yomptepi wrote:i thought the whole point of this debate was that scientists could not ever be wrong?
So which is it?
I liked taking this whole thread as a joke... but it seems neither in the real world or BCB do people actually see the absurdity of all of this.
It's not that "Scientists" are wrong or right. It's like Bakers are wrong or right? I mean... are they???
If I once went into a bakery and had a bad croissant that ruined my day (it happens), would I shout about how Bakers are the Worst. No.
Teachers, Lawyers, Doctors ...( who else? ) get lumped into some sort of unifying GUILD of ne'erdowells or heros.
I guess they are distinguished from other professions because of their responsibility/power?
Whats the most absolutely absurd thing to ME, is that any individual Scientist has any power at all.
The idea that "Scientists say" is such an absurdity. Scientists hardly ever say. Scientists use the best tools they have to advance understanding of usualy a tiny, almost insignificant fact. Which is to say you use the Scientific method--- find something you believe to be true, and accept that you can never PROVE it to be true, you can only prove that the opposite is NOT true-- and spend a considerable amount of time and expense trying to publish your meagre unfact and tell anyone who will listen about it. Ultimately, you hope that all these half facts will be compiled together to be "compelling evidence" which will hopefully be useful to someone someday.
For instance: The Cochrane database is a collection of big, well conducted studies that are summarised and lumped together into bigger Meta-analyses, which have great statistical power--to try and guide best clinical practice. The Logo for it is the Forest-plot (a kind of diagram) for the meta-analyses of all the evidence for giving steroids to mothers of premature babies. The study where this came from was so groundbreaking, it completely changed everything about neonatal medicine and saved the lives of thousands of babies. http://www.cochrane.org/uk/about-us/our-logo
But it could only do this when each individual "scientist" had made their individual contribution, to a greater and bigger whole.
So can the meekest of geeks be wrong when they are only doing their job, applying the scientific method?
It strikes me they can be wrong in 2 ways
1) not having enough evidence/information
2) innappropriate interpretation of the results
For the first, you can lump in a lot of what has been deemed as grievous errors of the past. Yes leeches were used to cure a lot of ills in the 18th century. They didn't know better... we consistently need more and more work to try and put the evidence together. Plus, they weren't ALL wrong. We still use leeches sometimes. It's also where statistics comes in. Any result is only as good as the method you got in getting there. To be published you have to go through a rigorous "peer-review process". You might aim for good journals, and you might end up in a lousy journal... even after years of research. After this point, the results HAVE to be taken into context. Scientists have "journal clubs"-- we practice reading through papers and figuring out if it's a good/valid study or not. MOST of the time you end up ripping it's credibility up into shreds because it's really hard to conduct a perfect fool-proof study. But more knowledge is more knowledge... it's just hard to know what to do with any information that is not 100% black and white.
For the second, there are lots of reasons this can happen. Maybe you've used the wrong statistical test, maybe you are over selling your result, or maybe you are being funded by an unbiased source. I can mostly only speak as an academic scientist, rather than a scientist working in industry. As am example, pharmaceutical companies can and do produce completely essential medication based on research they do in-house... but that research can't be completely unbiased because they not only have to make up their losses, they have to make a profit... often in a very competitive market.
Academics live like church mice, but they have their livelihoods on the line... so I suppose they could be said to be unbiased. So the reputation of your lab, or the journal in which you publish is supposed to make up for that bias. It doesn't always. But this bias is usually out in the open.
THE REAL PROBLEM is distribution.
The wee little man in the lab coat is not the man who tells you what you should and should not eat to lose weight... because you do not do literature reviews. In fact, if you have ever TRIED to read primary source material (the original paper of any study). It's ABSOLUTELY prohibitively expensive.
THIS IS AN OUTRAGE. Almost all research, at least in the UK, is publically funded. You should OWN this information. We have to PAY to publish, and PAY to access... A lot of money.
So when you read Prof. Nutt says in the newspaper that Heroin is less harmful than alcohol... and Goatboy puts it on BCB, because he read it in a reputable newspaper, and this is a professor of a reputable university. He is going to believe this as fact.
If I look up the original paper, published 6 years before the "headline", and I read (because I have a university subscription) that this is an opinion given by 20 of his friends, and their arbitrary ratings on arbitrary scales-- and on ONE of the scales it says some of them deemed it more "socially harmful" (whatever that means.). I'm not sure it's fact anymore.
But its a very different story.
So no wonder the public feels misled by "Scientists", because they can only ACCESS this Science through pop-science books (how academics push thier own agendas and make a name for themselves) or the media (who have a headline to sell and honestly NEVER understands what the professor had 5 minutes to explain to them, because this is specialist knowledge and they never even took high school Science, because they were English majors.)
The problem is, Scientists work very hard and long hours (like doctors, teachers, lawyers) and they never defend themselves so SO much this nonsense gets propogated.
The concept of "Scientists" agreeing on something or leading the public or misleading the public is just nonsense... not least because they have no such power, and whatever they have to say has to go through the mouthpiece of the press.
So just cut them some slack.
Its a pretty crappy job, but someone has to do it.