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Friday, September 16, 2005
I hate Bad Science
I hate Bad Science. What is bad science?
"Bad science" usually refers either to substandard scientific methods or to findings that have been arrived at by such methods. Occasionally what is meant by "bad science" is something equivalent to pseudoscience or junk science. The term is also sometimes applied ironically to research that, even if conducted in a scientific way, appears to have been inspired by a false assumption or a trivial question and concerns matters that look humorous when depicted as science.
I'm usually pretty good about staying away from bad science, I'm fairly critical so its generally not hard for me to recognize bad science, either because I have seen or heard of it being debunked, or because I know what types of questions to ask. Unfortunately its been hard for me to avoid it today.
The first occurrence was during my math class, and we're learning (or in my case relearning) how to graph systems of inequalities, as well as how to find min and max points on a graph. So at one point the teacher proposes an always welcome real world application. In this case improving gas mileage. Good example I think, if you look at the speed and aerodynamics of the vehicle (among other combination) you can find the point of maximum gas milage. (snap back to reality) What's better class? Driving with the A/C or driving with the windows down?
Duh, windows down. Not only have the mythbusters proven it, I plotted a few dozen fill ups and noticed a significant drop in MPG when filling up after an Air Conditioned run to Winston Salem (~8 gallon trip) than driving around town to back and forth between school. My evidence isn't scientific, as there is no control, and there isn't an experiment log noting speed and state of the drives between fill ups, but I know the difference (Again back to reality) "Class, at highway speeds (55MPH) drive with the AC on, otherwise the drag is too great"
Yummy, unsubstantiated "facts". Bad Science. Grrr. I could prove it wrong, make a strong argument and all that, but you know, class was ending and what's the point of arguing a tangental point? Its one case of bad science and its better to let it slide. If only I knew what was ahead.
After using my uncomfortable 2 hour break to talk about some shortwave radio stuff with a friend and getting around to watching the first episode of Nerd TV (PBS's first TV show to be solely distributed online) I proceeded to my Art Appreciation class. Something about my art teacher - he loves the movie "What the bleep do we know", which is the ultimate example of bad science. For those with a decent understanding of physics, or science for that matter, this so called documentary is to quantum mechanics, neurochemistry, and psychology as "Intelligent Design" is to Biology (read its a half baked attempt to piece together bits of real science to prove your point, in both cases to tie together scientific theory with theological beliefs)
We watched it today
Tackling it as a documentary, viewers have no idea who the (bleep) they're listening to. People portrayed as experts could be anybody, MIT graduates with half a dozen PH.Ds, garbage men stuffed into suits, cult leaders calming to channel 35,000 year old warrior spirits from Atlantis. Anybody, and because most people don't know any better they'll assume these people are qualified to talk about the things they're saying. The few people who actually seem to make sense are edited awkwardly, as in mid sentence. It looks and sounds like the AV equivalent to Photoshop forgeries.
They mess up several scientific principles, at least from what I gathered, and then discredit the viewers (or potential critics) opinions because "we need to open our minds"
Some of the examples are preposterous, such as the meditation and crime rates. They claim meditation lowered the crime rate of Washington DC, but that is un founded claim. My first reaction was along the lines of biased findings, where by looking to prove your point you find trends that might not exist, but a better way to debunk it would be by asking for a control group. I can just as easily and accurately say that my productivity today is higher than it was yesterday. Well how can we compare that. In terms of blogging I'm more productive by writing this post, which is longer and more tought out than yesterdays. However yesterday I cooked a meal, caught up on several hours of audio, spent more time in class, and discussed the Bush speech with several people. Without an accurate measure of productivity, and a baseline to measure from, I can claim the world and still manipulate it to be true (like the movie does)
Another movie example is water crystals, my teacher is particularly interested in this segment, because, well I don't know why. In the clip from the film, we are shown three or four pictures of water. A "control" sample, a sample than has been blessed, a sample where kind words were written on the bottle, and sample where derogatory terms were written on the bottle. We see water crystals ( they don't care to explain the water was frozen) as photographed though a microscope. We see pretty shapes of shaved ice, ie Snow. What does every school kid know about water crystals no two are the same (not entirely true, but for this purpose it is) So the viewer is being told than kind words and blessings produce a smoother shaped snowflake, and most will buy it. Some of us with higher IQs will realize that yes, we're looking at snow, and yes the crystals are different, but 1) was it a double blind study? 2) was it subjected to peer review? 3) if 1 or 2 was rue, were the results duplicated, if not can they be? The answers, from doing a little research are 1) no 2) no, and 3) no, it would be impossible to duplicate the efforts.
Wikipedia has a great write up on What the bleep do we know, as well as some of the studies and sources the movie uses, like the water crystals Plenty more can be found with decent google searches
You can find those things yourself. Frankly I'm too tired to deal with any more bad science, and the (bleep) idiots who need to get a (bleep) clue.
I can't wait until Monday. I'm going to have a handful of papers to throw at this one. Math might not have been worth the fight, but this one is, he's already teaching the class at too low a level (one homework assignment involves crayons) and that needs to change.
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