Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

How science lost the public trust…

August 2, 2021

British science writer Matt Ridley argues that “scientists” have become disconnected from “science”.

Loyal readers may remember Mr. Ridley — a self-proclaimed “science critic” —  from a 2019 series of HomaFiles  posts.

I credited Mr. Ridley for inspiring the series and  and I adopted his coining as a “lukewarmer” on climate change.

Recap: 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change

In a recent WSJ weekend interview, Mr. Ridley gives his take on “How Science Lost the Public Trust”.

Ridley’s core conclusion:

Politics and hubris have disconnected scientists and  scientific institutions  from the philosophy and method that ought to guide them.

More specifically, Ridley draws a pointed distinction between “science as a philosophy” and “science as an institution.”

The former grows out of the Enlightenment, which Mr. Ridley defines as “the primacy of rational and objective reasoning.”

The latter, like all human institutions, is erratic, prone to falling well short of its stated principles.

The Covid pandemic has “thrown into sharp focus the disconnect between science as a philosophy and science as an institution.”

People inside (the institution) not only have been “disappointingly incurious” but have tried to shut down the inquiry “to protect the reputation of science as an institution.”

Science — as a profession — has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.”

Mr. Ridley fears “that the pandemic has, for the first time, seriously politicized epidemiology.”

There is a palatable “tension between scientists wanting to present a unified and authoritative voice,” on the one hand, and science-as-philosophy, which is obligated to “remain open-minded and be prepared to change its mind.”

“It’s largely the fault of epidemiologists themselves, deliberately publishing things that fit with their political prejudices or ignoring things that don’t.”

In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.”

This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong.

In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.”

Forced conformity But, an is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge.

Increasing numbers of scientists seem to fall prey to groupthink and dogmatic gate-keeping gets in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.

So, Ridley concludes: “Those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from scientists and science as an institution.”

And, that’s “How Science Lost the Public Trust”.

Again, the whole article is worth reading.


FDA: “Following the science & the data is over-rated.”

June 24, 2021

Approves Alzheimer drug despite objections from science advisory panel & statisticians.

OK, the FDA didn’t explicitly say that following the science & the data is over-rated.

Nor did it explicitly say: “Do as we say, not as we do.”


Last week, the FDA approved aducanumab — Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug.

But, according to the WSJ, the FDA did so despite doubts about the therapy’s effectiveness.

Specifically. the FDA’s drug biostatistics office concluded that “substantial evidence of effectiveness had not been provided in the application.”

Accordingly, the FDA’s scientific advisory panel recommended against approval of the drug, “questioning whether  it provides any benefit at all.”

But, the FDA ignored the panel’s advice and approved the drug any way.

So, several of the panel members resigned, calling the decision  “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.”


More gently, critics say the FDA “ignored the scientific standards it typically holds drugmakers.”

So much for following the science and the data.


For the record, given my family’s medical history, I’m rooting for Alzheimer-attacking drugs … and I’m a strong proponent of “right to try”.

So, I’m ok with the FDA’s decision.

But, I’m getting tired of elite pontificators telling me to follow elusive, unsettled  science … and, very tired of lying political-scientists

Tell me again why I should trust “the science”…

June 18, 2021

Prominent scientist admits that info was withheld because it lent credence to Trump’s claims

Yesterday, we posted: A scientist shreds Fauci’s “attacking me is attacking science” canard.

Today, let’s throw another log on that fire…

NBC News published a nice recap of the lab-leak controversy.


So, what changed since since early 2020 when a gold standard scientific journals published a letter from 28 scientists dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis as “unfounded” and “debunked”?

The article points out that the was scant data to prove (or disprove) the lab-leak hypothesis at the time … and, given China’s stonewalling, there isn’t much more data now.

According to NBC interviews with virologists:

While public discussion of a potential lab leak has shifted significantly in recent months, as more people pay attention to a theory that was originally promulgated by former President Donald Trump and his followers, the scientific evidence has remained unchanged, according to interviews with five virologists who have experience in microbiology, infectious disease ecology and viral evolution.

So, what changed?

The politics.

The shift reflects how some scientists who previously avoided the topic or were quick to dismiss it are grappling with enduring uncertainties about the virus’s origin, free from the politicization that clouded such discussions during the Trump administration.


Alina Chan was one of 18 scientists who published a letter in the journal Science last month calling for a more in-depth investigation into the virus’s origin.

She bluntly told NBC:

Chan said there had been trepidation among some scientists about publicly discussing the lab leak hypothesis for fear that their words could be misconstrued or used to support Trump fueled accusations that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research lab in the city where the first Covid-19 cases were reported, was connected to the outbreak.

Said differently, if Trump said it, it’s probably wrong … and, even if it’s true, it’s “noble” to withhold evidence and public support.


Bottom line: “Science” may be be pure and worthy of being followed … but some “scientists” not so much.

That raises a dilemma: How to “follow the science” if scientists are distorting — either through omission or commission?

That question may linger long after covid is a distant memory.

A scientist shreds Fauci’s “attacking me is attacking science” canard…

June 17, 2021

The weekend WSJ published an interview with Filippa Lentzos — a social scientist who studies biological threats.

A  Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink

According to the WSJ, Ms. Lentzos was early-on questioning the source of the coronavirus, and frustrated by the “premature enforced consensus” that was dismissive of the lab-leak possibility.

Lentzos asserts that she and her compatriots were inquisitive “not because we are conspiracy theorists  but because, as scientists, this is our profession.”


Now Ms. Lentzos observes that the lab-leak scenario has gained traction … and, is emerging as a front-runner.

“As time goes on, there has been more and more circumstantial evidence for the lab-leak theory that’s come out, and less and less from the natural-spillover theory.”

Why did the realization take so long?

Lentzos says that “the most significant problem came from the scientific community.”

Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks.

American liberals — including many scientists — conflated open-mindedness about the question with support for Mr. Trump.

But, partisanship wasn’t their only motive.

“Like most things in life, there are power plays.

There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests.

A lab mistake that killed millions would be bad for reputations.

Some researchers have taken part in gain-of-function research, which can make viruses deadlier or easier to transmit.

Who would permit, much less fund, such research if it proved so catastrophic?

There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

So, The lab-leak theory began to be treated “like an attack on science, the sciences.

The teaching point…

Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and warns that “a scientific consensus isn’t always true … and peer review is sometimes peer pressure.”

Accordingly, she advises a constructive skepticism:

Sees science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as an inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas … but seeing science as a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.


My take:

Science and the scientific method are inherently good … but they are sometimes compromised by “bad actors”, including even well-intentioned scientists who fall victim to personal biases and agendas; shoddy work and false prophets; and ego-driven self-promotion.

So, Dr. Fauci, criticizing your behavior and performance is not an attack on science.



P.S. The WSJ’s entire interview with Ms. Lentos is worth reading …  “A  Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink

The non-science President redirects NASA to re-focus on space exploration.

December 19, 2017

You might have missed this in the flurry on news last week…

President Trump issued an Executive Order redirecting NASA’s mission:

The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.

It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.

This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond — and bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.



I know what you must be thinking: What’s newsworthy about that … hasn’t that been NASA’s mission all along?


President Trump’s Executive Order reverses former-President Obama’s marching orders for NASA.

In case memories have faded, let’s flashback to 2010 ….


Psychology is a science … or is it?

July 26, 2012

Gotta be honest, I didn’t know there was a burning question re: whether or not psychology qualifies as a science.

But, there’s been a flurry of editorials and op-eds over the past couple of weeks, set off by a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, who expressed resentment in an L.A. Times Op-Ed over the fact that most scientists don’t consider psychology a real science. He cast scientists as condescending bullies.

“There has long been snobbery in the sciences, with the ‘hard’ ones (physics, chemistry, biology) considering themselves to be more legitimate than the ‘soft’ ones (psychology, sociology).”

In a follow-up piece, also in the L.A. Times, it’s argued:

Psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous:

  1. clearly defined terminology,
  2. quantifiability,
  3. highly controlled experimental conditions,
  4. reproducibility and,
  5. predictability and testability.

The failure to meet the first two requirements of scientific rigor (clear terminology and quantifiability) makes it almost impossible for most psychology research to meet the other three.

How can an experiment be consistently reproducible or provide any useful predictions if the basic terms are vague and unquantifiable?

Making useful predictions is a vital part of the scientific process, but psychology has a dismal record in this regard.

To be fair, psychology research often yields interesting and important insights.

But to claim it is “science” is inaccurate.


Makes “marketing science” sound a bit oxymoronic.

Not good news for us marketers.

>> Latest Posts

%d bloggers like this: