of scientific claim than mere pattern recognition.
The piece is certainly sensationalist but it presents a valid point and tries to offer a view of understanding of alternative viewpoints. Walking in other people's shoes seems to be something many in the world have trouble doing.
I know I've certainly met some quite militant science folks who think everyone who doesn't vehemently believe in the latest scientific concept is an idiot because p < 0.05. That kind of attitude wins no hearts and changes no minds of the "non believers".
He does it in a hand-wavy fashion. Its not that science is in the wrong, its the system that is at fault. What is perhaps needed is to get influence of money out of research as in with politics. Also perhaps more rigorous peer reviewed papers and penalties for the media if they state rejected/falsified theories as accepted ones.
> The piece is certainly sensationalist but it presents a valid point and tries to offer a view of understanding of alternative viewpoints.
The alternate viewpoint is the inability of humans to grasp large scales of time, space and complexity. For example Global Warming had to be renamed as Climate Change because many people took the science as faulty at the first sign of plummeting temperatures at their location. Same can be said regarding the arguments about evolution.
Weather predictions is a science which is often mocked because in general people didn't understand the complexity of it. I was one of them. A prediction of 40% rain on the next weekend which didn't materialize doesn't put the science at fault, it just means the model requires a few more cycles of evolution.
I put my hand in a fire, I get a burn right away. Pretty easy to know what happened. Sure there were many variables. My shoes, my pants, the weather.. but pretty clear.
Drinking a drink a day may do something good. May do something bad. But both those events happen in 20 years. Holy crap that is hard to tell! (but yes, partially because it mixes with many variables).
There is also a part of science of "we all WANT what makes us happy to be deemed healthy!". Decision affirmation rocks! So if there are 4 studies that say a drink a day is bad for you, and 2 that say a drink a day is good - which makes the newspaper? Coffee, chocolate, alcohol - all things people love, and all affirmed by at least SOME studies out there. Awesome!
The rate at which science has moved forward ever since there has been science has increased far, far more than the average human life span.
Say, a few hundred years ago, it took science an average of X years to move forward enough to know that it was wrong about something. X was on the order of many human lifetimes.
Today, science is moving so much more quickly. It 'finds out' it's wrong, over and over again, about a given topic, during a human's life span.
Add to that the increased number of humans who are science literate.
Add to that the total amount of 'bandwidth' between 'science' and people.
Here is yet another area where technology has left biologies ability to cope in the dust.
In this case, there are some possible solutions, mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Understanding what science actually means has never been more important.
Here are my basic assumptions. Everything I believe is going to be proven wrong, multiple times, over the course of the next decades. All we can do is go forward, making sure what we do base our decisions on, every day, is the on our best and most honest efforts, for this moment in time.
Note, I don't really think everything I believe will be proven wrong, in all likelihood. It's just a starting point.
I understand my comments are skipping over a whole lot of important, relevant and fundamentally broken things, many of which can and need to be fixed.
When I look back on historical concepts of things, often, they are decent mental models, given the limited information available. For example, Native Americans of the Pacific North West thought that the world was a bit of land floating on water in a bowl. This area is geologically active and when there is an earthquake, water runs up onto the land, not unlike what would happen if you floated something in water and then pushed down on one end with a finger, tipping it. So it's a fairly good mental model for the limited information available to them. It's not accurate given what we know today, but I think it's disrespectful and a disservice to act like it is simply "dumb."
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to take seriously the piece of the puzzle different people have and how to help people who see things very differently communicate effectively. It's shockingly hard. Most people want to insist, NOPE, you are an idiot and fucktard because I KNOW the elephant looks just like a spear. I have experienced that first hand, by god!
The part that most frustrates me is that the people who are the worst about this are often not the conspiracy theory "nuts" but the closed-minded folks doing it in the name of "science."
I'm sympathetic to his reasoning, since I have followed nutrition closely for the last twenty years, and believe the scientific/media consensus to be much as he described, and even worse than that occasionally, where people who should know better (a PhD teaching a class on nutrition in a community college) claim things that are both factually and obviously wrong ("Low carb diets are bad because the brain can only metabolize glucose" which has been known false for at least 50 years and probably more.) Cynicism, in some cases, is warranted.
That said, I think Adams is letting people off _way_ too easily. You will notice that when people refuse to believe a scientific position they are always (surprise!) advocating a different position more advantageous to themselves, that will not inconvenience them and that does not reflect badly on them or on those with whom they affiliate. They deny climate science not because the poor wounded souls have had their hearts broken too many times, but because the implication is that their lifestyle decisions are having adverse effects on the world, and addressing those adverse effects will be costly; and because (this is important) because the idea of faggy liberal scientists telling them they're living wrong is too much to take.
It is not an accident that the vocal opponents of things like climate change, global warming, animals welfare, pollution, etc., are the same folks who are 100% convinced that they sometimes get personal messages from angels. Their idiotic worldviews do not arise as a result of Bayesian discounting based on having received bad advice, but from intellectual laziness and an inability (or unwillingness) to look in the mirror and see a possible problem there. (And the aforementioned affiliatory thing about faggy liberals.)
I feel bad about this post but can no longer edit it. I believe in the content (that a lot of anti-science beliefs and political positions are due to a combination of self-interest, cowardice, and laziness.) Those are confrontational things to say, but there's a difference between confrontational and being a jerk. It felt briefly good to be a jerk, but that's worn off now.
This lapse is especially annoying since another thing I believe in is civility .
Way to character assassinate man! Bravo! This "If you don't agree with me you must be an idiot" kind of mentality does little to address the reality of the world, and rather than advancing science, hinders it.
I'm a bit skeptical of global warming, anthropogenic climate change, etc not because I want to bury my head in the sand, but because from my point of view there's a HUGE echo chamber. I've read tons of papers which all basically confirm the theory but precious little which tries to look for alternative explanations. That feels awfully similar to the whole "fat is bad for you" advice from the medical community and thus, I think Adams isn't too far off base.
For example, there was a significant hiatus from warming for the last 10 years or so when there "shouldn't have been" (whatever that means) and it's only recently that some scientists have proven why. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/oceans-hid-the-hea...
That's a substantial part of the theory to be missing and yet still proclaim that the original theory was totally great and not problematic at all.
Like you said: Cynicism, in some cases, is warranted.
But speaking of standards of evidence:
For example, there was a significant hiatus from warming for the last 10 years or so when there "shouldn't have been" (whatever that means) and it's only recently that some scientists have proven why
The fact that you can't write down a model that predicts an extraordinarily complicated system down to the last detail is a very poor standard of evidence to require. It's the same flavor of argument that Big Tobacco used for all those years to squirm through legal loopholes about whether or not they knew that smoking killed people. I don't follow this literature but I'm not surprised that nobody can explain the handful of 100 year old ladies who smoked their whole lives and are as healthy as horses. The 'can you explain _this_ then???' defense isn't much of a defense when viewed in context.
Experts have been wrong in the past and will be again in the future. Economists -- whose sole job it is to understand the economy -- do no better than chance at predicting what will happen to GDP. You're making an appeal to authority and it's not terribly convincing. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-04/economic-forecasts-no-...
The science is largely settled on gravity and we've got an equation that tells us how it works in excruciating detail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitation#Newton.27s_theory_o...
When climate science reaches that level of predictive ability then it won't be terribly contentious to say that the science is settled. Until then, it may well be.
Once you understand that certain gases in the atmosphere act as a heat reservoir, then the obvious hypothesis is that trapped heat will increase if the amount of those gases increases. Since we know we're increasing some of those gases by burning fossil fuels, we expect warming.
There are only 2 ways to disprove this hypothesis. One would be to disprove the basic science of the greenhouse effect--not likely. The other would be to show that there is another climatic process that counteracts the expected warming. And to do that, you would need to create a more complicated model of the climate.
This is what scientists have done, and they haven't found any effect that fully counteracts the expected warming.
So just to be clear: computer models aren't important because they prove that global warming is happening. Warming is the base assumption. Computer models are important because they have failed to prove anything can stop it.
As for gravity, there is no analytical solution to the 3 body problem. NASA still uses numerical simulation to model the solar system--just like a climate model, but with many orders of magnitude fewer nodes and inputs. They can be so precise because their model is so simple, not because of a fundamental difference in scientific understanding.
Just like you don't need much of a model to predict that if a rogue planet passed through the solar system, existing orbits would be perturbed. Calculating the precise perturbations would be complex, but not predicting their existence.
Likewise, it's difficult to predict exactly how more heat in the atmosphere will change local weather. But it's not hard to predict that heat will build up if the gases build up.
Given that the earth has had temperature excursions of +4C and -4C in the past 100k years it seems that there are some kind of forces that keep the temperature within that range. What are they? Climatologists are saying "tipping points" and whatnot, but if you believe the very long climate history as measured by proxies you would have to admit that there certainly SEEMS to be something that stops the temperature from rising further, and something that stops it from falling further. What are those mechanisms?
The history of Earth's climate shows the limits of these changes, but that doesn't mean there are guard rails keeping us safe. It's just a reflection of the physical limits of the forcings and feedbacks. Our orbit only varies so much. Our axial tilt only wobbles so much. The sun's output only varies so much. The atmosphere can only hold so much water vapor at a given temperature. Etc.
If the sun suddenly doubled in brightness, I doubt you would expect the climate to still stay within that +/- 4C range, right? Well, atmospheric gases are also a forcing, one that we know we're changing. Granted--not at that level, but change is change. Models help us think about the sensitivity to that change, but the equilibrium must shift, somehow.
Anyway, the Earth's climate could stay well within that +/- 4C range, and the warming would still cause mankind a ton of trouble if it happens too fast. Remember that these are global average energy levels...it doesn't take much to raise sea level a troublesome amount, for example, especially since societies have built right at the water line all over the world.
Let's try it out: is human nutrition and metabolism settled? Nope. Do you want to feed your child a diet of 100% JIF peanut butter and candy corns until it is? I'm guessing not.
We don't need to get to settled. We just need to stop reasoning backward from the conclusion we want to be true. Especially when the consequences for things are as high as they are.
You'll notice on that list that there are numbers for the "Net 100 year GWP" which basically means how much more a particular substance could cause heating versus CO2, which has an index of 1.
You'll notice that there are a LOT of compounds on the list and numbers in excess of 100 are common, and in excess of 1000 are too. I've looked up a couple and a couple of them have non-trivial atmospheric concentrations. If something has 1/1000 the concentration of CO2 and a GWP number of 10x CO2 then it would contribute 1% as much. Over a list of about 1000 refrigerants if they all managed to be 1% (this is a stretch I know!) then you could get 10x the warming from refrigerants as from CO2.
I might argue that you've already reached the conclusion that you want to (we gotta do something), and are reasoning backwards from there (carbon emissions are the cause) yourself.
As another example, a lot of people think this project is funded by oil companies and employs professional climate deniers. http://www.surfacestations.org/ Why? Because they have the audacity to try and make sure that the temperatures gathered from weather stations aren't accidentally biased.
I personally think that's MORE important to the analysis than anything else you could do, because if the raw data's no good your conclusions are also no good. Put a bunch of crap detectors in the LHC and you can find whatever particle you want. But physicists don't do that do they?
I will only reiterate that if 1000 brain surgeons say X, you should probably believe X unless you have very particular reasons to believe you are way smarter than all of them and know things about brain surgery that they don't know.
And of course once in a great while that happens. There was a guy who first said that the earth was not flat, and all the other learned folks thought he was daft and then probably set him on fire or something. However, I have zero evidence to believe this accounts for any of the variance in the current moment in time, with climate, immunization, any of it. A far simpler explanation will do the trick, as mentioned in my original msg.
1. I'm trained as an engineer and a scientist. I've read a lot of papers and I've got a good grasp of significance.
2. I've seen experts be wrong before and I understand a lot of psychology to where I understand how they can be both wrong and fervently believe they're not. It took me two days to convince a biology professor (PhD) that he was performing a simple calculation incorrectly and that it was skewing all his results. He was doing log(A)/log(B) instead of log(A/B). It's the first rule: https://www.biogazelle.com/seven-tips-bio-statistical-analys...
3. Big models of big complex systems can have lots of interlinkages that aren't always apparent. If I let you analyze a Honda engine and come up with a model for it, if the engine never revved above I think 3000rpm you'd make a great model and have really high confidence that it was highly predictive. Then when revved to 6k and the engine diverged from the model you'd flip out and not understand what's going on until I told you that the engine has two different camshaft profiles and it can change between them. To you, who has only ever known that an engine has one camshaft profile and that it's fixed, this is madness!
I hope this analogy makes it clear that I don't think there's a big conspiracy but rather than a lot of people who are very earnest and very well meaning can get the wrong result through systematic problems that aren't immediately apparent.
I also think that some of those people might in their head say "look even if this isn't true, the risk that it COULD be true is so great -- I mean it's the whole planet! -- that we need to solve this problem anyhow" and then go ahead with that. And then they'll get extra impassioned because now they're on a mission to save the world! Can you imagine how motivating that would be?
The problem is that it seems like there's no downside: we fix CO2 and everything's great even if we didn't strictly speaking need to. The problem is that there is in fact a downside, a huge burden on everyone on the planet because we don't yet have cheap, reliable alternative energy sources. The first world only developed because of energy and it seems pretty shitty to deny the 3rd world the chance to develop because we don't want Venice to sink.
Personally I think that if you gave me the choice, to sink Venice and a few other cities and to bring the whole developing world up to developed world standards, that's a very tough choice. Is our art and investment in buildings more important than their lives?
Further the idea that tipping points exist which will catastrophically damage the climate is fair, but nobody's looking at it the other way either. Maybe there's some other linkage which will actually start to make the Earth shed heat faster once the temperature goes up three degrees.
If these are accurate, then the Earth's climate is actually VERY stable and there must be restraining forces as well as tipping points.
But I'm curious about something you said and would be interested in hearing you expand a bit on it if you're willing. You say (and I believe you) that you don't think there's a giant conspiracy; and you give an example of the Honda never revving past 3000, which, if one were to make the error you describe, is basically an illustration of a linear model with insufficient leverage to support the conclusions that are drawn from it. The Honda example is a good illustration of that problem, and I will steal it in the future.
For now, though, based on this example, and your point #2, I'm wondering how you think these kind of fundamental statistical and logical errors could be made on such a massive scale, by a huge group of scientists, distributed around the world?
The only way I can imagine such a thing being feasible is via some serious groupthink / path dependency; like if Einstein, Maxwell, and von Neumann were raised from the dead, transformed into climate scientists, and then, at the very start of the very first climate conference, one right after the other got up and loudly and confidently expressed certainty that climate change was caused by X. Such an event could theoretically lead subsequent scientists to parrot the new party line, and to have difficulty getting funded for research that diverted from these pre-conclusions about X.
That scenario obviously didn't happen. It seems exceedingly unlikely that anything comparable could happen on this scale. Of course, from time to time certain topics of inquiry go in or out of fashion, like the neural winter of the 90s and 2000s, which has ironically now reversed itself with the whole deep learning thing. But that happened because funding was coming principally from US funding agencies, the computational power and data was inadequate to demonstrate the value of the nascent techniques, and the body of research was overwhelmingly produced in US institutes, none of which apply here.
So I'm interested to know by what mechanism you think so many smart people who are also engineers and scientists, except also specialists in this very topic, are making fundamental logical and statistical errors?
A creationist engineer codes just as well as a Darwinist engineer. Young Earth creationist nonetheless! He's one of the best students in my class that I've ever seen, extremely good at coding, great at running meetings and organizing people.
The fact of the matter is, global warming, pollution, and even creationism / whatever does not affect the typical day-to-day life of many Americans.
Similarly, another one of my coworkers doesn't believe in Global Warming. But I wouldn't dare challenge his ability to code.
I've debated both of these individuals, and they're far more informed about the debate than the typical evolutionist / pro-global warming sheeple out there as well. They're just IMO, on the wrong side of the argument.
I used to think like you, that "these idiots who disagree with me" are dumb, ignorant or something. But if there's anything I learned in life, every viewpoint has their intelligent supporters.
I don't think it is right to judge someone else's intelligence based on political views that are well outside of their field of study. The creationist engineer, and the anti-global warming engineer are just two examples of how these issues honestly don't contribute to any of these people's daily lives.
They're not dumb. They're just... erm... wrong, or something. Adams takes the correct approach in trying to understand their viewpoint, and realizing that they're just as rational as us.
To the Creationists and anti-Global Warming people out there: hey, I still disagree with you. So yeah, I'm gonna call you wrong every time. But I'm not going to insult your intelligence or question your rationality. Hopefully, this disagreement won't prevent us from working together some time in the future.
I absolutely deny that the majority of those who do
are the 'intelligent supporters' you describe.
Similarly, the typical evolutionist and typical global-warming guy or pro-vaccines is also dumb. They just happen to be correct on the issue.
Sturgeon's Law. 90% of everything #%$#. 90% of creationists are dumb, for the same reason that 90% of the population in general (including evolutionists) are dumb.
Have you ever argued with your own supporters? Playing the devil's advocate is pretty fun. The typical evolutionist can't even counter-argue against criticisms against Carbon Dating... or other simple fallacious arguments with regards to evolution.
Carbon Dating has a maximum effectivity of a few thousand years, not really long enough to be on the scale of evolutionary changes. Simple geological facts, for depth of fossils and such can also be contested, and the typical pro-evolution person out there will be lost in the argument.
Despite being on the correct side of the debate, pro-evolutionists typically can't argue their way out of a paper-bag. But this is true in general, very few people have decent debate skills.
And thats what makes "intelligent people with wrong worldviews" so dangerous. They win every argument in colloquial settings, because they're pretty smart and can win debates even when the facts are tilted against their favor.
The realization that I myself might be one such person is not lost upon me of course. I generally win debates online, in person and such. But after years of experience, I've learned that this isn't because I'm correct... its because I am a decent debater.
And everyone who posts in online discussions tends to be an above-average debater. We constantly debate each other and organize our own (and each other's) thoughts.
I haven't really argued against my own 'side' but I do examine my own thoughts frequently, and it's kind of alarming how little I know about things. I felt bad about this for a while, but then I realized that this is a necessary state of affairs in the modern world. We can't all be experts on everything.
The crucial point is that if you're going to diverge from the scientific consensus on something, then yeah, you better be an expert. I am willing to entertain Joe Mathematician when he says that some foundational beliefs about math are wrong; I am not willing to believe Joe Small-Business-Owner on the same topic.
Put another way, what's getting lost in all of this is where the burden of proof lies.
Scott Adams bemoans the fact that the wildly varying conclusions of diet science cause people's pattern recognition to conclude that this is not trustworthy information.
However, the problem is not pattern recognition. The problem is the weight that people give to signals. When each signal is given a weight of 1 or 0, the pattern recognition will never converge on the underlying trend. The media and the public must understand that some studies should be given more weight than others.
Thus, scientists have a duty to communicate which studies should be most influential. They CANT trust the media to this.
Partly to blame are media outlets rushing to publish "definitive" results to get a headline before overwhelming evidence that the results are in fact conclusive before they are known to be. Also to blame are of course, scientists themselves, who conduct faulty research and publish the results in a conclusive manner prematurely as well.
That said, I think there's a distinction that needs to be made that Adams did not at the end of the post. He says that people are skeptical as to whether climate change is real due to the aforementioned credibility issues. I don't think this is really true. Most rational people (I realize that there are many who are not) do not dispute the existence of climate change. Any scan of climate data over the past century or photos of receding glaciers can quickly and conclusively show that climate change exists. What most people are skeptical of (and something that I do not believe scientists have yet convincingly proven) is that humans are directly responsible for the climate change. The climate of the earth was increasing prior to the industrial revolution, so how much humans are to blame is very much a debatable point.
To qualify that, I have no vested interest in either side of that argument, however as a skeptical person, I do not believe that there is convincing evidence to support the claim. My father, who was a geologist and climatologist had the same belief. I think for me the issue is that people, scientists and reporters alike, have proven themselves to just not be that smart. They lack credibility because they continue to make claims that are shown to be false. How many reports did we hear that oil was going to spike to $300/barrel and that the economy was on the brink of collapse? How'd that turn out?
Science is never done, or at least it shouldn't be. We create models and update them or change them as we get more evidence and the technological advancements allow us to perform better tests.
Gravity was not done with Newton. sure, it's a great model to explain how objects are attracted to each other, but Einstein came alone and proved that that the model was not correct and it made incorrect assumptions (constant time for example).
I think that is the great misunderstanding. We expect science to give us final answers. We expect it to study something and then be "done". But that is not the case.
Usually the scientific answer should be "we don't know".
(That's also the reason why people run to some quack doctor and start taking homeopathic remedies. You'll get answers there. Unfortunately, people trust those giving answers more than those saying "I don't know".)
Mainstream news is broken. Sure its possible to dig up a good/factually accurate/balanced perspective story in some of the less visited corners of the internet. But news mainly serves to validate someones politics more than real reporting. This needs to change so that the media can earn back some credibility as well.
But that's the thing - our health can improve after receiving bad or neutral treatment because of time, which makes it really easy to confuse correlation with causation. When it comes to health, we easily fall prey to placebo effects.
I have to agree that the overzealous apostles of Scientific Consensus that run around condemning people all the time often look very silly not-too-many-years-later. In their self-righteousness, they fail to see that they're just the same as the conservative grannies and aunts and uncles they look down upon with disdain: repeating a cherry-picked data point that they don't possibly have the professional background or academic context to actually understand, but which they fervently believe and adopt because it confirms their worldview and the people around them expect them to.
People are all fundamentally the same, and most people of any affiliation will propagate anything if they accept the authority of its source. This applies to conservative and liberal persons equally -- very few of them are even capable of deciding if an analysis of a complex topic is valid or not, let alone putting forth the effort to actually vet it. The world runs on trust.
Never trust a statistic you haven't faked yourself. Visit Retraction Watch for a frequently-updated sampling of things "science got wrong".
Unless by "consensus" you mean that a lot of scientists have successfully reproduced an experiment. But nobody ever means that.
That being said, scientists are often informed and educated, so their opinions should be valued. But please take off the lab coat and call it an opinion.
Jesus, I hate this line of thinking. It essentially boils down to "we're all just monkeys". Pattern recognition is the same thing behind a lot of in-practice racism, and yet no one would claim that one's actions should reflect racism just because our basest instincts do. We have a frontal lobe for a reason.
Similarly, I can be aware that science may be wrong and still understand that, at this point in time, believing the alternatives has a higher chance of being wrong. Modulo widespread issues in study methodology etc (which may be a concern in some fields, but not really what this article is talking about), the principles underlying the scientific method are actually pretty easy to understand without any domain knowledge (of either the specific field or of study design/stats/etc).
 It's a straightforward example of "pattern recognition" to reduce a person to one of their most striking and visible physical characteristics, like skin color, and then act towards them as a member of that group instead of a full, multi-faceted person.
Almost everything you can buy at a grocery store in the United States has been altered to make it more addictive. If you go to a store and buy the foods labeled as healthy, you'll soon learn that they're not really that different after all. If you go to a store determined to buy only food that is actually healthy, you're limited practically exclusive to fruits and vegetables, and even that is questionable since we don't know what type of chemical treatments or preservatives have been applied.
"Make everyone eat only celery and go to the gym for 2 hours per day" is just not going to work. It may be a nice fantasy but it is never going to solve the obesity epidemic on a significant scale. Addictive ingredients have the side effect of causing obesity and as long as that's true, people are going to be cajoled into eating incorrectly at every turn, because everyone involved wants to sell you more food.
The obesity epidemic is a result of scientific advancements that have allowed us to acquire an unlimited amount of the most biologically desirable food ingredients on a near-global scale. We can't go back in time and uninvent this stuff, and we can't actually expect people to switch to a diet of 25 celery sticks per day, so we need a scientific solution that solves the problem. And there isn't one, because obesity doesn't really represent a commercial threat to anyone in particular -- if anything, it creates new commercial opportunity for another super-powerful industry in the U.S.: medicine.
Maybe the airline industry will fund a solution once people get too heavy to be effectively carried by airplane.
Based upon my definition, you may be wondering about something like the theory of evolution, since evolution concerns the past (and progresses too slowly to observe in the present). But the science in that field is still a future prediction -- the nature of the prediction is that it just so happens to be about the past. In other words, as new evidence emerges that explains what happened in the past, we can compare this evidence to our prediction for what kind of evidence we would find.
So, if science is prediction, then good science is "better" prediction. Then what's the best science? Physics. Physics can make theoretical predictions that match reality up to twelve decimal places. That's insane. The next best science is chemistry, followed by biology, followed by nutrition and health (as the article discusses), followed by psychology.
Does this mean that psychologists are not as intelligent as physicists? No, it just means understanding quantum mechanics is far easier than understanding how people work -- a view which I would hazard to guess most physicists would confirm. Despite the fact that QM requires advanced math that few can understand, the totality of information necessary to make predictions at a subatomic level is very small in comparison to the amount of information necessary to model a human (biologically or mentally). A few postulates, a few mathematical definitions, some numerical methods, and BOOM -- twelve decimal places of accuracy for the gyromagnetic ratio of an isolated electron. One textbook would be completely sufficient to describe this prediction and the math behind it (although it may be kind of hard to read). On the other hand, there's no way a highly predictive model of a human could fit in one book.
Unlike the elegant laws of physics, a human body is the result of millions of years of all kinds of adaptive chaos and evolution. There's no pretty equation that describes it.
My point with all this is that the public hears "science" and they lump all science together. Instead, they should be educated on which fields of science are the most predictive, and which are still in major development. In this sense, they would have a better idea of what to trust when making decisions for themselves.
Our paradigm for "science" is typically physics, in particular say newtonian mechanics. Force, mass, acceleration. 100% predictable.
However, while human diet, nutrition, metabolism are ultimately based (in some way) in physics, chemistry, biology, microbiology, diet and nutrition in the individual case are incredibly complex and clearly not fully understood phenomena.
So I think it is not exactly a failure of "science" or even the "media" at work here, but a failure to understand (which neither science nor the media has been particularly helpful on) the scope and LIMITATIONS of our knowledge and theories.
Forget about the common citizen, the scientists themselves don't know when science is "done". This is the problem of induction and most scientist are completely ignorant of the issue because they dismiss epistemology and, more generally, philosophy as nonsense. So they implicitly or explicitly substitute "consensus" for truth which is a horrible mistake.
BTW, I don't agree that getting halfway is the same as being "wrong", science is a process after all and unlike Zeno's paradox the state of scientific knowledge is not always half-way to its target, Karl Popper's claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
> I’m on the side that says climate change, for example, is pretty much what science says it is because the scientific consensus is high.
The problem here is complicated by government funding of science and positive feedback that only "consensus" consistent research gets funding. Sure there is window-dressing "opposition research" but its purpose is not the truth but to justify the consensus. Science has become politicized by the use of government money and that's why things such as global warming have become political hot buttons. There is a lot of money and power at stake and people want to fly the flag of "science" to achieve their political goals. When politics and science mix, bad things result. cf. Soviet Union.
> And we all know that studies funded by private industry are suspect.
I think this true today but that it is wrong. The tacit, unspoken assumption behind these suspicions is that government funding is NOT suspect and free from all biases. I think that that is logically and historically false. Certainly revealing ones funding is important because funding can be a source of bias but in the end science should stand on its own merit regardless of the source.
I think Scott Adams has named something that has been going on for decades now which is that the American people rightfully no longer trust science and scientists. Part of this mistrust is a product of the rising anti-technology luddites, religion and the opposition to reason in the culture as he points out. But like Adams I think that the distrust of science has also been earned and I believe it is because of the politicization of science via government funding. The leaked emails in Climategate revealed that maybe the scientists were not being so objective after all. The clearest evidence of dishonesty that I read was that in public the pro global-warming scientists would call for the opposition to publish their results and arguments in peer reviewed journals. In the background they were actively working to block the publication of such research or boycott any journals that did so.
It is now considered "scientific" to dismiss your opponents with ad hom "climate denier" labels, secretly politic to limit dissent and smear the opposition as anti-science morons (the implication that Adams was addressing) and using political marketing tricks like changing the name from "global warming" to "climate change" to make the opposition look like fools. These are the methods of a Karl Rove or James Carville not science nor scientists. This is not science.