Saturday, September 19, 2015

Studies Show

We think we're rational, but we're not.  It's too easy to be optimistically or pessimistically  irrational. It's too much fun and we have plenty of help, particularly if we watch or read or listen to the news, if we watch television or read magazines. If we look at cartoons, if we read editorials. If we are immersed in advertising -- and we are.  If we answer our phones when they ring, if we read blogs like this one, someone is always trying to sell you an opinion, an attitude, a bias.  We're so used to it, they're so good at it that we rarely pay attention.  We enjoy having a credible group of like minded people, we hardly bother to apply what analytical ability we've managed to hold onto after years, after a lifetime of being subjected to advertising, preaching and the endless, relentless and largely dishonest manipulations that our ears are heir to.

We've been trained from birth not to question and trained to accept with a fierce tenacity anything someone dressed to inspire credulity tells us. It makes us feel smart, hip, a cut above others.  Perhaps herd animals, schools of fish and flocks of birds feel wonderful giving in to the same biological imperatives we follow in the same mindless way. I don't know.  Maybe there's a study.

Open the Sunday paper, click on a news website: you'll read about the 7 foods you should never eat, the foods, the beans and berries that will melt away belly fat and exercise programs that will make you live forever and we take it to be science; the result of valid research done to rigorous standards.  It's rarely the case.  It's nearly always the case that someone is selling something.  Tell someone that milk doesn't produce phlegm, Gluten is not bad for you, that vaccinations don't cause Autism and Autism isn't on the increase and they will turn ugly before they will bother to look at real rigorously tested and peer reviewed evidence beyond what the diet doctor or politician or propagandist of choice is saying.  I have a friend whose cousin is autistic.  That's enough.  A follows B and therefore  A causes B. Sole cause, partial cause, a vague non-causal link or irrelevant -- it doesn't matter to someone who doesn't know science or statistics and probability, and that's pretty much everyone.

Do they teach critical thinking in school?  Do they show people the difference between anecdotes, conjecture, Gerrymandered evidence and large, scale, randomized, double blind and repeatable studies?  If they do, does anyone listen?  Does it make anyone suspicious when the research, the study, are published in Sunday Supplements or pose as real in paid advertising on CNN.com?  You know the answer. 1 in a million may be enough to prove causation.  One in a million may prove unacceptable danger or a high degree of safety depending on the motivation of the salesman and the pet phobias of the believing public.

People who sell "Paleo" diets, or low "carb" diets love to tell you that they are based on research, because after all, people like the Inuit eat blubber and fish and raw meat and little else and don't get heart disease or diabetes. Your uncle Ralph went on Atkins and lost weight eating cheeseburgers.  If you noticed that the assumption that this would be true of anyone eating the same diet of course is called "confirming the consequent" which assumes that if B follows A, then B is evidence of A.  It's not. It's a fallacy you'll learn in Logic 101, but you didn't take that course did you?

 Convincing evidence that eating the calorie equivalent in lard or Twinkies or donuts produces similar results,  means nothing to the public and won't get published as an advertising campaign and something that has a tiny correlation can be called a "cause"  or a "link" by someone in a rented lab coat and you'll believe the fraud every time because it gives false hope and hope sells.

The peer reviewed journal Science published a study Thursday. Conducted by the University of California, Berkley. It examined genetic differences between Inuit, Europeans, and ethnic Chinese. and yes, pace hipster science, there are genetic differences, easily observed.  The Inuit and some Chinese have a mutation, perhaps cultivated over the millennia, that enable them to tolerate a diet that would make my cardiologist cry,  Some people lose weight on the Atkins diet.  I'm not one of them.  I don't have the genes for it and that's been confirmed by  testing my DNA.  

Should we by a sales pitch because "studies show" when there are no studies but a few anecdotes or biased conjectures?  Of course not, nor should we accept news reports that insist this or that is worse than before or is rising or falling in significant fashion and is not a brief anomaly soon to revert to the mean.  Is this scary incident really the result of this or that or is it a crafted scenario based on a fear, a phobia, a bias. Do we still believe cutting the upper tax bracket will end a recession?   You know the answer. Facts don't matter and studies always show what they're designed to show and we always believe what we want to believe.


For most of us, facts don't matter, And chances are we don't bother to think critically or verify, but chances are also great that proven wrong, belief persists, hardens and becomes militant.  Is that innocent child really a child or innocent?  Was he shot in the back?  No matter, grab the matchces because all cops are bad.  Did some kid's diagnosis illustrate a trend, was it caused by a vaccine or by his genes.  Is proof that there is no increase, the identification of the genetic component, the statistical analysis showing no increase enough to make anyone admit error or accept proof -- hell no.  

When Donald Trump insisted he had damning evidence about Barack Obama and was proved to be a lying asswipe, did that change any minds about Obama?  When some smoker lives to be 110, do we insist that smoking isn't safe?  No.  Studies always show what isn't true is true  and science nor truth really matter to the human ape.  

1 comment:

Daddio King said...

Very well said...you convinced me :)