Category Archives: Science

I don’t understand the point of this, therefore it’s stupid

That might as well have been the headline to this piece in the National Post, entitled: Fat kids get picked on–and other things you didn’t need a study to tell you

There are no doubt countless important studies that discover things that help the public better understand ourselves and the world in which we live. There are also a lot of studies that tell us things we already know. Or didn’t need a costly study to tell us. … A cynic would suggest that studies such as these are conducted by researchers who could be making better use of their time by not re-examining widely accepted conclusions.

Oooh, so when we “know” something already we should just accept that as truth and not bother to prove that there’s actually something to X perception, as opposed to it being some sort of confirmation bias. Wow, I’ve been doing this science thing all wrong.

What is a “widely-accepted conclusion”? Like that we lose the most heat from our heads and that’s why we should wear hats (bullshit). Like that?

[T]he researchers found “that obese children had higher odds of being bullied” regardless of a number of socio-economic factors. The authors “conclude that being obese … increases the likelihood of being a victim of bullying.”

Apparently this research is useless. But only if you accept the conclusion before having the data to support it. Maybe rich fat kids didn’t get picked on. Who knows? Without a study, no one – at least not for sure. And if the NP author’s issue is that he doesn’t consider the research question interesting, well that raises the question: Why does individual specific interest determine what scientific studies ought to be done?

The author provides several more examples of research that he finds unimportant, yet provides no analysis for why this is a problem (other than to suggest that money ought to be spend elsewhere, but then it’s turtles all the way down again – based on what? why is this a problem? etc).

Is this how the public perceives science research? If so, we have our work cut out for us to change that perception lest we end up just accepting “common knowledge” as the objective truth regardless of evidence just because Joe Sciencepack thinks that’s how it’s done.

Randi’s Blunder

I was away from the internet for a week on my vacation and I came back after a shitstorm left poo all over my Google Reader.

I’m relatively ambivalent to the “situation” surrounding Randi’s global climate change essay on the JREF blog this week. It wasn’t so much what he said, it seems, that got people riled, but the way he said it – with logical fallacies and arguments that reminded me of reading a creationist or truther blog (look at this petition signed by real scienticians, science has been wrong before, and arguments from authority and personal incredulity). But ok, he screwed up…so what? Call him on it, respectfully (as, IMHO, he’s earned at least that). That’s what we do. The cries that this is the end of the skepticism movement as we know it, that he’s lost his marbles, and that the JREF is now irrelevant to skepticism are just over-the-top inappropriate. The vitriol of some of the comments was surprising, but it seems some people just love to freak out.

We all love to think that if we study hard, keep up on our logic, and think rationally and critically that we’ll eventually be above these mistakes. It’s not gonna happen – especially for subjects for which we are not familiar or expert – and, let’s face it, with the vast amount of scientific knowledge out there, it’s pretty much impossible for one person to be knowledgeable about all of them. I think the real reason people are freaking out is that he’s reminded us that everyone can make mistakes in logic (and judgement, I suppose), and maybe especially for certain topics – even The Amazing! Randi who taught us all so well.

*I’d love to link to the various blogs that covered everything like I usually do to provide a nice summary, but I’m still on vacation at the moment. If I think of it, I’ll come back later and add links.

Coming up this weekend…

It’s been a slow blog week for me. I’ve been busy with another super-secret-until-tomorrow project and real life stuff. But here’s a sneak preview for this weekend:

– I’m going to finally post about that video game article I posted about last week.

– I’m going to take the plunge into propaganda land and watch both Religulous and Expelled this weekend. I will be posting my thoughts after each. I think I should buy some alcohol before attempting this feat. +15 Stamina and well-fed bonus FTW.

The Argument

No not that one. This one: “There are numerous websites that have expended X number of hours to reassure the masses that Y conspiracy is false. If Z really happened, then anyone who says otherwise is nuts and not worth the time to respond when they claim Y. So obviously, Y has merit.”

Bullshit. More…

Friendships with skeptics

Recently, in the course of a heated debate about science and evolutionary biology a “friend” let slip some of his true feelings about me (Mojo) and my atheism/skepticism.  In his defence, he was upset and may not have known what exactly he was saying, but as you may have already guessed, I no longer consider this person a friend as I once did.

Chances are, if you read this blog, you are a skeptic or critical thinker and you may even be an atheist.  If this is the case, you may do well to remember this article as a bit of a warning.  If you are not a skeptic but have friends that are, maybe this article will help enlighten you to what it is like for them and perhaps increase your tolerance to their way of life.  Either way, this is purely a cathartic experience for me to get a few things off my chest. More…

Mars Rover Fail

Apparently the rovers may have been accidentally burninating evidence of organic life all this time. [finger in collar]

A common method to detect organic molecules is to burninate the country side and look for characteristic remains in evaporated form. However, perchlorates that were burninated in experiments on Earth left no traces, suggesting that Mars rovers won’t be able to find these compounds with this method. Other compounds might have the same problem so they may have been missing other organics with this method, too. The good news: This means NASA gets to invent a new way to find organic compounds on Mars! Yay science!

So the lack of compounds found on Mars may be less “they aren’t there” and more “oops”. One solution, set to be implemented on 2016, is to heat the compounds in water so they can’t burn away.

"Stupid" vs. "Ignorant"

Some dude on some website (how’s that for specifics) posted an interesting article about feeling stupid in research. I know that feeling quite well, being a former scientist myself (and perhaps again in the future if I pursue my PhD). However, there was something at the end that bothered me a little.

“Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant.”

My issue with this comment is rather semantic, but I felt it worth pointing out. Although, I might have misunderstood his meaning. In any case…

I consider ignorance as a situation where a person does not know something due to lack of exposure or deliberately ignoring evidence/knowledge. In the case he is describing (research), people feel stupid because they don’t know the answer to the question they’re asking, don’t know the best way to ask it (or fear asking it wrong), and/or don’t know the best way to get the answer to it.

However, these people are educated in the necessary background and have the proper training to eventually overcome these obstacles and ask/research/answer their question. So they are not “ignorant” and certainly not “by choice”. They feel stupid, but they are not actually stupid or ignorant. It’s just a problem to be solved and it causes an emotional reaction and sometimes a dip in confidence or feelings of self-worth.

Scientists are well-trained in asking and answering questions. Some people are better at it than others, but a trained scientist is still better than Joe Schmo in the average population with no science training (for example, Jenny “vaccines cause autism, and I have the cure” McCarthy). So I don’t think we should be giving the wrong idea that scientists en masse are incompetent or ignorant.

Sometimes kinda crappy? Maybe. Sometimes fraudulent? Sure. But the “system” of science and the rest of us catch those people eventually. Scientists are people like everyone else, but with a particular training. So, like anyone else, they can make mistakes or be huge dicks. But in general they are just people doing their job and they are the best trained to do it. All of science isn’t invalidated because of a few less than ethical douches.

Well that got tangential. The point is: Scientists are generally not ignorant about science. Some people suck at it — like anyone at any job could — and they sometimes lack confidence, but in the end the scientific method (observe, idea, test, report, replicate, review) sorts out the bull and leaves us the truth. So cut them some slack for the most part — they’re just people — but reserve no energy in giving evil deliberate frauds what they deserve and incompetent accidental frauds a thorough and public rundown of research ethics.