The Bookworm Beat (9/17/14) — The Science Edition and Open Thread

Woman writingEarl Aagaard send me some cool science-related articles so, before I start writing up a post that came to me in a dream (and that’s always a bad sign), I wanted to head these items your way:

Federal money drives bad science

Dr. Patrick Michaels points out that part of the reason so many of the world’s real and faux scientists are wedded to their climate change theory, despite that theory having been proved wrong at every turn, has to do with money. That is, they’re not just blind ideologues; they’re greedy ideologues. Worse, the lust for hard cash in the sciences is contributing to dangerous amounts of shoddy work.

Not news: EPA corrupt

We’ve all figured out that the EPA is a corrupt bureaucracy staffed with people who have an agenda and are not about to let facts, economic reality, or honesty get in their way. If you need further proof of that, a new study reveals that the EPA, which should be operating transparently, has been secretly colluding with hard core environmental activists.

Yup. That sounds about par for the course in Obama’s America. Let me echo again Danny Lemieux’s concern that Carter’s failed presidency did not destroy American institutions, while Obama’s failing presidency has sunk deep, poisonous roots into America’s administrative and bureaucratic structures. That’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to fix.

And fracking? It’s not so bad

Part of the government’s corruption is to deep six reports showing that fracking is not bad for the environment. The administration’s preferred solution is to have us continue to prop up corrupt oil supplying nations around the world and, when their reserves run out, for us to retreat to a new Dark Ages, lightened intermittently by seasonally-functional solar panels.

It’s therefore quite remarkable that two bastions of Progressivism — the New York Times and the BBC — have suddenly published articles (one a news report and one an opinion piece) saying “Hey, fracking’s not so bad after all.” Oh, and look! I just saw a pig fly by.

Progressives’ most admired scientist is a serial liar

Progressives love Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s black, telegenic, a physicist, and seriously Leftist in outlook. What’s not to love?

Well, maybe one of the things that’s not to love is Tyson’s distant relationship with the truth. Sean Davis has become a bloodhound, tracking down one Tyson lie after another.

When Earl sent me the above link, I asked him to name just one conservative who is a serial liar. When you think of serial liars, you think of Obama, of course, Biden (plagiarist), Cory Booker (fake autobiographical details), Hillary Clinton, etc. I can’t come up with a comparable conservative list.

Earl reminded me why this is so: when it comes to conservatives, the press actually fulfills its function of keeping politicians and public figures honest. One lie out of a conservative, and s/he’s savaged so badly in the press that there’s nothing to do but apologize and either sin no more or abandon public life entirely. Such is not the case on the Left, where the media assiduously goes deaf, blind, and dumb whenever a Leftist public figure mouths a lie.

An appropriate video

Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science”:

The myth of scientific infallibility

Blood lettingI’ve never liked Woody Allen. His nebbish-centered humor never worked for me and, as he aged in his films, I found distasteful his young leading ladies. I really didn’t need to see him play out his creepy romantic fantasies before my eyes, especially if I was paying for the privilege of seeing it.

Having said that, there’s one scene in a Woody Allen movie that I’ve always found to be not just funny but wise:

I thought of that scene when I read Charles Krauthammer’s column today about the various theories that held sway in the scientific world over the years, and which were subsequently proven to be terribly wrong.  For an elegant writer like Krauthammer, it’s a an easy step from reminding readers about blood-letting to telling them about all the economic fallacies underlying Obamacare’s passage.

The hypothesis fallacy; or please explain to me why EVERY scientific experiment (whether hard or social) needs a hypothesis


Bear with me here, because I’m about to prove how simplistic and primitive my mind is.  I need you all to help enlighten me.

Some high school students I know got an assignment to set up and complete an experiment.  Some of the experiments they came up with include looking at plant growth under different circumstances, or rust development under different circumstances, or human responses to certain stimuli.  This strikes me as a very sensible project for budding young scientists.

Plant growth experiment

My confusion arises from the fact that the students are required, as part of setting up the experiment, to include a hypothesis — or, in other words, they have to begin the experiment with an assumption about its outcome.  For example, a student measuring the effect of different fertilizers on otherwise identically situated plants, in addition to establishing the controls and variable(s), must also announce before starting the experiment that she believes that the more expensive fertilizers will work better.  Then, she’s supposed to see whether the data she collects supports this hypothesis.  (I.e., she proves or disproves her hypothesis.)

Here’s my problem:  I don’t understand why there is a scientific virtue to going into an experiment with a pre-determined conclusion.  It seems to me that it’s much more intelligent, in most, if not all cases, to go in with a question, and then to create an experiment that has sufficient controls to answer that question and that question alone.  My hostility to the hypothesis as a prerequisite arises because I suspect that a pre-determined hypothesis risks affecting the outcome.  Sherlock Holmes thought this too:

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.

Exactly.  The scientist who has decided in advance that spending more on fertilizer results in better plant outcomes may subconsciously lavish a little more care or do things a little differently with the plant getting the good fertilizer.  The experiment is less likely to be tainted by the scientist’s biases if the scientist begins by asking “Which fertilizer is better?” rather than announcing “I think the more expensive fertilizers are better.”

Birth Control Pills

This is not just an idle question about high school projects.  I’ve noted the disdain that I have for Bay Area breast cancer studies that assume the culprit for the unusually high cancer rate in the Bay Area arises from too much bacon (evil factory farming) or from power lines (evil global warming).  One could just as easily announce that the hypothesis is that Bay Area women have high breast cancer rates because they get too much radiation from too many mammograms, or they have too many abortions (at too young an age), or they delay childbearing for too long, or they overuse of the Pill, etc.  If my study focused as narrowly on my assumptions, as these heavily Leftist studies focus on their assumptions, both studies would show that women who had done one or more of those things had higher cancer rates.

Establishing these almost random correlations (given the ridiculously biased parameters underpinning the various hypotheses) wouldn’t prove causation; instead, they would just prove that the scientist’s own prejudices forced the data down a narrow pathway.  Doesn’t it make more sense to find out about everything from diet, to environment, to lifestyle/sexual choices, and then, a la Sherlock Holmes, to see where the facts lead?

Global warming

This same “hypothesis fallacy,” for want of a better phrase, strikes me as one of the major problems with the whole global warming hysteria.  Various Leftists advanced the hypothesis that fossil fuels (which we know can contribute to pollution, and that Leftists believe give an unfair economic advantage to the First World) are evil, and then they set about proving their evil-ness.  If climate change is a genuine concern, wouldn’t it have made more sense to start with the question — “what’s going on?” — than to start with the answer — “Fossil fuels are changing our climate.”  After all, if your set-in-stone hypothesis isn’t even in the ball park, it means that your experiments are not only worthless, but they’ve also managed to ignore other, more relevant, data.

I understand that the hypothesis is a standard requirement for scientific experiments and has been since the Enlightenment.  I’ve explained, with a little help from Sherlock Holmes, why I think the hypothesis requirement taints, rather than advances, science.  Now that I’ve acquainted you with the contents of my brain, can you please explain to me why the scientific community is correct, and why Sherlock Holmes and I are wrong.