Thursday, July 19, 2018


Texan99 offered up an Aeon link about who mistrusts science and why. Then Sponge-Headed Scienceman also sent me two Aeon articles today:  One questioning whether all that evidence that meditation makes the world a better place is all that scientifically solid. (Short answer. No.  But the long answer is fun.) The second examining the contradictions in research into the benefits of psychedelics. (Answer. It depends what you mean by benefits.)

I like Aeon.  Their starting point is not mine; they seem more as I was in the 1980's. They seem to be essential liberals, but ones that seek to find the right answer to things.  This means that they still make many assumptions I think they shouldn't, but as T99 also notes, they seem to be really trying out there and deserve some credit for it. Certainly, they are more likely to get liberals to listen than anything I'm going to put out there.

Because of the above, they have a good deal to teach conservatives as well.  Some of it will be "Suspicions Confirmed," but other parts will be "Y'know, that is an angle I hadn't considered."


RichardJohnson said...

I wonder why Aeon did not focus on another reason for growing skepticism about scientific research: Bing search: increase in fraud in scientific research.

Or Bing search: research results that cannot be replicated.
As far as I can tell, most of the replication problem comes from the so-called "social sciences." Related to this replication problem is a tendency in the "social sciences" to make grandiose claims. There was some study about a pre-school class in Berkeley, of all places, which purported to make some claims about the personalities of those adults who espoused conservative politics. After all, Berserkeley is such a hotbed of conservatism!
Whenever I hear a "social scientist" espouse something, I recall an analogy: social science is to science as Wonder Bread is to french bread.

I heard a biologist from a prominent Big Ten university give a seminar on decades-long changes in species distribution in the northern and southern parts of his state. Northern species were moving south, in short. It was a convincing support for the argument that there has been some sort of global warming in the last 3-4 decades. Yet this same biologist, who has been cocooned inside the university community for nearly a half-century, claimed in a dinner conversation that the election of Trump would turn the United States into a homogeneous place where, in effect, bigots and racists would drive everyone else out.

It is one thing to respect a scientist for the research he has done. It is another to respect his opinions on matters outside his area of expertise, where the scientist often sounds like a wise fool.

Grim said...

Back in the mid-1990s, I knew a professional philosopher who was interested in the mystical question of psychedelics. His conclusion -- which was against interest, as he was a big time New Ager and very much in favor of the idea of taking psychedelics -- was that the mystical experience was clearly distinguishable from the psychedelic experience in several respects. As a result, they cannot be the same experience.

I don't remember the details, but I think he put them in his book if you are interested (Paradigm Wars by Mark B. Woodhouse). What's interesting to me is that it was a philosophical rather than a scientific conclusion. Science can't really study the phenomenon that well, as it's an internal mental experience. It can only study the physical effects that are observable, and then maybe take notes on descriptions of the experience by the individuals who had it. Those notes are subject to the same kinds of problems as any claim that two phenomenological experiences are 'the same,' e.g., 'do we both experience the color blue in the same way?'. The hard science, then, is around the edges of the real question.

Not that Woodhouse's answer should be considered final. He sampled not a few psychedelics himself in his day, so he always gave me the impression.

Sam L. said...

Richard Johnson, if that scientist claimed that northern species moving south was an indicator of global warming, I would say "HUH?? Global warming should show southern species moving north!" Assuming , of course, he's talking about the northern hemisphere.

RichardJohnson said...

Sam L., I stand corrected. It was southern species moving north.

David Foster said...

A high % of scientific research released for public consumption, especially in the social sciences, is so released in the form of a university press release which is then turned into articles, TV stories, whatever, by journalists who are generally not themselves very deep scientifically. (I'm trying to be nice this evening)

If you want to get behind the headlines and the press release and actually read the paper, it will often cost your about $30 for special access to some journal.

Not very reasonable, IMO, especially given that so much of this research is publicly-funded.

It's not uncommon to see headlines along the line of "Science Proves That Horny Women Raise More Successful Children" (ok, I made that up, but I bet it would get good coverage) when the actual research cited is based on one study with a sample size of about 15.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am very interested in what makes children more successful, so I would click on that.

Texan99 said...

Science is going to have to come clean for quite a while on the claim that low-fat diets promote healthy weights and healthy hearts before I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on a lot of other controversial issues. If you read much in that area it's hard to escape the conviction that a lot of people who call themselves scientists will say and even believe just about anything. I'm not sure whether this is a modern phenomenon, or if most "scientists" in most ages are simply hacks. Heaven knows their donors and their audience will believe just about anything fashionable or convenient.

james said...

The week before our big announcement, we spent some time trying to make sure that our infrastructure would handle a surge in web requests for pictures or videos from our experiment. That morning, we saw a rise--of about 30MB/sec. This was pretty much all gone by the afternoon.

I'm not sure how much of that absence was due to people being satisfied with visiting the professional news sites instead of actually going to the sources (us and Fermi and Magic), and how much was due to the lack of bikinis and scandal in the press conference.

Perhaps our narrative wasn't very clean--we couldn't honestly say "We discovered X by ourselves." Collaborative discoveries make for messier stories.

Zachriel said...

Texan99: Science is going to have to come clean for quite a while on the claim that low-fat diets promote healthy weights and healthy hearts before I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on a lot of other controversial issues.

The reason there is so much confusion is because reducing saturated fats means replacing those calories with another source. That other source is the key to understanding why some studies show one result and some studies show another.

Evidence demonstrates that reducing saturated fat and:

• replacing it with unsaturated fat improves cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the risk of heart disease;
• replacing it with wholegrains improves some cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the risk of heart disease but not to the same extent as unsaturated fat; and
• replacing it with refined carbohydrate does not improve cardiovascular risk and does not reduce the risk of heart disease.

*Trans-fats, regardless of other sources of energy, are consistently linked to cardiovascular risk and to heart disease.

Texan99 said...

The reason there is so much confusion is that there is a lot of inconsistent nonsense talked on the subject, and poorly constructed studies. The underlying biochemistry is not that challenging.