There is Only Science — Skepticism is not Science

Editorials

Jan 06

I’ve recommended this book, Real Magic previously (and not just because we make a few cents on each purchase). Below, I’m publish a portion from it dedicated to all skeptics. And if you would like a copy and want to support us, click the book.

You see, skeptics constantly proclaim that they are “PRO-SCIENCE” when, in fact, they are pro-skepticism, which never really requires much science when just a tip of the hat will make do.

I will point out my favorite example of this: The Debunking of Andrew Wakefield, by professional skeptic, Brian Deer (who was hired by the editor of the British Medical Journal).

The entire world knows that Brian Deer “proved” that Wakefield, et. al, were frauds, and that the MMR vaccine did not cause autism.

What the world does not know is that Dr Wakefield’s study never claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism, and that the science of his paper was quite sound.

Furthermore, in 2012, one of the doctors on Wakefield’s team won his High Court appeal, with the Judge in the case quashing the General Medical Council’s findings. Though retired, Professor John Walker-Smith got his license to practice medicine returned to him, and a third doctor, Professor Simon Murch, was also cleared.

The Justice in this case ruled that there was “inadequate reasoning” to pronounce these researchers quacks and frauds and anything else the British press wanted to call them. Wakefield himself was living in Texas and was not part of this lawsuit, but had he been there, he too would have been vindicated.

These are facts and science is supposed to deal in facts, but the debunking of Wakefield’s study, known by everyone (supposedly), had little to do with science and was, in fact, a personal attack on the character of Wakefield and those who had worked with him.

Moving on, I should mention that in any discussion of science we must always mention statistics. It is through statistics that we know whether a study’s outcome is reliable and, sadly, it is through the manipulation of statistics that numerous industries get to drown us in bullshit.

I remember someone attacking my rejection of statin drugs because he had a study that showed that some 80% of the experimental group showed positive results when their cholesterol lowering drugs were doubled. I looked at the study and had to laugh, because the people in the study were already on statin drugs (they used only people on the statins), and yes, they responded to higher dosages, in that they lowered their cholesterol even further.

That was what I was being attacked with.

However, upon further examination of the statistics, I discovered that the experimental group did not live any longer than the control group. In fact, as cholesterol levels increase, so does lifespan.

In other words, the statistics were manipulated to tell us that cholesterol lowering drugs work even better at higher doses, without telling us that those who were not on the damn drugs lived longer.

My point is this:

When statistics are laid out without any interpretation due to an agenda, it is those statistics alone that tell us the true outcome of a study.

Having said this, I want to reproduce for you a tiny piece from this book, Real Magic, in which the author quotes Professor Jessica Utts, the president of the American Statistical Association, in her address to six thousand statisticians in that association.

“For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work in [parapsychology], including a year that I spent full-time working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War . . . .

“At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their beliefs solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked the debunkers if there is any amount of data that would convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any. Now there is a definition of pseudo-science—basing conclusions on belief, rather than data.

“When I have given talks on this topic to audiences of statisticians, I show lots of data. Then I ask the audience which would be more convincing to you—lots more data, or one strong personal experienced? Almost without fail, the response is one strong personal experience . . . . I think people are justifiably skeptical, because most people think that these abilities, contradicts what we know about science. They don’t, but that’s a subject for a different talk.”

The point is, either you accept science or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

And once you accept science, what Professor Utts points out in her book is you must accept a little magic too.

Ain’t life grand?

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