Print Story I'm just a shill for the government.
I pretty much agree with the CDC about raw milk. And the flu vaccine. And other vaccines.

I also think that complementary and alternative medicine (viz: homeopathy) is utterly stupid. And that astrology is a liberalist myth. And that the government put a man on the moon.

Question: Why don't people trust Science?

I also think Scientology is a dangerous scam.

"New Math" doesn't work.

Organic produce doesn't contain more or better nutrients than normal produce.

Planes hit the Twin Towers and were the cause of their collapse.

"Big Suppla" is far worse than "Big Pharma", and it's crazy how people are so willing to trust it more.

So what set me off just now was a conversation elsewhere about raw milk, but last night the wifing unit was distraught because she saw a friend repost some conspiracy theory link about flu vaccines and she was worried that her friend was descending the spiral staircase of scientific illiteracy that can only end with your children dying of whooping cough while you give them honey enemas to realign their chakrapani. Which doesn't make sense, because chakrapani is an epithet for Vishnu (literal rendering would be "he in whose hand is the discus" - friggin' stilted, but that's the way they gloss these things).

Speaking of which, is it inappropriate to ask somebody with that name if they played any sports, if they threw discus in school? Or to otherwise ask things about Indian people if you know the etymology of their names and it's appropriate?

Why don't people believe in Science anymore? I don't mean in a "scientism" kind of way, of course, because I really hate scientism, but, in the last few years it has become fashionable to doubt the utility of vaccination or to consider  It's always been fashionable to believe in all sorts of alternative remedies (vitamin C for the common cold, fad diets for weight loss...), probably because almost any intervention is going to work just as well (ie, not at all, unfortunately).

On to other stuff:

Markov chains are definitely a lot better than tooling around with generating functions. I hate those things. I think one guy in the class has figured out that I'm pretty bright. Drat, cover blown.

Chess: I've been sucking the past couple days (more than usual!). Looking at Dan Heisman's Looking for Trouble, which is a pretty great book, apparently. It teaches you to explicitly look at the threats your opponent is making and make sure your move meets or otherwise deals with those threats (without necessarily giving up the initiative). That sounds like it should be obvious, and it is, but it's one of the hardest things for people at lower levels to get the hang of, because you have to do it on every single move of the game. It's one thing if you're doing it and suck at it, another if you're not doing it all the time. Because, you know, if you drop a piece, is it because you didn't even check to see whether what you were doing dropped a piece, or was it because you looked and just couldn't see it? If the former, you need to learn to think, and if the latter, you need to learn more tactics. The book is good practice for both, but explicit practice for the former. I like it. I do this in my games, but it's good to make it explicit and explicitly train it. He also has another book, The Improving Chess Thinker, which might be worth checking out. Most people don't write about the thought process very well, but it's one thing holding a lot of amateurs back.

But, seriously, every time I hear somebody go on about some odd conspiracy theory, I want to ask where the international Jewry fits in... Disclaimer: I guess I work for a company that people insert into conspiracy theories these days.

< You know it's spring time... | Jury Duty >
I'm just a shill for the government. | 38 comments (38 topical, 0 hidden)
Science by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #1 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 01:35:44 PM EST
I read Merchants of Doubt recently. They point out that a small group of lobbyists, "think tanks" and a few scientists have cast systematic doubt on science over the last few decades. They've propagated conspiracy theories and the idea that real science is "junk science".

I think that's had unintended consquences. It was only supposed to help industries fight specific ideas that smoking causes cancer, power stations cause acid rain, CFCs damage the ozone layer, CO2 causes global warming and so on. But once large sections of the public have accepted that science is a conspiracy against them, pretty much anything goes and any crazy idea can be accepted.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

Widespread doubt in science by ni (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:08:48 PM EST
It would be interesting if it did turn out to be that recent: I'm not sure it is, though. I think we might be able to find similar undertones in the hippie culture of the 60s, for instance, although I haven't thought about it enough (or read about it enough) to say with much certainty.

It is, of course, always difficult in these situations to identify actual recent changes. Perhaps there has always been widespread doubt about science, manifesting through varying proximal causes (such as the efforts of lobbyists) at varying times. It is difficult to see how you would sort these things out, although I'm sure that's just a result of my ignorance about the field of history.

"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
It's always been around by gzt (2.00 / 0) #3 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:19:20 PM EST
Luddites and such. But the area of doubt probably varies depending on what's really visible at the time. Like, I don't think there were many doubters about vaccines (say, against smallpox and polio) after they came out and were proven very effective. That is to say, once they were established. Ditto for measles, etc. However, now that we really don't see the effect of the vaccines and don't really see measles anymore, it's somehow easier to doubt the thing...

[ Parent ]
Luddites were not anti-science by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #5 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:24:36 PM EST
They were against machines replacing skilled people with machinery plus unskilled (who have less influence on pay/conditions). The very essence of their protest depends on them believing the tech was viable enough to replace them. This is the opposite to the modern 'science has not got the answers' movement.

[ Parent ]
You're right. by gzt (2.00 / 0) #8 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:30:36 PM EST
I was speaking too colloquially.

[ Parent ]
Ludditism seems entirely different. by ni (2.00 / 0) #6 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:28:39 PM EST
Luddites objected to the social ramifications of the industrial revolution, but, so far as I know, didn't have doubts about the accuracy of claims made by the scientific mainstream (insofar as it existed at the time). The difference between these is really night and day: questioning the social, ethical and political ramifications of technology will always be necessary, and I hope it never ceases.

What we are seeing presently is something quite different: it is doubt about the scientific legitimacy of the claims made by the scientific "establishment". It is a sort of conspiracy-theorism (which, taken alone, certainly doesn't mean it's wrong).

To respond, in part, to the question I posed earlier, it seems quite possible that until fairly recently the mass of the population was simply too uneducated and too busy to have opinions on scientific issues. If this is the case, this really might be a recent development.

"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
You're right. by gzt (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:42:44 PM EST
I was speaking too colloquially.

I do think you have a point about the masses being too uneducated and too busy to have opinions, or opinions that made any difference given what science was up to. Evolution! I guess that's one place - Scopes et al. Psychology! In the early 20th century, they were probably right to be suspicious of those unscientific crackpot theories, but I can't think of any significant places where the uninformed could have actually done anything about it.

However, nowadays, we have an arena for them: a lot of things are coming up for a vote and politicians can earn goodwill by hinting they're against some things. People opt out of vaccines (very very very bad). People have free time to shout about crap they don't know anything about. They have a forum to shout about crap they don't know anything about. They have a forum to hear about crap that sounds persuasive. Etc. etc.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Nothing short of smallpox could convince some of these people.

[ Parent ]
And perhaps not even a new smallpox outbreak by lm (4.00 / 0) #25 Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 10:30:05 AM EST
A government intent on social control could easily be imagined to be willing to introduce engineered illnesses as a mechanism to entice people into submitting to vacination.

I suspect that evidence is largely inconsequential to belief in conspiracy theories. Sure, now and then you'll find people that are convinced by the evidence, but I think the evidence points to believers in conspiracy theories interpretting whatever evidence they are shown in a way that supports the theory.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Well by Herring (2.00 / 0) #11 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 03:11:33 PM EST
with vaccines there's an argument that because people don't see diseases like polio or whooping cough these days they aren't aware of how bad they can be.

Also science and technology are that much more complicated these days. 40+ years ago, a lot of blokes would've known how their car engine works and be able to have a reasonable stab at fixing it. Further back and building radios and other electronic stuff would've been a common hobby for kids. Quiet hard to build a stereo FM receiver from scratch.

Also there is the problem that these days, "stupid" is "a valid point of view".

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
I think part of it by jayhawk88 (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:19:45 PM EST the media, or more to the point, how media has evolved into this YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS RIGHT NOW DROP EVERYTHING BECAUSE THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE AHHHHHHHHHHH! form of communication. Every story gets turned into a crisis at some level, and you can find 15 different set of "facts" for just about anything, depending on the spin of the author.

In a way, it's hard to blame people sometimes. The whole "what's healthy for you" thing is a good example. We all know the running joke by now, how coffee or booze or red meat or whatever is either good or deadly to you, depending on the week. Stuff like this isn't necessarily bad, but when each instance is blown out of proportion, and you're bombarded with it from every conceivable angle, eventually people's ability to critically think and sniff out BS just get overwhelmed. I think within 10-15 years someone is going to do some very important research showing how this glut of omnipresent information is doing real harm to how we, collectively as a species, are processing and using information.

reporting is definitely part of the problem. by gzt (2.00 / 0) #7 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:29:42 PM EST
Science and Nature are tabloids. The MSM picks up any story and makes it into either "X Causes Cancer!" or "X Cures Cancer!" when the original story is X is associated with a mild decrease in the risk of one type of cancer. Like, changes incidence from 1.5 per 10,000 to 1.1 per 10,000. Which is a good result! And then they put that right alongside quacks. If you, say, weight the credibility certain ideas deserve, X scientific idea should have 99 and Y non-scientific idea merits 1, but they both get mentioned on the news, in the perception of the world, suddenly it's 50-50, or at least 75-25. And anything that gets reported can never be retracted - the public will always remember the first thing unless there's a big scandal about it being wrong. And then there are pontificating douchebags who go further than the "X Cures Cancer!" result above - at least in that one there's a ray of truth. These pontificating douchebags fundamentally reinterpret the study into something that is actually newsworthy - too bad it isn't what the study said! This describes pretty much every piece of reporting on any psychological or sociological piece. "Women like symmetric mates!"

Etc etc.

[ Parent ]
Raw milk by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #10 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 02:48:04 PM EST
I drank it on my grandmother's farm. But I suspect what most people get nostalgic about for raw milk is not the non-pasteurization but rather the non-homogenization and they probably couldn't reliably taste the difference.

"Organic" by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 03:15:05 PM EST
Sure, some idiots say stuff about nutrients, but for most, the reason to buy organic is to get something with less pesticide residues.  (Or less growth hormone in the case of dairy.)
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
pesticides, feh by R343L (2.00 / 0) #14 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 04:53:52 PM EST
A real reason to buy organic is because you care about environmental degradation and believe an "organic" production method will be less harmful than some other option (whether this is true for a particular producer is an interesting question). You can wash most vegetables and fruits (or they are trimmed/peeled) such that applied pesticides are not present (and for many vegetables, the pesticides aren't even applied to the part that we eat). Growth hormone use in dairy has not been shown to be unambiguously harmful to humans. The reason to avoid dairy that comes from cows treated with rBGH is the welfare of the animals as udder infection rates are higher in treated cows.

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
another reason by LilFlightTest (2.00 / 0) #19 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 09:01:04 PM EST
I would also assume that many larger "factory" farms use rBGH, and have less time to pay attention to each cow. I know smaller family farmers that use it, but they have the time to really watch their herds and keep an eye out for their wellbeing.
if de-virgination results in me being able to birth hammerhead sharks, SIGN ME UP!!! --misslake
[ Parent ]
indeed by R343L (4.00 / 1) #20 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 09:10:20 PM EST
Many inflexible rules ("X is bad and should never be done") in agriculture are just silly. Small (or careful) operations can use tools appropriately. One reason that I really, really dislike the "organic" standards in the US is that they entirely disallow the use of antibiotics in animals, even legitimate therapeutic uses. A small operation (or an unusually good large one) would not use antibiotics most of the time (i.e. wouldn't just put them in their feed), would watch animals' needs carefully (so they aren't crowded, in their own waste, etc) and would thus only use them when an animal really needed it. The current standards don't allow you to label animal products as organic if the animal was ever treated with antibiotics. Thus, moral operators have to treat sick animals appropriately and then put them in a "non-organic" (what a dumb phrase) herd. Immoral operations would not treat the animal effectively and let them die or suffer (sadly I think it likely this happens pretty often with larger "organic" operations).

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
happy, comfortable cows by LilFlightTest (2.00 / 0) #22 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 09:44:09 PM EST
make more milk. It takes more time to really set up your farm that way and watch them to make sure everything is going well, but it pays off...
if de-virgination results in me being able to birth hammerhead sharks, SIGN ME UP!!! --misslake
[ Parent ]
Raw milk by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #13 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 04:35:33 PM EST
I drank raw milk for most of my youth. That being said, there can be some horrible bugs in raw milk.  Milk is pasteurized for a reason, and the rise of certain bugs like salmonella in the last 30 years makes it even more important.  Yet, the need for pasteurization here is unbalanced by other cleanliness issues.

The unpleasant idea I think about is that in many ways, we are too clean.  Not in milk or edibles, but in our lives. Too many disinfectants, antibiotics and too little contact with germs is causing things like rampant c.diff infections, and autoimmune disorders like Crone's Disease.  Some folks don't even let their kids play in the mud anymore.

Ah, well.

"Adrenaline dumbs pain" - xth
it's different... by gzt (4.00 / 1) #15 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 05:15:43 PM EST
...if you're on the farm and in contact with the animals, as you tend to have some immunity from prior exposure to some of the stuff in the raw milk.

Yes, things are too clean in some ways.

[ Parent ]
.... and of course .... by gpig (4.00 / 1) #16 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 05:44:39 PM EST
.... there's the crazy guy who thinks that he can cure asthma and MS with hookworm.

I really hope he's right.
(,   ,') -- eep

[ Parent ]
"Ferrets", you mean. by ni (4.00 / 3) #18 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 07:32:41 PM EST
"Ferrets are correct to worry about what the government wants to inject them with."

They're easy to get confused. I myself did so just last week, which result in a tremendously embarrassing call to the fire department I won't soon live down.

"These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going." -- CRwM

By the way, by mrgoat (4.00 / 1) #29 Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 03:39:54 PM EST
Thanks for covering for me.

--top hat--
[ Parent ]
Careful where you write that. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #30 Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 04:35:18 PM EST
I hear that they've injected some of the ferrets with the gene that makes you able to read, and then all our secrets will be out amongst the mustelids.

[ Parent ]
omg why isn't this in the hole?? by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #21 Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 09:41:22 PM EST
THEY might see it

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

but... it's the party line. by gzt (4.00 / 1) #26 Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 11:28:53 AM EST
If I were opposing the party line, then it goes in the Hole.


[ Parent ]
but now THEY know that YOU know by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #28 Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 02:40:13 PM EST
Best to lay low for a while.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
my thoughts on science by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #31 Sat Feb 26, 2011 at 10:40:05 PM EST
Science is important, but it is driven by people who are capable of making errors in judgement. It's also distributed in the form of meds by huge corporations who are likely more interested in profits than the good health of society. So I think as far as personal healthcare is concerned, it's worth examining all options with critical assessment, using one's intuition together with rational analysis and an open mind. After all, any method of conventional medicine was not so conventional in its humble beginnings - every discovery had to begin with trial and error. This is not to say there aren't quacks out there - there are quacks in traditional western medicine as well as in alternative healthcare. I think there's a danger, though, in assuming that one way is only ever good and the other way is only ever bad.

people's intuition is notoriously bad. by garlic (2.00 / 0) #32 Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 10:52:28 PM EST

[ Parent ]
i would agree with that, for sure. by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #33 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 10:23:22 AM EST
 but IMO it still needs to be acknowledged as part of a decision-making process, even if not agreed with.

[ Parent ]
"critical assessment" by gzt (2.00 / 1) #34 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 11:14:26 AM EST
generally shows "alternative medicine" is lacking. the whole "learning from trial and error" thing doesn't work with "alternative medicine" because they generally don't want to track outcomes rigorously because the results are bad.

anyway, my point is that "critical assessment" is something that should be done using "science", rather than having a relatively-uninformed consumer equally weighting unequal options.

trust me: I'm a numbers guy. I know a lot about the philosophy of science. I do stats every day. I don't know enough to reliably judge between treatment A and treatment B when presented with raw evidence. why? I am not familiar with the exact discipline of epidemiology and their standards of evidence. okay, I can tell you whether what somebody did with the evidence is preposterous, as a statistician. but, otherwise, I'd just be making it up. so, I admit that I am not qualified to judge between two treatment options even when presented with all the evidence (unless it's really really obvious). so, you, a layperson who doesn't have any graduate work in statistics and no knowledge of epidemiology, how do you propose to do a "critical assessment" without any data?

the pharmaceutical companies, sure, have an agenda. but so do the supplement companies selling you nonsense remedies.

[ Parent ]
i don't need some number crunchers to tell me by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #35 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 12:14:51 PM EST
that the acupuncture treatment i just got was helpful.  sure, numbers are useful information, especially when you're trying to figure out if something chemically derived is helping you or outright poisoning you.  research is important.  but there are also other important factors.

"how do you propose to do a "critical assessment" without any data?"

as with the acupuncture example, the data comes from how i feel after the treatment. do i feel better? or do i feel worse? *that* is my data.  are they proposing to do something to me that sounds dangerous?  something that an obvious critical assessment would examine.

"the whole "learning from trial and error" thing doesn't work with "alternative medicine" because they generally don't want to track outcomes rigorously because the results are bad."

i don't know who these "they" people are that you're talking about.  certainly not anyone i know personally.  no doubt the "they" that you talk about exist. but i'm drawing my observations on actual "alternative" therapies i've received that i found helpful. not in any case did "they", meaning the therapists i worked with, try to get me to avoid seeing an MD for a problem beyond what they could help me with. for example, my acupuncturist made no claims to being able to heal the torn ligament in my ankle. "go see a doctor," she said, "get an x-ray." similarly i had a swollen gland in my neck that was discovered when i was doing jin shin jyutsu therapy. again, i was told to go see a doctor.  a good acupuncturist doesn't need someone to track their efficacy; you can look at their 20 years of service and long list of faithful customers to see that they must be doing something that works.

i think there are a lot of helpful modalities that there's a tremendous potential of missing out on while you're waiting for modern science to crunch the numbers for you. not every alternative therapist is a "quack". 

[ Parent ]
what was the acupuncture treating? by gzt (2.00 / 0) #36 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 01:02:56 PM EST
pain? underlying condition? qi imbalance?

if pain, that's great. if it makes you feel better, do it. that's one of the few places where alternative medicine can be useful, especially as you have direct feedback into whether it's working. if underlying condition, what, and why do you think needles will help? if qi imbalance, this conversation isn't going to go anywhere.

i have big problems when people use that line of reasoning for things like vaccines. or to suggest that taking the right plant extracts will manage their heart disease or depression better than their prescription drugs.

[ Parent ]
pain, yes. [nt] by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #38 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 05:23:31 PM EST

[ Parent ]
also, as far as managing depression by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #40 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 05:47:48 PM EST
if someone feels their plant extract is helping their depression, i don't see what's wrong with that.

i think where it becomes questionable is when you have an alternative therapist always contradicting the advice of an MD, rather than supplementing it.  this is not to say that the alternative therapist is always wrong, and the MD is always right.  but people being categorically against pharmaceuticals and surgery are no better than people being categorically against "alternative" therapies.  cultivating a prejudice in any form is treacherous.

i work for a neurologist, and people ask him all the time what he thinks about alternative modes of treatment, acupuncture, for example, yoga, and i also asked him what he thought about the jin shin jyutsu that i was doing.  "whatever works" is generally his answer.  after all, relieving pain and stress is an important part of a healing process.  i don't know much about cardiology so i can't comment on how much "quackery" is involved in using plant extracts to treat coronary heart disease.  but i would certainly be suspicious of someone who thinks plant extracts will cure cancer.

[ Parent ]
depression is a serious condition by gzt (2.00 / 0) #41 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 10:57:14 PM EST
and there really isn't any plant extract these days that has good evidence for it. placebo effects are pretty okay for some psychiatric conditions, but it's negligent to rely on them. there are books out there advocating that you can cure your depression "naturally" by doing things like exercising, socializing, and taking certain "natural supplements". this is misleading and potentially dangerous.

the difference between a prejudice against "alternative medicine" and a prejudice against surgery and pharmaceuticals is that there is evidence about the outcomes of surgery and pharmaceutical use and the intervention has to pass certain thresholds of risk/reward in order to be considered. there isn't any such thing as "alternative medicine" - if it's proven, it becomes "medicine".

when it comes to pain and stress, "whatever works" is a great plan and it makes sense to explore every option.

[ Parent ]
correction: depression is *potentially* serious. by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #42 Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 10:44:38 AM EST
it does happen that people recover from depression without pharmaceutical assistance.

" <meta charset="utf-8">the intervention has to pass certain thresholds of risk/reward in order to be considered."

not according to MD's i know personally who will tell you that a trigger-happy surgeon will gladly operate on anyone who doesn't really need it.  in fact, i would even go so far to call it common knowledge, at least here in the city.  that's why people are always urged to get a second opinion.  so, just because you have X number of years of science saying that surgery as a general practice is okay, you still have Y number of buffoons doing surgeries that make people worse instead of better - people who signed release forms saying "yes i understand the risks and absolve the doctor of any liability from complications".  the point is, if you think you're playing it safe living your life only according to ratios and statistics, you're missing an important piece of the picture, IMO.  if you go into an MD thinking, "yeah this guy uses science, he knows what he's talking about!" and you go into an alternative therapist thinking "oh yeah, whatever you say is quackery", you are A) not protecting yourself from harm and B) possibly going to miss out on something genuinely helpful.   i understand and agree that science and research are important, but prejudice can be harmful no matter what you think your odds are of being right.

[ Parent ]
ps the "they"... by gzt (2.00 / 0) #37 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 01:04:14 PM EST sellers of "alternative medicine". it's a big business. just like "big pharma". and it's unregulated.

[ Parent ]
it's not something by tierrasimbolica (2.00 / 0) #39 Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 05:27:39 PM EST
i have much exposure to, specifically alternative medicine as "big business". but like i said, i don't doubt that "they", such as you describe, exist. i'm just saying, based on firsthand experience, that there's more to alternative medicine than that.

[ Parent ]
I'm just a shill for the government. | 38 comments (38 topical, 0 hidden)