Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where can you go for good Science?

Give or take a little scepticism, I tend to think that humans have had a negative effect on Earth's atmosphere. I believe this not because I have examined any evidence. I have not. I am not qualified to examine the evidence. I would not know how. I hear the evidence presented by real climatologists, and I take it pretty seriously. I try my best to grasp the problems and the evidence. When I have hit my limit of understanding, I trust the scientific consensus. What more can I do? I only have so much time to figure out the issues, and frankly I don't care about them enough to put in the real work that it takes to grasp it.

This week's Nature has an article about some radical environmentalists who have taken to destroying research laboratories. It is annoying to learn that the people most concerned with the environment seem to distrust science. After all, everything they know about how bad the Earth is, is through scientific research.

But more annoyingly, I still have no idea how much Al Gore trusts science. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is based on a lot of speculation, and contnetious scientific models. That is not to say that it is all wrong, but it is to say that you do not get any real picture from watching the movie. And Nature will certainly not have a good discussion of that. It is as if just dismissing the radical fringe, makes the normal environmentalists right, after all, Al Gore is not blowing up laboratories. He invented laboratories. But is the center presenting us with real science?

What is even worse than the enviornmental debate is the IQ debate.
A recent commentator made the following observation that will ring true to anyone who has ever tried to teach a statistical concept to a class:
Imagine you are addressing a room full of people. We can let them be quite well-educated people, so long as they are not trained statisticians. A room full of students from some university Humanities department will do nicely. Now say the following thing to the room: “Men are, on average, taller than women.” I can almost guarantee—it is nearly a dead certainty—that someone in the room will stand up and say something like: “What about Sally? She’s taller than any of us. Taller than you, for sure—Ha ha ha ha!” The room will then consider your thesis to have been decisively exploded. Men taller than women? Nonsense! Look at Sally!
Yet this es exactly the kind of science done by CNN in a recent segment on the male/female IQ discussion. (I always expected more of Sanjay Gupta. I really trusted him!) Yet the scientific research explored by the scientists being mocked in the segment is completely ignored.

IQ is another question I am pretty agnostic about. I really don't know if there are group differences in IQ, and I am pretty convinced that humans are still a really long way off from actually giving a good answer to almost any social science question. They are hard, and people who do real science will be the first to admit that.

Or will they?

I am really getting to the point where I think that it is unfair for anyone to look at a scientific or political question and appeal to experts. Experts, we know, are no less ideologically driven than anyone else. Experts do what everone else does, they brandish their opinions, but with more arrogance.

Moreover, I am not the first to realize this. The danger in my attitude is that it breeds a strong distrust for science. A strong distrust for science means that society is willing to fund science less, and people will be less likely to learn it.

Who can blame creationists for saying that biologists are just agenda-driven liberal atheists? They are. (I'll bet there is a biologist out there screaming "but look at Sally, she is a conservative Christian biologist".) Creationists don't trust science because scientists have done little to earn anyone's trust. Of course "creation scientists" or whatever they are calling themselves these days (ID proponents?) are jus as dishonest.

So where does one go for good science?


Shosh said...

I agree. Scientists need funding in order to do their science. And biased people fund not necessarily unbiased scientists. As for IQ, how the heck are we supposed to measure that? bah. humbug.

Lucy said...

I actually had this same conversation with my cousin a few weeks ago. He holds Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth as gospel. I asked him why the "thruth" only became "inconvenient" after Gore left office. Gore has an agenda to promote. Anyone who makes a "documentary" about global warming yet only flies in private jets and has a variety of homes, each of which are in excess of 20,000 + square feet (that need heating and cooling); has no credibility. Many people tend to think that people who are environmentalists have some inkling of scientific knowledge as the basis for their tree hugging beliefs. My grandfather was a chemist and manufactured vitamins in his plants in Indiana and Illinois. He had to pay off environemental groups all the time to get him off his back because of the tests he used to do at his plants. The environmental lobby in Washington is very powerful and they have an agenda to promote whether it be based on real science or junk science. They will only support and fund those scientists who will help them promote their agenda. Be it factual or not.

PS. had an intersting article debunking "An Inconvenient Truth."

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

As far as the men vs. women IQ study goes, the way I understand it, it wasn't exactly a randomized study. It was a study of SAT scores over a period of time.

Now if a random group of people took the test, it would have been valid, but since the people who take the SAT are college bound, and since women have better grades and are less dependent on the SAT to get in and are more strongly represented than women on campus in general, it's pretty safe to assume that they would have a larger number of people willing to take the test and get a lower score than men.

In other words, the populations were pre selected to show a gender gap.

Karl said...

I have not seen the actual study, and, like I said, I do not know what the real answer is, but I am 100% certain that CNN's treatement of it did not resemble the science that it was supposed to deal with.