William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

10 Misunderstood Scientific Ideas

The man sitting is about to enjoy a pinch of all-natural arsenic in his organic artisinal whiskey.

The man sitting is about to enjoy a pinch of all-natural arsenic in his 100% organic artisanal hand-crafted whiskey.

Friday, time to relax. From reader Ken Steele comes a link to io9’s “10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing” which will be fun to peruse.

Can we think of more than 10?

1. Proof

Even scientists get this wrong. Proof means incontrovertible indubitable doubt-free evidence that a proposition is true. It is not almost true or mostly true or I-think true or true enough true. How many scientific theories have been proven in this sense? None that I know of.

Proof is for metaphysics, not physics, for math and logic.

2. Theory

Good that this one follows because it’s even more misused. A theory is a set of propositions/premises. Theories can thus be true, as in proven true. But that means we’re in the realm of mathematics.

Most theories are not true in the sense of proved true, but are only “mostly true” or “true enough”, or “true such that the exceptions we have noted are not now of any consequence.”

Still more theories are vague, or only suspicions. Some are contrary to observation but loved all the same, like “global climate disruption.”

When you hear theory, you haven’t heard much.

3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness

Quantum means discrete. In only it were called Discrete Mechanics! And uncertainty means unknown not uncaused.

Everybody is always mixing up ontology (existence) with epistemology (knowledge of existence). Just because you don’t know where Pittsburgh is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

4. Learned vs. Innate

It is the nature, i.e. it is innate, of men that they can learn languages, but nobody is predisposed, thank the Lord, to learn French. Identical twins do not act always identically. Nobody has to learn to eat, but only the most perspicacious come to enjoy duck tongue (yum!).

Are these terms really that misused?

5. Natural

In one sense, whatever is is natural, in another it is that which acts in accord with its end, in another it is whatever man had nothing to do with—which is very little. All species work together in one vast brotherhood, mostly one that finds each other tasty. Man is one among many. We’re natural. Get over it.

6. Gene

It took 25 scientists two contentious days to come up with: “a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions and/or other functional sequence regions.”

I had a gene for making me write that. My genes are exceedingly selfish and make me do all sorts of things I have no interest in doing.

7. Statistically Significant

Die die die die die die die!

If I were emperor, besides having my subjects lay me in an amply supply of duck tongue, I’d forever banish this term. Anybody found using it would be exiled to Brussels or to any building that won an architectural award since 2000. I’d also ban the theory that gave rise to the term. More harm has been done to scientific thought with this phrase than with any other. It breeds scientism.

Unsignificant Statistics: Or Die P-Value Die Die Die and many more.

8. Survival of the Fittest

Huh?

Fittest does not mean strongest, or smartest. It simply means an organism that fits best into its environment, which could mean anything from “smallest” or “squishiest” to “most poisonous” or “best able to live without water for weeks at a time.” Plus, creatures don’t always evolve in a way that we can explain as adaptations. Their evolutionary path may have more to do with random mutations, or traits that other members of their species find attractive.

Excepting the wanton violence done to random, this is what people mean by “Survival of the Fittest”, isn’t it? io9 quotes biologist Jacquelyn Gill: “there’s major confusion about evolution in general, including the persistent idea that evolution is progressive and directional”. Gee. Where would people get that idea? The observed increased complexity must be an illusion. Or coincidence.

9. Geologic Timescales

I have the suspicion this one is included so that title wouldn’t have to read “9 Scientific Ideas…” I can’t recall knowing anybody who misunderstood that a million years were greater than a thousand.

10. Organic

I only eat inorganic food. It’s cheaper.

I’ve never understood post-Christian food religions.

57 Comments

  1. The best way I have read the “survival of the fittest” explained was it’s “survival of the adequately fit”. If something has enough useful characteristics and skills, it can survive even if it’s not really the “fittest”.

  2. One of the best tag lines from the blog Small Dead Animals, “Organic is latin for grown in pig sh!t.”

  3. A challenge!

    11. Heat
    12. Voltage versus Current
    13. Evolution Derangement Syndrome (oops slipped out)

    If you need an explanation you are misusing the terms.

    Dulse I could understand but duck tongue? Try cod tongue.

  4. “Survival of the fittest” means survival of the ones that survived, or, survival of the survivors. Some people survive because they are cute. Some because it is considered bad form to kill them.

  5. Wow, how’s that inorganic stuff working for you, William? Getting a little clogged up in there? Maybe you need a little ANALysis? More fiber? Hmmmm…

  6. That was “The Limits of a Limitless Science”
    Fr. Jaki maintains, and I agree, that science is limited to that which can be quantifiably verified (or refuted). And to quote Lord Kelvin


    “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.”

  7. Sander van der Wal

    August 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

    1) One should be able to proof that a theory is consistent.

    2) Theories can also contain math and algorithms, and everything else that people consider being an explanation. In science, theories have been tested a lot. If they have not been tested a lot, then they are called hypotheses.

  8. To properly discus these subjects I believe we must enter the shadowy world of Pataphysics, the philosopy dedicated to investigate what lies beyond the realm of Science and Metaphysics. In Pataphysics, a “Clinamen” is the unpredictable swerve of atoms that is the smallest possible aberration that can make the greatest possible difference. An “Antinomy” is the mutually incompatible. It represents the duality of things, the echo or symmetry, the good and the evil at the same time. An “Anomaly” represents the exception. It the repressed part of a rule which ensures that the rule does not work. In this manner we can complete the whole cycle from the unknowing to the “think we knowing” and back to the unknowing again. Viva Ubu Roi!

  9. Organic chemistry is carbon chemistry, I don’t think humans can survive on inorganic food.

  10. Circular reasoning is not proof.

  11. I can see that “geological timescale” problem- In pop culture, the Raquel Welch movie 1 Million BC for instance, you see cavemen running around with dinosaurs. The io9 link made a referral to this, disparaging the fact that toy cavemen, wooly mammoths, and saber tooth cats were included in the toy dinosaur package – what they overlooked though , was that dimetrodons, cynognathus, brontosaurs, and tyrannosaurs all lived at vastly different times also- millions- or in the case of Tyrannosaurs and dimetrodons, over 100 million years apart- greater than the time difference between Tyrannosaurs and humans.

  12. Hans, trying to lead us down the garden path again?
    definition of “organic” from the OED:
    “1.1 Chemistry Of, relating to, or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin. Compare with inorganic.
    MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
    1.2(Of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.”
    Clearly in context definition 1.2 is indicated.
    BTW, I nearly flunked out of Caltech by getting a conditional in 2nd term organic chemistry–one reason I’m a physicist not a chemist. And one reason that “organic” is a nasty word with either definition as far as I’m concerned.

  13. Here are some more common Misunderstandings about science:
    1) that psychology is a science
    2) that publications proving AGW are science
    3) that economics, though dismal, is a science.
    4) that our liberal political leaders (BO, JK, AG) know anything about science.
    5) that anyone voting for a Democrat knows anything about science.
    (The last will be hard to verify, and I imagine there may be some exceptions.)

  14. I should also add to common misunderstandings,
    6) That web commentators who profess to believe in science as the one true fount of knowledge know anything about science.

  15. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    o “Circular reasoning is not proof.” Indeed. Species survive because they are better fit; and we know they were the better fit because they survived.
    o Whether a square peg survives depends largely on the shape of the hole.
    o Living things have the invaluable gift of an ability to seek out other holes.
    + + +
    o Dr. Briggs’ use of “inorganic food” was a louche comment on the popularity of “organic food.”
    + + +
    o “To proof” or “to prove” means “to test,” as in “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” “White Sands Proving Ground,” “80 Proof Bourbon,” or the “proofing room” at a commercial bakery. A physical theory is “proved” by testing it against data, but this original meaning is being swamped by a colloquial sense by which “prove” means “to show that something is factual,” when all it can do is show the theory is true.

    o “True” means “trustworthy,” and in Anglo-Saxon truth and trust are cognates. It is related to the Latin fides or “faith.” To have faith in something is to rely upon it, to “be-lief” (ge-liebt, be-lov[ed]) is to have great love for what you rely upon. And if so, to stand true to it. “True” is almost a verb, in that you must be true to something. That is why couples engaged to be married are “betrothed” (be-truthed) and pledge to remain true to each other. The Beach Boys prophesied “be true to your school.” A novel should be true to life, and a physical theory should be true to the facts.

    o “Fact” is the participle of a verb, factum est: “that which has the property of having been done or accomplished.” It is cognate with feat, and retained the explicit meaning of feat as late as Jane Austen’s day. In German, it shows its ancestry as die Tatsache or “deed-matter.”

    o So the proof a theory may reveal that it is true (faithful) to the facts as currently known.

  16. Kurland,
    The dismal-ness of economics is discussed here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/why-economics-is-really-called-the-dismal-science/282454/

    and its scientific nature here:

    http://mises.org/daily/2025

    Personally I think that it is important to distinguish between economics and the claims of apologists for government intervention in much the same way that we do for climatology.

  17. Pure Science vs. Applied Science.

    It’s just Science.

  18. Bob: I was actually surprised to read that Freeman Dyson has an Obama sticker on his care. Go figure…..

  19. Sheri, is…the sticker from 2008 or 2012? There would be a difference in degree of being hoodwinked.

  20. looked up Dyson’s bio… he’s 91…does that say anything? (I’m only 84).

  21. Can we think of more than 10? How about:
    1. Science Experts having better judgement
    2. Experimentation (as in climate model “experiments”)
    3. Peer Review advancing understanding

  22. Bob: The original article was from 2007, thought some places still call him an Obama supporter (I have found it necessary to always check—fact checking is rarely a strong point in many articles and I haven’t the time at the moment to verify if he continued the support in 2012). One would hope he wised up, though genius and common sense do not always go together.

    Yes, he’s 91. That says he hasn’t died yet. (I don’t think advanced age actually says anything about someone unless you want them to run a marathon or the like. Older does not mean smarter or dumber, just older.)

  23. Scotian, thanks for the link to the Mises web site. Interesting stuff, but according to the criteria emphasized in the article (the validity of a ‘priori, non-empirically validated, hypotheses), I would not classify economics (even the “good” kind put forth by von Mises) as a science–tain’t verifiable quantitatively or falsifiable, in a controlled or repetitive measurement type way.

  24. Sheri, but Freeman Dyson is skeptical about the claims of climate science. That must count for something.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/05/freeman-dyson-speaks-out-about-climate-science-and-fudge/

    Another ancient physicist with similar views was Frederick Seitz.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/06/us/06seitz.html?_r=0

    Because this is the New York Times the article tries to bash him.

  25. Scotian: Yes, that was the idea. Bob listed as #5 that anyone voting for a Democrat knows anything about science. Freeman Dyson does seem to know about science but had an Obama sticker on his car. I suppose we could try and believe he bought the car with the sticker on it……..

  26. Two comments:

    1 – “Proof” in math does have anything to do with truth. Something is proven if and only if it is fully and completely consistent with the previously proven. Bottom line: something is considered proven if and only if it can be logically reduced to counting on your fingers.

    2- (This) Murphy’s law #3 is “Any claim containing the word metaphysics is B.S.”

  27. whaaaa!!

    I need an “edit” option… the word “not” is missing above..

    ““Proof” in math does NOT have anything to do with truth. ”

    My fault for not proof reading – sorry.

  28. Thanks Scotian, that was an interesting piece. My original statement that psychology wasn’t a science was perhaps too strong, but allow it for rhetorical effect. I view psychology like the curate’s egg, with some good parts amongst the spoiled. It’s also encouraging that the notion of replication as an essential procedure in science seems to have made or making headway with at least some psychologists. Another piece that’s missing in psychology, according to my prejudices, is the lack of a coherent unified theory to explain all the different areas, but perhaps that’s expecting too much. By the way, the most interesting part of the article were the comments.

  29. Briggs,

    A theory is a set of propositions/premises. Theories can thus be true, as in proven true. But that means we’re in the realm of mathematics.

    I’d be thrilled if empiricists erased the word “proof” from their vocabularies when what they really mean is “preponderance of evidence”.

    Most theories are not true in the sense of proved true, but are only “mostly true” or “true enough”, or “true such that the exceptions we have noted are not now of any consequence.” Still more theories are vague, or only suspicions.

    

    Given the qualification “most theories,” I suppose “still more” is possible if the two sets overlap. Vagueness is often suspicious — especially when accompanied by apparent contradictions.

    When you hear theory, you haven’t heard much.

    

    If empirical theory isn’t much of anything, how is it possible to know more than essentially nothing?

  30. Bob,

    5) that anyone voting for a Democrat knows anything about science.
    (The last will be hard to verify, and I imagine there may be some exceptions.)

    That’s an interesting question, but not without challenges as you note. The first one is to define what “anything” is. One question out of ten correct?

    The next challenge is to define what constitutes “science”? If it were my study, I’d design it to be short on science trivia and long on scientific methodology. To reduce bias, I’d make every effort to steer the questions away from disciplines known to be in conflict with prevailing religious beliefs — cosmology, geology and biology immediately spring to mind. It goes without saying that politically biased fields such as climatology would be right out.

    A very good question would be:

    Which is the better way to determine whether a new drug is effective in treating a disease? If a scientist has a group of 1,000 volunteers with the disease to study, should she: a) Give the drug to all of them and see how many get better. b) Give the drug to half of them but not to the other half, and compare how many in each group get better.

    A fairly good question would be:

    Which is an example of a chemical reaction? a) Water boiling b) Sugar dissolving c) Nails rusting

    A not so good question would be:

    The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. Is this statement true or false?

    A terrible question would be:

    What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise? a) Carbon Dioxide b) Hydrogen c) Helium d) Radon

    Those questions lifted from this survey:

    http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/science-knowledge/

    Note that there are not many “good” questions as I’ve defined them, nor did it break down the results by political identification. I’ve been looking for an hour or so for something better, coming up empty so far.

  31. Survival of the fittest is just luck; as in he got lucky tonight.

  32. Sheri,

    Freeman Dyson does seem to know about science but had an Obama sticker on his car. I suppose we could try and believe he bought the car with the sticker on it…….

    You could try, but it would be an uphill battle:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/magazine/29Dyson-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&

    Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus.

    That quote from the bottom of page 1. The story continues on page 4:

    Dyson says it’s only principle that leads him to question global warming: “According to the global-warming people, I say what I say because I’m paid by the oil industry. Of course I’m not, but that’s part of their rhetoric. If you doubt it, you’re a bad person, a tool of the oil or coal industry.” Global warming, he added, “has become a party line.”

    It pains me that political rhetoric engages in such presumptive stereotyping and vilification. Even worse, that science is increasingly judged by the politics of its researchers in lieu of the science itself.

  33. Nullius in Verba

    August 2, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Brandon,

    “I’ve been looking for an hour or so for something better, coming up empty so far.”

    Some people are trying to develop something better, but it’s recognised by researchers as a difficult task and there’s nothing available as yet that’s been properly validated.

    Discussion here:
    http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/7/28/undertheorized-and-unvalidated-stocklmayer-bryant-vs-nsf-ind.html

    The test in this paper includes an attempt at a few better questions:
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2466715

  34. [Should a scientist wishing to test the effect of a new drug to combat a disease] a) Give the drug to all of them and see how many get better. b) Give the drug to half of them but not to the other half, and compare how many in each group get better.

    You left out: c) hold an auction and give it to the highest bidder; d) write a book about how wonderful it is and get Oprah to plug it; e) do (d) but also complain that the FDA is preventing the drug from reaching the suffering with its red tape.

  35. Brandon: Agreed about Dyson. I was just wandering into “maybe territory”, not really seriously. While there are fairly high correlations between politics and belief in global warming, and which the very bad global warming writers attempt to exploit, it’s far from 100%. Politics does enter, but does not seem to be a sole factor. There are indeed Republicans who push the AGW agenda also.

  36. Brandon,

    “Even worse, that science is increasingly judged by the politics of its researchers in lieu of the science itself.”

    ….I would say more clearly…

    “Even worse, that science results are increasingly judged by their policy implications in lieu of the science itself.”

    Those who proclaim doom the loudest are handed the megaphone in the media. It’s not clear who is exploiting who is this self reinforcing partnership.

    I think we can all agree that those who wrap themselves in the cloak of science to achieve a predetermined political agenda is not having a positive influence on the integrity of science.

    Scientist activist should be an oxymoron. It isn’t.

    This does not preclude that a scientist should be disallowed from being an activist, but the question is can we trust them to clearly delineate where their science ends and their activism begins? Do they even know themselves?

    There is no avoiding the intersection of science and politics, and separating out stealth advocacy from the science is becoming harder and harder.

  37. Tom: I agree that scientist activist should be an oxymoron. While a scientist may believe passionately in a cause, his moving to the activist level generally has a negative effect on his objectivity. Passionate people do not have to be in the spotlight to have an effect. I have noticed that as soon as physicists, MD’s, psychologists, etc get their own show, the science is pitched out the window in favor of ratings. It was actually funny seeing Congress chastise Dr. Oz for his pseudoscience when it came to diet aids. They actually told him he was part of the problem.

  38. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 2, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    The first to fall:
    “Social science is rarely dispassionate, and social scientists are frequently caught up in the politics which their work necessarily involves.”
    — Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    And then
    “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”
    — Stephen Schneider, Global C/o/o/l/i/n/g Warming scientist
    http://www.americanphysicalsociety.com/publications/apsnews/199608/upload/aug96.pdf

  39. NiV, thank you for the links. Money quote from the first one:

    Sensibly, S&B call for putting first things first: before developing a measure, one must thoughtfully (not breezily, superficially) address what the public needs to know and why: what elements of science comprehension are genuinely important in one or another of the contexts, to one or another of the roles and capacities, in which ordinary (nonexpert) members of the public make use of scientific information?

    The second link was very interesting. This was thought-provoking, and Sheri may find it interesting as well:

    Consistent with this analysis, aggregating the global warming items with the political outlook measures forms an even more reliable scale of subjects’ latent political orientation (α=0.84) than do the two political outlook measures by themselves.

    Speaking of …

    Sheri, I thought you might be speculating about Dyson for sake of discussion, but I wasn’t sure. Dyson is one of my heroes from childhood for his influence on Larry Niven’s Ringworld series of science fiction novels. To be brutally honest, I felt a sense of betrayal when Dyson came out against the AGW consensus, almost to the point of moral outrage. As the NYT magazine article notes, I said to myself, “he must be a right-wing crackpot.”

    Imagine my surprise when I learned how very very wrong I was about that presumption. This was one of many shocks to my beliefs, not just about AGW but politics in general, which has taught me a great deal about my own tendency toward prejudicial thinking and making naive assumptions on incomplete and/or anecdotal evidence. I consider such incidents invaluable lessons. My ego does not like to be wrong. But more importantly, making ill-informed decisions can be hazardous. I’d rather have a bruised ego than suffer the consequences of a poor decision.

    DAV, well-played. In kind, I would also add: e) Market the placebo since its side-effects are far less nasty, and works almost as well as the actual drug.

    Tom, your rewrite of my statement does more directly address the root problem, thank you for the suggestion.

    My view on exploitation is this: the general public is ultimately who are being exploited. Not just in the unholy alliance of science (and activism masquerading as science) and politics of AGW specifically, but also very much in general. A lot like Dyson, I don’t brook any ideology. Apart from being intensely skeptical about any and all claims of fact, I am rabidly cynical.

    Unlike Dyson, I accept the consensus view that AGW is a real phenomenon. I hear his caution (to put it mildly) against groupthink, and in like matter pay attention to the more credible and prominent AGW skeptics — Judith Curry topping the list as I consider her domain expertise all but unimpeachable.

    Not being a domain expert myself, I ultimately don’t see that I have any choice but to be most informed by the views of the vast majority of working climatologists. That does not mean that I have to drink the more alarmist/activist Kool-Aid coming from various segments of that group. What I have found is that politicians and activists in collusion with the media amplify the alarmism, giving my gag reflex that much more to choke on.

    By the same token, the political opposition to AGW is similarly and unrealistically polarized and alarmist. Reality does not subscribe to false dichotomies nor to wishful thinking. The fact that there are two main camps of political advocacy on AGW in US politics does not mean that I must choose one or the other. Not being one to blindly follow stampeding herds of panicky irrational people, I reject both the alarmist and denialist camps with extreme prejudice — finding that both tend to substitute ideology and rhetoric for reasoned debate and discourse.

    This does not preclude that a scientist should be disallowed from being an activist, but the question is can we trust them to clearly delineate where their science ends and their activism begins? Do they even know themselves?

    The answer to both questions is an unequivocal, “NO”. If you have not read the Slate article Scotian linked to, I highly recommend doing so. It doesn’t directly address your specific questions, nor is it about AGW, but it is one of the more unflinching treatments of the problem of dichotomous thinking, thin-skinned researchers and motivated reasoning I’ve read in popular press in a while.

  40. YOS, good quotes. All too often I have noted the AGW skeptic community taking statements of uncertainty as weasel words and/or equivocation. I’m quite the opposite; I trust most those who speak to uncertainty directly and comprehensively. Aristotle summed it up nicely, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

  41. Brandon: I, too, was very surprised at Dyson’s politics. Guess we really do buy into the stereotypes. And yes, I too want to know when I’m wrong and can adjust my beliefs. Ignorance is not bliss. (Well, it might be but it’s also quit dangerous.)

    🙂

  42. Sheri, what I liked about the Slate article that Scotian cited is the irony of psychologists who should be intimately familiar with various cognitive biases — they wrote the book on them after all — are often egregiously blind to how such biases adversely affect their very own research. Such are classic cases of, “Doctor, heal thyself.”

    Ignorance can be bliss I suppose. Hard to be afraid of what you don’t know, but as you say, what you don’t know actually can hurt you.

    Personally, I hate not knowing. I never have enough data, and I’m never sure the data I have are reliable. It sucks hardcore. I frequently ask myself if I only know enough to be dangerous. 🙂

  43. Brandon: Actually, the psychiatrist’s “biases” are why homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses. When I was working at a state mental hospital, most of the social workers there felt the doctors were as crazy as the patients. Often they were. People don’t generally see their own biases.

    I agree on the problems of getting genuine, unadultered data and/or statistics. I does make it hard to come to probable conclusions. Open sharing of raw data would help, but it would also expose errors, which makes it less and less likely.

  44. Sheri,

    People don’t generally see their own biases.

    More to the point, we tend to see regard our own subjective perception of reality as more objective than others, therefore we conclude that others with differing perceptions of reality are skewed by bias.

    Actually, the psychiatrist’s “biases” are why homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses.

    Against strong opposition as well. In 1973, the APA’s BoD reclassified it in the DSM; essentially using language considered less stigmatizing. The opposition circulated a petition for a vote, which was held in 1974. The change was ratified, but ontroversy continued to 1986, when it was removed from the DSM entirely.

    Clearly, diametrically opposed but changing societal attitudes played a role, but to say that bias was the main driver sounds more like opinion and less like objectivity to me.

  45. louche: French, literally, cross-eyed, squint-eyed, from Latin luscus blind in one eye.

    Thereby being mostly blind you picked and ate a box of rocks instead of Honey Roasted Peanuts?

  46. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 4, 2014 at 8:56 am

    louche (adj.): disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.

  47. Brandon: You phrased the bias problem very well. I spend a lost of time trying to explain to people that confirmation bias applies to all sides of the debate, not just say skeptics. A very interesting admission on this was Anthony Watts saying he rejected Steve McIntyre’s statements about temperature adjustments. Watts rejected it–and it was later found to be accurate. Watts wrote post about his rejection and how his on bias against McIntyre played into it. I was very impressed that Watts would do this.

    I am fully aware of how homosexuality was voted out of mental illness standing. I found it very, very unscientific to vote an “illness” out of existence (gives credence to the belief that mental illness designations are not science at all). The major impotence for the change was homosexual psychiatrists could not practice both psychiatry and homosexuality. One supposes we should be grateful the majority were not pedophiles. This is not bias–it was well known at the time. I was in college studying psychology when this was going on.

  48. Sheri,

    A true skeptic in the original sense would not have confirmation bias because he or she would suspend judgement. “Epekho”

  49. Yes, Bob, a true skeptic in the original sense would not have confirmation bias. True skeptics are very rare.

  50. Sheri,

    You phrased the bias problem very well.

    Fanks.

    I spend a lost of time trying to explain to people that confirmation bias applies to all sides of the debate, not just say skeptics.

    Ditto. Do you ever get the feeling you’re speaking Swahili?

    I was very impressed that Watts would do this.

    Normally I struggle to read him, but read him I do and he has his moments. The temperature station effort was overall one of his more worthy efforts. I can’t be arsed to go look for it, but my all time favorite post was fairly recent — he did a very good anyone-can-do-it-at-home experiment with a light bulb, a glass cylinder and some aluminum foil demonstrating that “back radiation” does indeed raise equilibrium temperature. If he’d stuck the rig in a vacuum chamber to rule out conductive and convective heat transfers, I’d have given him a perfect A+.

    I found it very, very unscientific to vote an “illness” out of existence (gives credence to the belief that mental illness designations are not science at all).

    Sure, but arguing from principle as you have just done doesn’t speak directly to whether or not homosexuality can objectively be considered a disease or illness in the sense that those things are typically defined in the DSM. I’m almost obliged to press you on this point if only to call out the non-sequitur.

    Not to beat up on psychology as a discipline, it bears reinforcement that it is anything but an objective science. Nowhere is that more obvious than looking at how the DSM has undergone massive changes across the board over the years — all done ultimately by committee with Providence knows how much insurance and drug industry meddling, etc. It’s the epitome of arbitrary whose ultimate goal is NOT treatment guidance, but uniform diagnostic criteria for insurance billing purposes.

    The major impotence for the change was homosexual psychiatrists could not practice both psychiatry and homosexuality.

    Spellcheck got the better of you on that one, otherwise pls. call Dr. Freud, stat; I believe the word intended was “impetus”. I’m laughing with you. 🙂

    I’m sure it was a factor. Very much doubt it was major, but then again I have no idea how one would be able to objectively measure that particular influence. But why even bother? There is a large corpus of primary literature by independent researchers to draw from and that’s where the best answers will be on the specific topic of whether homosexuality is inherently psychologically unhealthy. Subjective relative to the “harder” sciences? Heck yes, but the peer-reviewed psych journals are still the most reasonable place to look.

    One supposes we should be grateful the majority were not pedophiles.

    Aaack, another suspect analogy. You’re incorrigible sometimes, you know. I’m pretty sure we don’t need PhDs in head-shrinking to figure out that molesting children is bad policy. You may want to look out for ambiguities too; you’ve just implied that the voting majority were homosexual.

  51. Brandon: The light bulb, glass cylinder and foil experiment generates some very interesting discussions, many of which are less than civil. It is an interesting experiment.

    If homosexuality cannot be considered a disease or mental illness, that removes all other sexual preferences as diseases also. I know people don’t like that idea, but there is no justification for removing one and not all. The actual criteria for “mental illness” has always been very shaky and now it’s called “illness”, not mental illness, except when the purpose is better served by adding the word “mental”. Now, depression, bipolar, etc–those are real diseases according to the medical community. Sadly, the medical community is becoming more and more like the psychology community. A bunch of symptoms with a name becomes a “disease” (my personal favorite is “chronic dry eye disease. The ads say it’s a “disease” and that’s serious)

    Curse that spellcheck!

    Again, one sexual orientation is equal to all others if we choose to go that route. Things are actually “unhealthy” psychologically because we teach people that. People can and do teach their kids that incest is okay, that child prostitution is okay, etc. When children find out society says no, they are horrified and have to be “healed” due to the trauma. Honestly, had no one told them this was wrong or bad, they were fine with it. (As shown clearly by the idea that children are now being taught Heather has two mommies and they seem to buy into it until someone tells them differently.)

    I won’t back away from the pedophile argument. It’s in part due to my above statement and in part because once you remove the male/female rule, there are no other rules except those people cling to in an effort to convince themselves some things are wrong. If gay is okay, then I find no justification for rejecting any other sexual preferences. (Can’t say if the majority of the psychiatrists were gay, but having been around the psych community, I can’t say they weren’t. It was bad wording, however. It should have been “One supposes we should be grateful there were not enough pedophiles in the field to affect a change in the designation of the behaviour.”)

  52. Sheri,

    The light bulb, glass cylinder and foil experiment generates some very interesting discussions, many of which are less than civil.

    It was a five bags of popcorn and a case of root beer worthy series in entertainment value. But I was mostly impressed that Watts faced the 2nd Law Violation myth and very convincingly demonstrated that the myth is bollocks. It was a double-win for me: he wrecked one of my prejudices against him AND gave me ammo for the next “a cooler mass cannot transfer heat to a warmer mass” loon.

    It is an interesting experiment.

    I wonder how many high school kids have replicated it for a science fair project.

    See the older thread for combined responses to the homosexuality discussion:

    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=13119

  53. Apologies on posting on incorrect thread.

  54. Sheri, no worries. Comments are now closed for that post but I’d like to carry on the discussion; you raised some very good points which I’d like to respond to. My blog or your blog perhaps?

  55. I dropped you an email. For now, I have to sign off for a day or two due to prior commitments. I’d be happy to continue thereafter.

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