Monday, February 08, 2010
I'm off to Florida for a week of business, returning next Sunday morning. From the Gallagher's in Terminal C at Newark Liberty Airport, an ejaculation of tabs.
My sister, a scientist, observes that the internet has made it impossible for scientists to speak with unchallenged authority. True. The question is whether the consequences are all bad.
Saturday night, the battle for Ivy League supremacy: Princeton vs. Cornell men's basketball at Jadwin Gym. Wish I could be there.
The "six Republican ideas already in the health care bill," from liberal blogger Ezra Klein. It's only a little snarky.
Orwell weeps: If the "jobs bill" contains card check unionization, it will be a "jobs bill" only insofar as it destroys them.
Is the problem that there is too little money in politics?
Lame, I know. I'll try to step up my game next time.
I disagree with the speculation that "the internet" has made scientific authority assailable.
In the examples given, the concept espoused is that "fringe" scientific speculation, normally ignored by the mainstream, finds it's way on to the internet and gathers a following. The painful word "denialist" is used several times in the essay, clearly establishing the writer's bias.
Actually, such has been true of fringe thought for centuries. Valid social and scientific concepts such as Christianity, The Heliocentric Solar System, The Germ Theory, Dark Matter, etc...all began life on the "fringe" and did not require the internet to pose a challenge to the mainstream...or to go "viral".
What has stained the escutcheon of mainstream science is arrogance, money and dishonesty. While it may have taken years to expose these faults in the past...the information explosion on the intenet has focused a harsh light on the dark corners of the scientific skeleton-closet.
The disinformation contained in the original Lancet article on autism and vaccines has been known for years and suppressed. It has finally bubbled up to the surface.
The destruction of Dow Corning by a legal shark school based on crap science was disgraceful. We only now are emerging back into the sun on matters of Silicon. Where was the internet when we needed it?
The fact that second hand smoke is essentially harmless is still kept under wraps by failure to examine the statistical integrity of the pilot studies. I'm still waiting for the internet to catch that one...and I, for one, truly wish that the data were true.
As far as being a "denialist" for climate change...well...I can only chuckle at the collapse of that house of cards...built upon intellectual dishonesty, demogoguery and political power plays. The internet definitely came to our rescue there...but it was NOT the problem...it was the salvation.
I could go on, but you get my drift. The internet is not s new phenomenon vis a vis scientific integrity (or lack thereof)...it is merely a brighter flashlight to shine in a dark corner to expose the cockroaches.
My only bias is for scientifically supported ideas vs. not, and your comment illustrates my point perfectly - that the way information promulgates around the internet seems to have the result that everyone thinks they are experts in fields in which they have no training, and believes that those who have years of training and experience in a field are simply "arrogant." Thank you for illustrating my point so beautifully. (Though I'm not sure why you posted your comment here instead of on my blog. Are you only interested in accolades from other expert non-scientists?)
No slight intended. The post is here ecause it was a response to TH's post...no more and no less.
We don't need the internet to see the effect of those who try to pass for experts in a field in which they have no training. You need go no further, for example, than the recent Preventive Services Task Force recommendations on breast cancer screening or any of the pseudo-analytical garbage that appears under the aegis of the "Institute of Medicine".
If you really think there is no arrogance in academia, then you haven't gotten your feet wet. I wish you luck.
I don't mind discussing science with "non-scientists"...although this blog site has some pretty experienced folks who linger here.
This site holds my interest because it isn't an inbred cadre of ideologues who stand in a circle patting each other on the back...and, you may have noticed, I rarely get any accolades.
IMHO, as something of a working scientist, the problem is more in "Big Science" than the Internet.
It's hard to say where "Big Science" got its start, but the Manhatten Project is a likely a culprit as any. Government has subsidized scientific and engineering projects for many years, but the Manhatten Project was a watershed event.
The consequence has been that scientists that have successfully gotten large monies from the government (whether good or bad) have gained an imprimatur of stature that may not necessarily be earned by the actual quality of the science performed.
Short version: Big money from the government has had a corrupting effect on the integrity of science. Not that all government subsidized science has been bad (much of it is very good), just the effect has been corrupting.
Here’s the good link for the Ezra Klein post. There’s an interesting discussion of it at The Corner here.
I think Klein makes some interesting specific points but it seems to me his arguments actually encourages scrapping the current bill and starting over. If there are so many points the Democrats and Republicans agree on (I’m not convinced there really are but let’s assume Klein is correct), why not dump the big bills and pass little bills that cover just those points?
wrt the internet and scientists, I would point to the printing press and clergy. I don't think that freeing up alternate means of learning / communication was a bad thing, in retrospect. For the church at the time, probably bad.
I would be curious to know from those of you with more knowledge about the subject your thoughts on the following two observations: 1) neither the public (for example, Medicare) or private (third party insurance companies) seem to offer what could be called transparent, cost-effective care so I am not sure if the main problem is who is the payor vs. something else built into our health care delivery system and 2) from a consumer point of view, the most difficult thing to take is the link of insurance to work. If you are self-employed, not working, divorced, changing jobs, etc. it is shockingly expensive to buy, if you even can, reasonably priced insurance.
I do think starting over on the bill and finding some agreement on the points where there is some consensus, however meager, would be a step in the right direction.
"My sister, a scientist, observes that the internet has made it impossible for scientists to speak with unchallenged authority."
It's rather surprising to learn that scientists, whose lives revolve around logic and reason, would complain that they can no longer resort to fallacious Argument From Authority.
BomberGirl, I think the extent to which insurance makes the real price of health care hard for consumers to determine - and to some extent shields them from it - is a major problem. I've written about that a fair amount at my blog.
I also think the link between jobs and health insurance is a Very Bad Idea. You get seriously ill, you can't work, you lose your job, you lose your health insurance. That just doesn't seem like a well-designed system.
Unfortunately I think what you are seeing is a corrupt and somewhat combative alliance between fringe researchers starved for publicity and the press franticly seeking panic stories, where legitimate scientists who discover minor correlations between events are drowned out by the “panics”. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and their ilk has a long history of this, from “Palm oil will kill you” to “Salt will kill you” to “Alar will kill you” to “Air will kill you.” Well, maybe not the last one. Each release from CSPI triggers a whole series of panic-sounding news stories, reporters wailing about the dangers of eating popcorn, making wild guesses about the number of bodies that will pile up from this “epidemic” until more reasonable people begin poking holes in the theories, and it becomes time to release a new panic report and start the cycle all over again.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the University of East Anglia are two that seem to have latched onto the “The world will end in fire” theme, and have managed to convince the whole of the civilized world that Man-Made Global Warming is real, and the only way to stop it is to plow billions into….well, something, we don’t know exactly what, but we own a number of fine companies who are working on the problem, give them the money and it will be used correctly. And by correctly, we mean to purchase research grants for UEA. And to help Al Gore travel the world by jet, speaking at every frozen outpost of humanity.
Real science keeps the raw data. Real science releases the code it uses on the raw data. Real scientists have no problem with other scientists examining their hypothesis and data. There’s a wonderful article and actual informative comments in the UK Guardian. Read and enjoy.
Cross-posted on bioblog
"Unfortunately I think what you are seeing is a corrupt and somewhat combative alliance between fringe researchers starved for publicity and the press franticly seeking panic stories"
How true. It's good to be wary of organizations with titles that sound academic, but who primarily publish their data in the New York Times (which, the last time I checked, was not a peer reviewed journal).
Thus we have the "Institute of Medicine" (check their website and see who is on their board)producing wildly extrapolated data that tells the public that hospitals cant get your medicines right and will probably killyou.
...and my favorite, the "Center for Science in the Public Interest". Basically a roomfull of loons with a big fax machine who are to food what PETA is to animals.
Great Theater, heh?
JP: "The fact that second hand smoke is essentially harmless is still kept under wraps by failure to examine the statistical integrity of the pilot studies."
This is the kind of "forget the vast majority of expert opinion, I'm right" type of argument that you see by climate change skeptics.
I can count the seconds until someone screams "argument from authority!" by people who have can't match the depth of understanding of the field that their disputing, but trust their gut politics instead.
And yes, it's the same argument used by creationists.
Brian: You seem to be arguing for technocracy; where everyone is obligated to defer to their betters in whatever field that better inhabits.
Defer to lawyers on subjects of law. Defer to doctors on subjects of medicine. Defer to political science scholars on questions of public policy. Et cetera. If a consensus is reached, it must be true.
Let's ignore for a minute that this kind of thinking is part of what held back scientific development in Europe for a thousand years.
Strict liability makes for more efficient legal proceedings? Run with it. Eugenics is a handy way to guide human development? Awesome. Personal liberty is an acceptable sacrifice for 'social justice?' Make it so.
Unfortunately, this runs counter to the very essence of democracy in which law and policy bow to the popular will. A graduate degree does not make one a member of the nobility, and membership in the club is not necessary for skepticism. It doesn't matter if legal scholars come to a consensus that strict liability is better for society as a whole, because the application of it strikes most people as fundamentally unjust.
It doesn't matter how certain a given expert is that he is correct if he cannot convince people on the strength of his data that he is correct AND that his ideas ought be adhered to.
Conversely, simply convincing people of a given position doesn't make that position true. See: deadliness of second hand smoke.
'Experts' can be bought and sold (or rented, in the case of expert testimony for civil actions). 'Experts' can be wrong. 'Experts' disagree on many, many things. And, as we've seen recently w\ regard to Climate Change(tm), they can conspire together to manipulate the public who relies on them.
That last fact alone should be all that is necessary to adequately demonstrate that 'listen to the experts you ignorant fools' is not a sound means for handling anything.
If you think that is 'the chase,' then I may as well have been talking to a wall.
Though it may interest said wall that the guy he was mocking for saying that second hand smoke isn't dangerous is the only practicing physician I know of who posts here.
I suppose that makes him the resident expert to whom you are obligated to defer.
My particular practice (oncology and vascular surgery)puts me in the position of telling, yelling, begging and cajoling people all day long not to smoke. So don't get me wrong, I am not a hack for the tobacco industry. My dad and uncle both died in their early 50's courtesy of 2 packs a day of unfiltered camels.
A while back I came across a professional article that was bemoaning the sloppy use of statistics in certain studies and was making a call for more rigid and predictable use of statistical analysis. One of the egregious studies mentioned was the 1992 EPA study of second hand smoke.
Essentially, they had to back the confidence level back to 90% to see even a bump in the risk ratio for non smokers who lived with smokers. When one looks into it further, the whole study was tortured and contrived...but it served it's purpose.
It has bcome a religion....and it has greased the way for government agencies to increase control over a segment commerce and industry.
Interestingly, some of those who participated in the analysis would not produce their data and had to be sued (sucessfully) to submit the information for more rigorous analysis.
Does this sound familiar?
Anyway, I can't put my hands on the original article that picqued my interest in this pecadillo...but I did find a blog site that did a pretty good summary of all the problems with the study and submit it
You can do your own research on this topic...but the CLEAR issue is that the study does not stand up to rigorous analysis...much like a lot of "conventional wisdon" that becomes truth only because it is repeated often enough.
Open your mind, Brian. It won't hurt, I promise.
JP, I really, really hope that in addition to advising your patients not to smoke, you urge them not to smoke in the vicinity of their spouses, children, and most of all, infants.
I know many people here are allergic to looking at wikipedia, but you can hold your noses and click through to the references:
JP should have access to JAMA and possibly Lancet. I think you'll find a lot more info than a half-remembered study from 1992.
(And no, I'm not speaking from any great expertise on this issue.)
Actually, I usually try not to give people disinformation just because it is politically correct.
The best reason for not smoking around your family is that it's easier for someone to QUIT smoking if nobody else in the house continues to indulge in the filthy habit.
Telling people that they could give their family members cancer by smoking around them has yet to be proven to be correct.
Yeah...it's a moot point.
According to the "president", our only interest is to charge lots of money and do unnecessary procedures...when we're not showing up in the Rose Garden wearing white coats, of course.
"JP should have access to JAMA and possibly Lancet"
Lancet is a bit busy nowadays reeling from the bad data they published about autism...and covered up.
There's no reason to be combative OR sad, Brian.
Being analytical is neither.
The truth is out there...just don't mistake it for propaganda.