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Science Is Fallible Because Humans Are

Science Is Fallible Because Humans Are

 (Viacheslav Iacobchuk/Dreamstime)

By Wednesday, 04 December 2019 02:36 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A p-value is a "probability value" that researchers use to guard against their mistaking the results of some highly unlikely outcome for a true discovery, when it could be merely simple chance and lucky strokes.

So just to be sure, scientists have determined that "highly unlikely" is a standard less than 5% random probability.

P-values need to be below that for any data even to be considered for publication in scholarly journals regarding any novel scientific hypothesis. Such safeguards preventing sophisticated 21st century civilization from repeating the blunders of all the previous eras have been undermined however in recent years by a rather disturbing uptick in something called "p-hacking" and/or "data dredging."

Science lately has seen a sudden upsurge of findings in which the true data has been cleverly cherry-picked, the math massaged, and everything forced at end just within that 5% margin of random probability.

There’s good reason for such a debilitating influence at present, since over the last few decades a bizarre groupthink has seen fit to promote a remaking of scientists, not as normal people subject to miscalculation, but rather as unerring superhuman entities in white smocks who can do no wrong and who would certainly never purposefully attempt to fudge figures.

It’s unclear why the globally centuries-long trend attempting to promote the idea that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, society and God, has now turned on its heels insisting that scientists are quite different and utterly morally superior to bakers, accountants, mechanics, florists, insurance salesmen and all other lesser classes of humanity.

The obvious fact that scientists lie, cheat, and steal no more nor any less than any other category of people is inconvenient though for politicos using the scientist-as-high-priest precept as a cudgel for any number of propaganda purposes, hence the crass need to deify scientists.

The chronicles of every culture to have existed on Earth nonetheless make it very clear that scientists aren’t perfect angels, infallible automatons, or demigods.

The historical facts paint a far different picture.

The astounding profusion of thoroughly unflattering incidents in the history of science —deceiving, misappropriating, impugning, quashing, falsifying — are so thick within the narrative that they almost tend to tarnish the equally astonishing accomplishments achieved in spite of all the character assassination, purposefully misplaced papers, publication snubs, blackballing — even executions for daring to speak against "settled science."

In entertaining the supposedly incorrect view of how the Earth revolves, for example, Giordano Bruno was burned alive as recently as 1600 for just such an offense.

The thunderous and mortal combat among the greatest scientific minds of every age  Newton, Leibnitz, Hooke, Lord Kelvin, Le Verrier, Adams, Wegener, Knorosov, Sir J. Eric Thompson and thousands of others — has raged over who discovered calculus, whether the planets Vulcan and Neptune existed and who first glimpsed them, if continents drift and how mountains are formed, how to read the Mayan glyphs, and almost every and any other scientific matter under the Sun, including the Sun itself.

There is every reason to wonder how epoch-changing achievements in science were realized when the chronicle often reads like a badly written soap opera rather than the most important narrative of the human race.

With countless facets of science embroiled in non-stop sniping, bad-mouthing, tit-for-tat sleights, and out and out monumental battles concerning so many contentious debates, it’s remarkable that any facts at all have made it through such a blistering crucible to finally find a place in scientific texts.

The greatest gnashing of teeth, however, has always been reserved for those individuals without high-flown and lofty academic sheepskins who nonetheless changed the world by virtue of their own blood, sweat, tears and genius.

The Wright brothers are two excellent examples.

Not a single journalist or scientist was present at Kitty Hawk, N.C. in 1903; it was a passerby, one John T. Daniels, who clicked one of the most-recognized snapshots in the history of photography. The awe-inspiring photo of man’s first flight, however, was refused column space in half the newspapers in America.

Such was the power of the prevailing attitude of the day that editors preferred to believe that man’s lack of wings indicated God hadn’t intended man to fly, rather than the photographic evidence in front of their eyes.

So there is indeed a simple reason for the troubling trend of p-hacking: it’s due to the fact that science is practiced by fallible humans subject to emotion, error, bad judgment, criminal intent, and political posturing.

And, that’s never going to change; it can’t. Helen Keller stated more than a half-century ago that "the heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next."

She was deaf and blind, but had sufficient vision to see quite plainly that undeniable truth.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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science is practiced by fallible humans subject to emotion, error, bad judgment, criminal intent, and political posturing. And, that’s never going to change; it can’t.
group think, p hacking, kitty hawk
Wednesday, 04 December 2019 02:36 PM
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