The religion of ‘science’

Headline from CNBC: Why scientists are changing their minds and disagreeing during the coronavirus pandemic

Quote:

In the scientific world, it’s expected that even the highest-ranking academics will evolve their thinking — and many have done so during this Covid-19 pandemic.

I cringe when I hear folks say that what they believe is based on science, research or studies, because what they are really saying is: I believe this and nothing will change my mind and btw, I don’t know what science is, but it sure sounds good.

Science seeks the truth. At the heart of that process is staying open to the possibility that whatever you believe could be wrong and considering contrary evidence to your beliefs.

When you close yourself off to that, you are no longer in accordance with the scientific method and are treating science as a religion.

Overly relying on what they think science says also tells me these things:

  • They haven’t noticed when ‘science’ was proven wrong and reversed.
  • They have spent zero time reading an actual study, which is usually a lot less convincing and authoratative than what gets boiled down in the media.
  • They have zero knowledge of statistical tricks, errors, misinterpretations, correlation vs causation and problems with study design and so forth.

We’re all one, more or less

Multiple personalities explains reality?

Yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking. Seems like Nietzsche had it figured out, too. Maybe Carl Sagan.

Is there more to come?

Initial scans of the odd-shaped interstellar asteroid reveal no signs of alien technology.

Good.

Though it may be presumptuous to think that aliens use radio signals. I’d try neutrinos.

I have a follow-up question: Is there more coming?

Maybe whatever catapulted this object toward our sun, flung other objects our way, as well.

Are we looking for more objects coming from the same direction?

And, I hate to bring this up, but wasn’t there a doomsday prediction recently that some planet was going to pop out of nowhere and hit Earth? Quite a coincidence, I’d say.

Mystery of the racing rocks solved

In one part of Death Valley, it has been a mystery for some time as to how heavy boulders move across the desert, leaving a trail in the desert floor behind them.

That mystery has now been solved. It turns out that thin ponds of ice water forms to allow the rocks to slide across ice when blown by the wind.

The reason I’m posting this is that I found one part of the story rather humorous. The researchers installed a weather station and put GPS equipment on rocks. They brought in their own rocks because:

(The National Park Service would not let them use native rocks, so they brought in similar rocks from an outside source.)

Yes, we wouldn’t to interfere with the native rocks! Credit to researchers for believing that similar rocks would do the trick.

A good synapses of how we were duped into getting fat

Here’s a great post from Matt Ridley on the conventional, but wrong, wisdom of low-fat diets. He writes:

There is a strong possibility that the “diabesity” epidemic has been caused largely by the diet police themselves.

The chief source of the anti-saturated-fat message was a politically astute scientist named Ancel Keys. In 1961 he persuaded the American Heart Association to issue guidelines on saturated fat intake. The main evidence came from his study of heart disease in six countries in Europe plus Japan, from which he concluded that low-fat diets led to less heart disease.

…the fat effect was weak: an order of magnitude less than the effect of cigarettes on cancer, for example.

Ridley’s writing here is based on the work of Nina Tiecholz, which I wrote about here and appears to be nearly identical to the work that Gary Taubes did in his books, who I’ve written about before, as well.

This from Ridley’s post is also interesting:

In the past ten years, study after rigorous study has found that animal fat per se is not harmful, does not cause obesity, does not raise the kinds of cholesterol that predict heart attacks, does not increase death rate and is healthier than carbohydrates. For instance, one two-year trial in Israel found that a fat-and-meat “Atkins” diet lowered weight more than either a low-fat or a Mediterranean diet. As Teicholz puts it in her book: “Every plank in the case against saturated fat has, upon rigorous examination, crumbled away.”

Such findings remain too heretical for most diet experts. Those who make them struggle for years to get published and have to couch their findings in cautious language. Those such as Teicholz and Gary Taubes who write books pointing out that this fat emperor had no clothes are treated as pariahs. If anything, the official committees of the diet police are doubling down, demanding that we eat ever less saturated fat.

If you are at all interested in losing weight, Gary Taubes’ books are worth a read.

Links

Mark Perry links to three examples of how the market is the best regulator and our best friend (though, admittedly, the kind of friend many people like to dump on).

Chris Berg explains why Capitalism is Awesome (HT: EconLog‘s Alberto Mingardi). Worth a read. It’s not the necessarily the Facebooks and the Apples, but the guys trying to make a better shelf.

A short video of Jim Buchanan on the illusion of the public interest (HT: Cafe Hayek‘s Don Boudreaux):

 

Unintended consequence of Obamacare?

I yawned when I read this. Did you?

 

 

Does the speed of light change? and more crazy stuff

I’ve asked several times on this blog why light has a speed. Here’s one example.

I’ve also wondered if the speed of light might have changed over time.

This science article discusses two studies that say maybe to the second question. One of those studies appears to have a similar view as mine as to why there is a speed of light. I found this interesting:

The second paper proposes a different mechanism but comes to the same conclusion that light speed changes. In that case, Gerd Leuchs and Luis Sánchez-Soto, from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, say that the number of species of elementary particle that exist in the universe may be what makes the speed of light what it is.

Leuchs and Sanchez-Soto say that there should be, by their calculations, on the order of 100 “species” of particle that have charges. The current law governing particle physics, the Standard Model, identifies nine: the electron, muon, tauon, the six kinds of quark, photons and the W-boson.

We know that the speed of light changes in different mediums. For example, it slows down when it travels through water or air vs. a vacuum, which is what gives us refraction. I’m not sure we know why this happens either.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I think the speed of light could be the fastest rate at which the fabric of this reality* can change states. In a vacuum, that’s pretty fast. When matter is around, that’s slower.

Matter and a vacuum is made of the same stuff, just in different states. When that stuff is in the state that produces matter (which I think may just be several pieces of the fabric interacting, which also affects other pieces of it –warping space-time — producing gravity), the rate at which the fabric can change states slows down. That may also be why matter can’t travel at the speed of light. Since the fabric has a slower change rate with matter than with no matter, there’s no way that the matter itself could go at the fastest rate of change of no matter.

I think it’s possible that light isn’t traveling at all. Rather, it’s just an energy state that is propagated through the fabric. Think of the energy waves that propagate out in the water from a rock being tossed in a pond. The water doesn’t flow away from the rock. The water is just the fabric that propagates the energy. The water in one spot of the pond is the same water as it was before and after the wave comes through, it just changed states for moment.

I know…sounds crazy.  Notice, I use ‘could’ or ‘maybe’ a lot. But, given that nobody else has explained why light has a speed, I thought I’d give it a shot.

I know this will sound crazier, but this rate of change of the fabric reality is time. Without there being some impedance to that rate of change, there would be no time.

ok…go ahead…lol

*I don’t know what the fabric of this reality is. Einstein called it space-time. I tend to think of it like string theorists — little bands of energy (or particles) that interact with one another and can change states. It seems they could be interacting with one another in the dimensions we can perceive and in dimensions that we cannot.

Think of an image on the TV (which, btw, the pixels in the TV have a max refresh rate that could be similar to the max state change rate). If the objects on the TV were self-aware, they may be able to sense their own 2D fabric, but not the third dimension from which the signal travels that tells each piece of the 2D fabric which state to be.

Now that’s a scientist…

From this article about co-habitating black holes:

“If there really are tons of black holes in there, then my old theory is completely toast,” says astrophysicist Steinn Sigurdsson of Pennsylvania State University. “This is a really nice piece of work.”

…someone who seems delighted with prospect of being wrong.

We have far too much faith in “science”

Over at Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts points to an article from Reuters, In cancer science, many ‘discoveries’ don’t hold up.  This is from the article:

 A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer — a high proportion of them from university labs — are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals, from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

That’s not science, folks. That’s randomness or noise.

No surprise. Scientists, after all, are humans and like all of us they respond to incentives. They want to get their studies published, they want to get their names out, they want to prove their theories. This satisfies their egos and keeps them employed. They aren’t monks. They’ll report noise if it gets them attention.

This was confirmed later in the article:

“If you can write it up and get it published you’re not even thinking of reproducibility,” said Ken Kaitin, director of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. “You make an observation and move on. There is no incentive to find out it was wrong.”

Begley’s experience reminds me of what Gary Taubes’, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, discovered as he reviewed landmark diet and health studies from over the past century. He found the “scientific foundation” on which much of the conventional wisdom and government dietary recommendations are based is shaky.

Here’s one of the best stories from the article that demonstrates the deception that we often call science:

“We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure,” said Begley. “I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they’d done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It’s very disillusioning.”

That should have been an important fact to mention before publishing the results.

I deal with this often in the business world too. Many folks play fast and loose with the facts. I often hear people support their position by saying, “Research shows that this is the best way” or “this is what customers prefer.”

Refer to “research” and most people will hear that and accept on blind faith that the research must be correct and correctly interpreted. Much to the chagrin of some of my business partners, I don’t.

I ask, “Would you mind if I took a look at that research?”

So far, about 10% of the folks I’ve asked showed me the research they referred to. The other 90% backed off their point quickly. And, of those 10% who did show me the research, I managed to point out several potential issues with the research method and interpretation that dramatically lowered the confidence in their conclusions in all cases.

I call that “pushing on the putty.” Backing your conclusion with flimsy research is like building a wall with putty. Push on it just a little bit and the wall crumbles.

Moneyball

I watched the movie Moneyball this week and enjoyed it. I’ve heard of the book and avoided reading it due to my own biases.

I’m a skeptic of statistical analysis, which often (even in the movie) gets confused with science.  My statistics-loving friends raved about how the book showed just how valid and effective the use of statistics is, even in a sport.

I see this confusion and misapplication of statistics as science in everything from how we run our schools, climatology, economics, fitness and diets and how we run our businesses and other organizations.  I’ve observed enough attempts at “scientific management” in my career to know that the use of it does not guarantee success — and sometimes can make things worse off (it certainly didn’t help in the housing crisis).

But, based on what I saw in the movie, this isn’t quite the case of baseball science that many people believe it is.  I realize movies simplify the story, but what I saw in the movie is more in line with what I have seen to be effective in real life:  focusing on meaningful facts over biases.

It wasn’t the use of statistics that improved the performance of the team.  Rather, it was the use of meaningful performance and output measures to overcome deep-seated biases in the coaching the recruiting staff.

This is demonstrated in one scene of the movie when the team’s talent scouts are discussing potential new players to add to the team.   This is a good-looking kid.  He has a nice swing.  Other teams like him. I like this kid.

I’ve seen this in real life all too often.  I’ve seen business programs die and good talent passed over for promotion because of similar biases.  Usually the bias is as simple as: That’s not what I’d do or That person doesn’t do the things the way I do them.  Very rarely is the true performance of the project or person even discussed.

The key insight of the statistician in Moneyball wasn’t the use of statistics, or sabermetrics, per se, but in using meaningful output measures to trump the biases. Baseball fans want wins. Wins come from scoring and scoring comes from getting on base. Good defense is a must, but not quite as important as scoring. So, instead of worrying about whether this was a good-looking kid, they’d worry more about whether he could get on base.  Facts trumped biases.