Thursday, March 29, 2012

My little science rant for today:

A Google+ pal of mine, posted this article:

It's about how some social-"scientists" say that "conservatives" have experienced a decrease in their "measured" "trust" in "science" since the mid-1970's....

Here was my response:

...This article, is demonstrative of the common error so many people make. The methodology of science is hinged on the falsifiability of the claims which are made; Karl Popper demonstrated that this feature of falsifiability, is due to the inductive reasoning process which is the premise of scientific reasoning. As such, scientific hypothesis can be falsified but they can never be confirmed. This article makes the common fallacy, of equating an interpretation of data, with the data itself. What's worse, the article does not even describe how the data is collected, the controls... nada. I'm guessing, that some survey was given, that was written by some social-"scientist", the participants answered the survey themselves, and the data was complied. To say that, "conservatives trust in science as decreased over time", is an interpretive leap, from data, to a conclusion, which empiricism could never warrant. The BEST that a scientist qua scientist could say is, "We have observed a change over time, between the correlation of the self-identification of political orientation, with the answers to these specified questions."

The problem with interpretations of the evidence, is that there are always alternate interpretations, and scientists are no more qualified to interpret data, than any other person. Scientists qua scientists collect data, they formulate questions (hypothesis) which will lead to the most interesting/useful data, but their interpretations are as interesting to a philosopher of science, as an actresses' opinion on politics; its just not relevant, or rather, it is as relevant as any other person's interpretation, of the same data.

For example, an alternate interpretation of this study could conclude, "Over X amount of time, Y-kind of political advocates have controlled the government spending on scientific research, this political-orientation/influence on where scientific spending is given, has increased/promoted research in areas where Y-kind of political advocates are interested, this affect in spending on scientific research has increased the amount of reporting on scientific research that Y-kind of political advocates are interested, and those that identify with the political orientation of "conservative" are W times less likely to self-report that they 'trust' the reported scientific research over X amount of time." Alternatively, "Over X amount of time, those that self-identify as "conservatives" have become progressively stupider."

It is fine if a scientist wants to speculate on possible interpretations of the data; personally, I would be curious as to the thoughts of the expert who collected the data, on what she/he thinks her data means BUT I think the problem is, when ANY scientist uses the fallacious appeal to authority, an claim that they are the SOLE official interpreters of data, because they collected it... that's not science, that's being a jerk.

1 comment:

  1. Moreover, science is very often simply not done today. For instance, the flip-floppery of diet recommendations isn't due merely to science turning up more data and hence allowing the development of more nearly accurate models, it's a result of poorly done research to begin with. One thing I've noticed is that 'studies' often begin with far more assumptions than they state, the most common being "there are no significant unknown variables" which goes hand in hand with "we have controlled for all significant variables." Masanobu Fukuoka decided that even plant pathology was far too complex to allow science to be appropriately applied to it. I feel it is important to note that the most successful theories in the history of science are (or rather, were) produced in the field of physics, not psychology.