Mainstream Factual Science

If this article does not make you feel conflicted, I haven’t done my job or you haven’t read the whole article. I have a personal problem with how people I meet apply bias to their findings. In contrast, I try to stay out of discussions where I have no factual information to back myself up on and publicly acknowledge times when I’ve made an assumption and am wrong (ask my co-worker Jennifer about my initial “gut feel” on gender roles in PPC managers.) I mold my belief system based on the best information at hand and this article is intended to inspire self reflection. Failing facts, I back up on a generally pragmatic belief system. This article attempts to confront blind belief systems. If you get to the end of this article without being pissed off, bravo.

Pasteurization: Invented in 1862, has been law in Canada since early 1900’s. You’re free to drink unpasteurized milk yourself, just don’t distribute or sell it to other people, since we’ve known for about 150 years that it’s not a good idea and can make you sick. That’s a pretty “live and let live” rule. Yet, even 149 years after Louis Pasteur figured out that heating up milk helped kill off a lot of the harmful bacteria, we still have a few outliers saying that it’s more natural/organic/whatever. Michael Schmidt’s science is 150 years out of date, but at least he’s just one guy. The neat/terrifying thing about the internet is that information is available for anyone who seeks it. So if you think you’re smarter than scientists from 1862, you can seek out information on the web from other crackpots who think that pasteurization is a bad thing. Confirmation bias is a dangerous thing andpeople like to be told what they already believe.

Global Warming: This ones’ particularly nefarious, because war is openly being waged by oil interests against this science. I’m no conspiracy nut, take a look at the language used by “skeptics“: “..temperatures have gone up and down for millennia, and that it’s not worth putting the U.S. economy at risk based on “science that is still not settled.” (source)Seems like it makes sense, right? It does until you realize that the “science not being settled” part is almost entirely oil interest backed studies and holding groups. ExxonMobil,  Concern is also widely different by country (source) Locally, we’ve got the Friends of Science doing our climate change denying (also funded by a local oil company) I’m not willing to put more effort into this segment because it’s fairly cut and dried. Too bad the public doesn’t believe so. 48% of Americans believe that global warming is exaggerated. That’s sharply up from 2006, when it was 30%. That 60% increase in belief tells me that climate skeptic shills have earned their pay.

Evolution of species: Fully written about by Darwin in 1859: Canada fits somewhere between the US and Europe, with 59% believing in evolution. US: 49%, Europe: >80%. Quebec matches up very well with Europe on this topic. Where do you fit in?

Another part of the problem is that scientific articles are difficult to read, and even “science journalists” screw things up on a regular basis. Take this article on the effectiveness of homeopathy for example. You’ve got to dig in a bit before you get to “the effects seen in placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy are compatible with the placebo hypothesis.” That’s a lot of digging to get “this is bullshit!” Think about that for a second; this treatment is a complete sham and there’s absolutely no scientific theory giving credibility that it’s going to work. Yet here we have some papers where the authors gave it a shot and gave the possibility that it would work or wouldn’t equal merit. That’s what makes science great, yet difficult to read on the couch. They need to be exact in their language, so “shit didn’t work” won’t cut it. If you take a look at acupuncture and other alternative medicines, you’ll find more dedicated scientists who have tested effectiveness on anything from pain to fertility. That’s a lot of credibility given to some treatments that have not proven anything.

What actually happens in our brains when we see science that contradicts our beliefs? Most discount it, despite the credibility of the source. You get that? Your brain WILL screw with you to make your universe fit your beliefs. 34% of conservative republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim, evidence be damned.

So far, a liberal may find theselves nodding in agreement with everything. I’d be in derelict of the spirit of this article if I didn’t selectively find a few liberal strongpoints to pick apart, because it’d too easy for a typical reader of my blog to just write off conservatives as stupid and for this effect to be solely conservative. This is incredibly difficult because many conservative viewpoints are clearly scientifically disprovable. There is a totally valid argument that there’s a conservative war on science going on right now. Just to give this article a tiny bit of extra credibility: I consider myself fiscally and in some ways, morally conservative, yet this article demolishes a lot of viewpoints from a conservative side. After knocking out the clear scientific winners vs losers, a lot of the arguments I was left with came up on moral viewpoints from either side, where anyone can sit on any side and not be provably wrong. To give it my best shot in any case, I compiled a list of facts that should hit most anyone that might read this post.

  • 37% of Americans believe in haunted houses but between 18 and 29 it’s 56% of people. So much for young people being smart and scientific.
  • 32% of people believe in ghosts (Who does that missing 5% believe is haunting the houses anyways?)
  • Without measuring the heck out of your social programs, you could be doing worse than nothing or 2-3X better than nothing. To be fair, “doing nothing” was fairly high performance as-is.
  • Are religious people better than non-religious people? Well, 91% of people belonging to a religion donate money to charity compared to 66% who are not religious. (25% more likely)
  • Religious people are also much more likely to donate time to a cause than non-religious people.
  • Profiling is unfair, but works.
Now, despite what I said up top, I don’t write articles just to piss people off. I consider rhetoric and pot stirring for the sake of pot stirring to be disingenuous. I also consider this matter to be one of life and death. As humans, we’ve got tons of genetic oddities that don’t work for us in a modern world. We believe in circumstantial evidence and our aunt’s miraculous cure is as good as a scientific journal. None of us are free from this type of thinking, not even our most innovative like Steve Jobs, who skipped conventional scientific medicine for alternative medicine during a crucial period in his illness. Let me state that again: the most innovative, focused minds of the 2000’s died early because he wanted to believe in herbal medicine, acupuncture, bowel cleansings, diet, and psychics than modern surgery. This is an intelligent man who was fooled by convincing online stories of successful battles against pancreatic cancer using alternative medicines. This is a man who was correct about premium computing offerings, personal music players, modernized cell phones, and tablet computing. If Steve Fucking Jobs was wrong about something as cut and dried as early treatment of pancreatic cancer, what have we as a species been wrong about?
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