Tags: 'Studies | Show | That | The | Perversion | Science

'Studies Show That …' – The Perversion of Science

Wednesday, 15 May 2002 12:00 AM

Often our morning coffee is accompanied by a breathless report in newspapers or on radio or TV: "A new study shows that. …" Usually the "study" claims to reveal a new danger in the environment or a new threat of some other type.

We get invaluable information from scientific research. But what guarantee do we have that the new "study" is in fact scientific and not merely driven by some agenda? After all, science is the search for knowledge, not the pursuit of propaganda.

When I was in school, the most creative people tended to go into art, music or writing fiction. But recently, it seems that many creative people are going into law, accounting and science. Perhaps that is why we have fewer great paintings, symphonies and novels. Perhaps the creativity is going where it doesn't belong.

Consider the lawyers' imaginative theories at the O.J. trial, where we heard how "Colombian drug lords" might have killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. (Yes, I remember their names; do you?) Consider the creative methods of the Enron accountants, who made a failing business seem highly successful.

Is it possible that similar creativity is affecting "studies"? Let's see.

I hope tobacco companies go out of business and everyone stops smoking. But how are these "costs" calculated? By taking the cost of caring for every smoker with heart disease or cancer of the lung or throat, and adding their lost wages. This assumes that if they hadn't smoked, these people would either have lived forever or dropped dead suddenly – and in either case needed no medical care.

My friend was a smoker who died at 57 after a six-month struggle with lung cancer. He died still contributing to his pension and Social Security. I miss him.

But if he'd never smoked, he still would have died, probably of heart disease or cancer. He probably would have lived to 79. He would have collected his pension and Social Security for 14 years. He would likely have had a long-term illness such as a stroke or hip fracture. He probably would have required long-term care, at home or in a nursing home.

That is, his medical costs would have been greater, and his Social Security and pension costs would have been greater. If my friend had never smoked, he probably would have cost the system more, not less.

Smoking is bad because it causes disease and premature death, not because it costs money. Many economists admit these facts. But what's more important – facing reality, or pushing an anti-smoking agenda, and in the process enriching lawyers?

Every summer there are record high temperatures somewhere. They are often reported with the comment that this is due to global warming. But every winter there are record low temperatures somewhere else. Why are they never reported with the comment that this casts doubt on global warming, or even that it raises the possibility of global cooling?

When icebergs break off from Antarctica, reports note that the icecap is thinning at the edges because of global warming. Rarely noted is that the icecap is getting thicker in its central region. The same is true for the Greenland icecap.

Even more rarely noted is that the earth was as warm as it is now in the Middle Ages, before any industrial activity. And it was warmer still before there were humans. That is, the earth has gone through warming cycles in the absence of human activity that might cause it. Could this be happening now?

If global warming is indeed indisputable, why discuss temperature extremes and polar icecaps in this biased manner? Why ignore past temperature changes? Doesn't this suggest that the "experts" are not confident of their findings?

Doesn't this suggest that the real agenda isn't to understand climate, but to control people? "Experts" want to tell us what kind of cars (if any) to drive, what kind of industries we can have, and even whether we are allowed to barbecue in our backyards. How ego-gratifying for the "experts." How unfree for the rest of us.

But noted in small print was that the suicide rate for ages 35-44 was higher in Vancouver. Does anyone claim that strict gun laws increase suicides in older people? Of course not. In fact, the overall suicide rates were similar for both cities, so there was no relation shown between gun laws and suicide. The study was negative, but reported as positive – because it suited the agenda of those who want to ban guns.

Lott's massive study was reviewed in a leading medical journal (the same one mentioned above). A known opponent of gun rights was chosen as reviewer – a breach of objectivity in itself. The reviewer picked a sample of counties and claimed that violent crime rose there after right-to-carry laws were passed.

Statistics teach us to pick a sample that represents the whole population. This reviewer deliberately picked a sample that did not do so. A sample that does not represent the population is invalid. Lott studied all U.S. counties, which clearly yields more definitive data than studying some counties – especially ones picked to "prove" the reviewer's bias.

But the journal's editors seemed more interested in their anti-gun agenda than in real research.

My father owned guns but left no will. When my mother died later, she left a will that didn't mention the guns. Probate records are a poor index of gun ownership. But wait; it gets worse.

The professor claimed he checked the early probate records of San Francisco. But all records were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. I have an old book with a photo of the flattened city hall.

Yet the professor remains on the faculty, his book award remains intact, and his grant remains in force. Again, an anti-gun agenda is more important than the truth.

This is embarrassing. It means that we have to explain why we are killing one another more often now, despite less poverty, less racism and more gun laws. It means that we have to look at broken families, absent fathers, declining moral values, as well as violent films, TV and video games.

How do we avoid embarrassment? A scientist "corrected" the data until the homicide rate early in the 1900s is shown to be as high as today's rate. This "corrected" rate is accepted uncritically and quoted widely, while the actual figures are ignored.

His point was that a real correction eliminates a known error – and moves the result in an unpredictable direction. A phony "correction" twists the data until it fits some preconceived notion of what it "should" look like. That is the opposite of the scientific method.

All the above examples seem to twist the data in a liberal direction. Why? Are liberal researchers less honest than conservative ones? I doubt it.

I believe the reason is incentive. Most university faculties, editorial boards and granting agencies are liberal. Researchers want to be promoted, to see their work published and to get grants. After all, it means their careers and their livelihoods.

If gun control is popular with editors, submit articles supporting it. If a particular agenda appeals to granting agencies, publish books that favor that agenda. If global warming is embraced by academics, design studies to support it. It's only human nature, regrettably.

That is, money (often our tax dollars) is buying "research." Why do we howl with outrage if a drug company does this, but we remain silent when our own money is used for the same immoral purpose?

Sometimes actual fraud is involved. Examples include quoting nonexistent probate records and planting lynx hairs to force "endangered species" restrictions onto areas where they are not appropriate.

Sometimes misinterpretation of data occurs, such as adding the extra costs of smoking but not subtracting the monetary savings. Sometimes vital information is omitted, such as announcing that lead has been found in chocolate but not stating the tiny amounts involved.

And sometimes "corrections" are made that push the figures in the "right" direction.

But in all cases, people are deceived. Real problems are ignored while phony problems occupy our attention. Real solutions are overlooked while false solutions are made to seem effective. That is always dishonest, and it can be dangerous.

When a news story reports "A study shows that …," we should be able to trust that it represents a sincere effort to find the truth, not a fabrication to suit some agenda.

[For an alternative viewpoint, see http://www.junkscience.com/.]

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Often our morning coffee is accompanied by a breathless report in newspapers or on radio or TV: A new study shows that. … Usually the study claims to reveal a new danger in the environment or a new threat of some other type. We get invaluable information from...
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Wednesday, 15 May 2002 12:00 AM
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