The Problem Isn’t The Science (The Problem Is You)

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August 3, 2015 by Liberty

I have a theory that I’d like to propose. If an idiot like me can completely muck up your conclusions within 30 seconds of learning about your experiment then you probably had no intention of doing a legitimate experiment in the first place.

Laymans with an obvious agenda tend to be the most common culprit of this problem. One egregious example of this was a recent online “social” experiment. (Okay… first of all, as a quick tangent, if someone calls their experiment a “social” experiment then I’m willing to bet it’s more social than experimental.) A man did an “experiment.” He went up to parents at a playground and asked for their permission to do the experiment. Then, he walked up to the parent’s children (he had a dog) and started conversations with the child. Then he tried to get the child to go with him. In some cases, it worked.

OH NO!!!!!! The social outrage. Why didn’t these parents teach their child better!?!?!?

Now in thirty seconds you can find fatal flaws in the experiment. Did the man get seen talking to the mother by the child? Yes. Was the mother watching the experiment in the distance? Yes. So how can you possibly consider this a legitimate use of your time! Okay. A person the child thinks is friends with mommy talks to them (with a cute dog.) Mom is watching the whole conversation!

(Okay… Now for a spoiler. I didn’t actually watch the video. This is what I got from someone’s interpretation of the video. Considering the blatant failure of the experimental logic, the focus on this video was probably the interpretation people get off the experiment. Even if the science was legit (by controlling for these somehow,) if this is the message it’s transmitting, it’s not legit.)

This was a particularly obvious example of bad “science.” Now, most examples of this aren’t so obvious. They put on plain clothes and hide between the pages of your favorite news magazines. Ultimately becoming, the interpretation people get off the bad experiments.

Popular Science (Is Not Science)

No… this has absolutely nothing to do with the magazine.

Science, as understood by the average toadstool(person), is not science. It’s, at best, a poor understanding of a quickly written article, intended to impress the prejudices of the author onto the reader, about a subject that the reader, the author, and the scientist (if that scientist is actually a scientist) doesn’t really understand.

That being said, the mainstream science discussion knowledge is considered accurate. If Malcolm Gladwell writes a pleasant sounding book about it then it’s a legitimate scientific pursuit because, otherwise, someone might have to do a little thinking in their decision making process. (If you can’t trust your authors then WHO CAN YOU TRUST!?)

With virtually every article you read in any major source of news, (even science news) you can find blatant poor interpretations of scientific data by writers. The writer will take a correlation and say, “Coffee drinkers are more likely to have cancer! Maybe kicking that caffeine habit is more necessary than you thought,” or something similarly stupid. Suddenly, every reader of that mainstream news source believes coffee causes cancer. (All while any legitimate scientist rolls his eyes.)

What is my point with this?

Do I think newspapers need to have stricter hiring policies when it comes to science writers? Do I think professional scientists, statisticians, and god forbid, fact checkers, go over articles?

Hell no… quite frankly, if a person was qualified to write an article on the subject without running into a bunch of stupid interpretations then I’d prefer they spent less time writing and more time experimenting. The average person is not taught proper science in school. If they have this information, I think I’d prefer they use it because, hell, scientists usually know this information and still aren’t good at applying it.

Science Is Corrupt

I like that headline. I can almost feel the dirty looks people are giving me.

Science is corrupt. No… there isn’t anything wrong with science.

Virtually every scientist goes into every experiment with an intention. (I think I could say every.) Someone doesn’t go into cancer research because they’re genuinely curious about cancer. They go into cancer research with the intention to cure, treat, or do something productive, against cancer.

Scientists working for corporations are not just curious about stuff. They are also looking to push a certain corporate agenda. For example, a pharmaceutical company would have scientists looking to solve profitable problems with long term treatments. The corporations pay the scientists to have that goal.

Scientists getting government funding are not just curious. They can’t get funding studying just anything. They need to be studying something that is valuable politically. Otherwise, the experiment wouldn’t have got funding in the first place. (Counter examples exist of experiments that look stupid but I’d argue they got funding for indirect political agendas. Also, good luck getting government funding to prove a political goal unnecessary.)
The only possible exception to corruption in science is tinkerers but even they usually have some agenda on their mind.

All these agendas make it impossible to trust final data completely. That… is not a bad thing. That is science. Corruption is a fundamental part of science as a human being. There is no way exclude it from the results. To be scientific, is to doubt. It’s to accept that all theories are subject to being falsified. (Yes… That’s Popper for the curious among you.) This corruption just makes that process easier.

No matter which level you’re looking at science. Science is not the problem. Science is basic logic. Do, see the results, adjust, see the results, try to generalize and fail at it. Even babies use this basic logic to solve problems. They stand up, fall down, stand up holding something, stay up for a bit, fall down, and then try standing up with two hands holding themselves up…

Science is not the problem. You (and I) are the problems.

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