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A Swede in Germany

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Nullius in verba / Follow-up: Who are the science deniers?

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Checking a detail about the Royal Society on infogalactic, I came across the RS motto, “Nullius in verba”, explained as:*

*Some change to formatting through copy-and-paste and/or for technical reasons. Reference indicators removed.

Nullius in verba (Latin for “on the word of no one” or “Take nobody’s word for it”) is the motto of the Royal Society. John Evelyn and other Royal Society fellows chose the motto soon after the founding of the Society. The current Royal Society website explains the motto thus:

It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

(I note especially “withstand the domination of authority”. Whether “by experiment” is the sole source of verification, even for scientists, is open to dispute, and it is certainly impractical for the layman; however, the general idea of own verification definitely holds, even be it in the weaker form of checking with independent sources for, say, a prospective voter listening to the claims of a political partisan.)

This is a scientific attitude—and the virtual opposite of what e.g. Fauci and various Leftist “Believe the science!” and “We are the party of science!” shitheads try to force upon the world, often while making claims unsupported or outright contradicted by science… I particularly re-iterate my observation that “Science says X!” is no more and no less credible than just “X!”, unless accompanied by actual proof that science indeed says X.

I ask again, Who are the science deniers?—and, again, the answer is “the Leftists”.

(Also see a few other texts on various related topics, including [1].)


Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 7:18 pm

Warranted skepticism in science / Follow-up: Who are the science deniers?

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Disclaimer: I wrote a near complete draft of the below two weeks ago, but left a few TODOs in, where I, today, am uncertain exactly what I intended. For reasons of time and the size of my backlog, I have mostly removed them without additional work. For the same reasons, I have not split the text into two, one dealing with the intended core topic and one with the unplanned side-topics around 7DSP (cf. below).

I have already written ([1]) about how accusations of e.g. “science denialism” are more appropriately directed at the Left than the non-Left. However, there is another aspect to the issue, where the non-Left, again, fares better, but which might be a source of much of the Leftist propaganda of alleged non-Leftist “science denialism”: warranted skepticism. This usually hand-in-hand with critical thinking and a wish to think for oneself/to form one’s own opinions. (All of which seem to be far rarer on the Left than on the non-Left.)

The simple truth is that even proper science performed by great minds according to all the rules of the scientific method often gets things wrong or finds something else than was expected. Even physics is inherently something fallible and incremental, which does not reveal absolute and unshakable truths after a five-minute experiment (or, for that matter, five minutes of math). That we now might appear to have a great many absolute and unshakable truths in physics is the result of hundreds of years of accumulated results and vetting of results. Even so, there are occasional discoveries, or even paradigm shifts, that show something to be faulty or just approximately correct.

But how much of science can be described as “proper science performed by great minds according to all the rules of the scientific method”? Very little. Most scientists are not great minds—good, maybe, but not great. Many, especially in the softer sciences, do not have a scientific mindset. Many are driven by secondary concerns, e.g. to publish enough for a good career, to further an ideological agenda, or to stay on the good side of a financier. The scientific method* might be more something developed and proposed by philosophers than scientists, and most good scientists are likely content with a scientific mindset—while bad scientists often do not have even that.

*Whether the scientific method is even that important on the level of the individual scientist might be disputed. It does become very important on the level of the field as a whole, however.

It is also quite common for scientists and/or scientific results to contradict* each other, especially as time goes by and especially where health is concerned. To take just one example, I have heard at least the following claims about alcohol** and health: No matter how much or what type of alcohol you drink, drinking less is better. Moderate amounts of any type of alcohol are beneficial. Moderate amounts of specifically wine are beneficial, but not of other types of alcohol. Moderate amounts of specifically red wine are beneficial, but not of other types of alcohol, including other wines.

*Not to be confused with pseudo-contradictions, e.g. the unexpected-but-not-contradictory claims that (a) coffee is good, (b) caffeine is bad. It might, for instance, be that some non-caffeine component of coffee is good for the human body and more than outweighs any negative effects of caffeine. (Whether either claim is true, I leave unstated, especially with an eye on issues like dosages and the risk of someone mistaking correlation for causation.)

**Strictly speaking, ethanol—that we should stay away from e.g. methanol is indisputable. However, the reporting (and e.g. the labels on wine and gin bottles) is always phrased in terms of “alcohol” and I will remain consistent with this.

Being skeptical of what is claimed by even physicists has some justification—being skeptical of what is claimed in the softer sciences is an outright virtue. This, however, is not “science denialism”—it is, on the contrary, a part of that scientific mindset. Those who blindly claim that “scientist X said Y; ergo, Y”, without own thought, without an awareness that scientist X might be wrong (or misunderstood/misreported), without finding out what other scientists have said on the topic, etc. are the ones being unscientific. Moreover, being skeptical of what journalists and politicians claim that scientists would claim is a virtual necessity to an even remotely scientific mind. Someone who is not, should not be allowed to vote.

I have already (e.g. in [1]) pointed to severe issues in the social sciences/“sciences” and in ideological pseudo-sciences like “gender studies”, around COVID, and (at least as far as journalists and politicians are concerned) environmental science. To this, an interesting recent read—“The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology” (7DSP) by Chris Chambers. This book gives a damning analysis of many issues in psychology, including various forms of publication bias* and failure to perform adequate replication studies (as well as examples of an absurd attitude towards replication studies among some researchers). It is virtually impossible to take modern psychology seriously in light of 7DSP.**

*Including secondary problems like “p-hacking”. All in all, this publication bias goes a long way to explain the infamous “replication crisis”.

**Assuming that it is factually correct. The scientifically minded are, of course, open to the possibility that it gives a misleading picture. However, the contents match what I have heard and seen, if in smaller doses, from other sources.

Excursion on retractions:
(Executive summary: Bad science is legitimate grounds for retraction, merely being wrong is not.)

7DSP brings up the topic of retractions, in particular a reluctance to retract papers within the psychology community. Here the author, in my opinion, severely overshoots the target by suggesting that already published papers should be retracted merely because replication attempts fail. This brings me to a topic that has long annoyed me—the flawed idea that (experimental*) papers should be retracted willy-nilly. Now, if the authors of a paper find out, post-publication, that they have made such a severe mistake that the paper is invalidated, then a retraction is warranted.** Ditto, if the authors know before publication and still go ahead (in which case we usually enter the area of academic fraud).

*When it comes to e.g. math papers the situation might often be different. If a proof contains a previously undetected error of logic, e.g., then the entire paper might collapse or only be worthwhile in an amended form. If there are no such errors of logic, arithmetic, algebra, whatnot, on the other hand, the results of the paper will almost certainly be true. (While an experimental paper can do everything right and still be wrong.)

**Say, in a medical double-blind study, that an inadvertent unblinding took place or that data for the test and control groups were switched.

However, the idea that a properly written paper about a properly performed experiment/study/whatnot should be retracted merely because it later proves not to describe reality* is ludicrous. A good paper in the experimental sciences does not** proclaim what the truth of reality is—it states that “we did this and we did that, and the result was the following”. This will continue to hold true, even if there are a hundred failed replications—and there is no point in a retraction. Indeed, retracting can have negative consequences down the line, e.g. in that a later meta-study chooses not to include the retracted-for-a-spurious-reason paper, which leads to a weakening of the meta-study.

*Which can happen e.g. for statistical reasons, say, in that a survey was given to a random sample and that this random sample happened to have an unfortunate composition, which caused the answers to the survey to be skewed relative a population wide survey.

**If the paper fails here, there are bigger things to worry about than the details of what went wrong.

Worse yet are retractions for entirely spurious reasons, say that a particular paper causes politically or ideologically motivated protests or (when the retractor is a journal) that one of the authors later engages in other research that causes politically or ideologically motivated protests.

Now, if a researcher says “My new pill can cure cancer!”* and this turns out to be incorrect, this claim should be retracted. Generally, explicit claims (going beyond data), explicit advice, endorsements,** and the like can and should be retracted when later experiences prove them wrong—but not papers.

*As opposed to “I performed a trial as described in my paper X and found the results presented there”. (That “My new pill can cure cancer!” has no place in the paper, it self, even should the results point in that direction, is a given.)

**Note that the publication of a paper in a journal does not constitute an endorsement by the journal in a sense involving the correctness or infallibility of the paper. The true implied claim is typically some combination of “we believe that you will want to read this” and “we have performed the usual vetting, peer-review, etc.”, which is not an extent of endorsement that is sensible to retract just because of e.g. a later replication problem. In fact, off the top of my head, I would argue that there are only three scenarios in which a journal can legitimately retract, namely when (a) the authors have already retracted the paper for a valid reason, (b) there is significant proof that the authors should have retracted but refused to do so, (c) the paper has been revealed to contain deliberate fraud. (The two latter often overlap.)

Excursion on 7DSP:
The book is generally worth reading; however, I caution that the author does not strike me as a great thinker and that the reader often needs to reevaluate the text with regard to what is left out, what other perspectives might apply, whether the reasoning holds, etc. For instance, at some point he poses a few ethical questions of the “is this OK or not OK” type, including e.g. removal of data points—but he fails to specify why the data points were removed, which is a central issue when judging their removal. (Did the data points go against the preferred hypothesis while otherwise being valid, or did they also have some notable problem that made them misleading in the evaluation of said hypothesis?)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 28, 2022 at 5:03 pm

Physicians who believe in Homeopathy (and how this resembles the Left)

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My last text dealt with human stupidity, and left me pondering, for the umpteenth time, the fact that even many highly educated (and often allegedly intelligent) people believe the oddest things. (See e.g. Minding the Campus for examples of how the U.S. college world is descending into an insane asylum run by the inmates, or how the same thing has happened in Sweden.)

One particularly odd special case is Homeopathy: If someone takes pseudo-scientific “gender studies” classes, sees no counter-weight, is fed a similar message by media*, and ends up being convinced of e.g. “Patriarchy”, this is not that remarkable. This especially as the average level of the “gender studies” students is not very high. But: how can it be that many physicians, with years of medical studies, internships, and own practice still often** believe in Homeopathy? This especially as the average level of medicine students tends to be quite high. Moreover, as very many laymen have learned that Homeopathy is quackery with less than half-an-hour of research?*** This is as would someone with a degree in astronomy believe in astrology.

*I was indoctrinated into a lot of odd ideas in my own, Swedish, youth, even just through media and school. (Cf. excursion.)

**For instance, according to Germany Wikipedia, Germany had 6712 physicians with a specialist (“Facharzt”) education in Homeopathy as of 2009. Not all of them are necessarily believers, but the number is still depressingly large.

***Which is not to say that this is a reliable amount of time in general. Often, so short a research would amount to too little, but Homeopathy has so glaringly obvious problems that it forms a special case. Indeed, half-a-minute (!) of research might often be enough.

I tried to look into the issue in Germany, e.g. to find an explanation from an apostate how belief survived and eventually disappeared. I found an excellent example in Natalie Grams, who became a physician, gained an additional doctorate*, and practiced Homeopathy until she tried to write a book in its defense—and found out that it was all humbug, around ten years after receiving her license to practice medicine (“Approbation”). She ended up writing a book attacking Homeopathy …

*Note that a Germany physician, unlike a U.S. one, is not awarded a pseudo-doctorate for having completed med school. The German medical doctorates are earned separately, as an additional qualification, and they are, at least nominally, real research doctorates. (There is some concern that they fall well short of the “Ph.D. level” in practice, but it is still a step up from the U.S. M.D.) Also see a comparison of a J.D. with my own education.

Below, I will quote, translate, and comment portions of a very long German article, which discusses her experiences in detail. Those familiar with e.g. the situation at U.S. colleges, in the Feminist and PC movements, etc., will recognize quite a few issues:*

*Note that some formatting might have been lost or changed due to copy-and-paste or technical issues. Further note that I have not necessarily tried to translate “idiomatically correct” or straighten out the often very poor “journalist German”, and that there might some inaccuracies in terminology on my behalf.

[Impfgegner und Anthroposophen] würden sich bisweilen nicht mit verbalen Anfeindungen begnügen, sondern auch vor körperlicher Bedrohung nicht zurückschrecken. Zu manchen ihrer Vorträge oder Buchpräsentationen kommt Grams daher lieber mit Begleitschutz. […] Beschimpfungen, Beleidigungen und Hassbotschaften ist sie längst ebenso gewöhnt wie plumpe Interventionsversuche. Kurz vor Beginn der Corona-Krise legten sich Widersacher ins Zeug, um einen Vortrag in einer Apothekerkammer zu verhindern.

[Anti-vaxxers and Anthroposophen] would occasionally not be satisfied with verbal hostility, but resort to threats of violence. To some of her lectures and book presentations, Grams prefers to bring body-guards. […] She is as used to verbal abuse, insults, and hate messages as to attempts to intervene [against her, presumably]. Shortly before the beginning of the Corona crisis, her opponents tried to prevent a lecture in an Apothekerkammer*.

*Literately, roughly “pharmacists chamber”, which might match some uses of “chamber” (e.g. “chamber of commerce”) reasonably. Note that pharmacies are a major part of the Homeopathy problem in Germany, often selling these quackery products in preference of real medicine and without a word mentioning their uselessness. Cf. portions of an older text.

Similar behavior appears to be quite common in Leftist circles, especially in the PC and Feminist factions, and at U.S. colleges.

Die größte Sünde, die sie in den Augen ihrer Gegner begangen hat, ist aber gewiss der Verrat: Natalie Grams hat die Seiten gewechselt. […] Hier exponiert sich nicht jemand aus der fernen Welt der notorischen Skeptiker, unverbesserlichen Zweifler und stur Wissenschaftshörigen, sondern eine Person aus der eigenen Mitte mit langjähriger profunder Innensicht, die mangelnde Plausibilität, Kollision mit Naturgesetzen, innere Widersprüche und unzulässige Heilsversprechen des Glaubenssystems Homöopathie aufzeigt.

The greatest sin, that she committed in they eyes of the opponents, was surely the treason: Natalie Grams changed sides. […] Here someone exposes herself, who does not belong to the distant world of the notorious skeptics, incorrigible doubters, and stubbornly scientific, but is a person from the own circles with a long and profound internal view, who shows the lack of plausibility, the collision with natural laws, internal contradictions, and unallowed promises of cures* of the belief system Homeopathy.

*The German word (“Heilsversprechen”) might point to a hyperbolic (religious) “salvation” instead of “cure”. I am uncertain of the nuances. (Again, poor “journalist German” …)

As with the PC (etc.) movement, no-one is worse than the traitor, someone who once had the “correct” opinion and then left for the other camp. In many cases, just being someone who “should” support the one camp is enough to cause immense ire, when failing to do so. (As with women who speak up against Feminism and are label “gender traitors” or, indeed, the “class traitors” of old.)

Freunde wandten sich ab, Weggefährten wurden zu Kontrahenten. Es sei vergleichbar mit dem Ausstieg aus einer Sekte.

Translation: Friends turned away from her, fellow travelers became opponents. It was like leaving a sect.

Again, the same. I have heard repeated tellings of former good Leftists who literally lost friends over a change of heart. Indeed, when the Swedish Party SD first gained traction, there were campaigns to dump all Facebook “friends” who had had the audacity to vote for them. (This was more than ten years ago, so I am low on details and references, but a much older text might be of interest.

[Homöopathie schien sie von mysteriösen Nachfolgen eines Autounfalls zu retten.] Grams reagierte wie viele Menschen, die derartige Erfahrungen machen: Auf Ereignis A (eine homöopathische Behandlung) folgt Ereignis B (die Beschwerdefreiheit), also muss A die Ursache für B sein. Sie hinterfragte das keine Sekunde. […] “Es war meine homöopathische Erweckung.”

[Homeopathy appeared to safe her from mysterious consequences of a car accident.] Grams reacted like many other humans, who have made such experiences: Event A (a Homeopathic treatment) followed event B (disappearing symptoms); ergo, A must be the cause of B. She did not question this for even a second. […] “It was my Homeopathic awakening.”

This is mostly unrelated to PC issues and more of interest for her personal development. However, the mentioned “post hoc; ergo, propter hoc” thinking is a common problem, including in Leftists and PC contexts, as is the more general failure to separate causality and correlation, as with e.g. the observation that (on average) working-class parents have less academically successful children and the conclusion that this must be due to the lesser amount of money or lesser SES of the parents.

Sie begann eine Zusatzausbildung in Homöopathie und Traditioneller Chinesischer Medizin. […] Da wie dort war es erforderlich, große Stoffmengen auswendig zu lernen, viel Zeit für eine differenzierte Betrachtung blieb nicht. Genau wie ihre Kommilitonen kam sie auch gar nicht auf die Idee, eine solche für angebracht zu halten: Man war unter Gleichgesinnten, […] Es war ein Leben in einer Blase.

She began additional* studies in Homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. […] Here as well as there,** it was necessary to learn large amounts of material by heart, not much time was left for a differentiated view[ing?]. Just like her fellow students, she did not even contemplate, that this was necessary: They were among fellow believers, […] It was a life in a bubble.***

*In addition to her regular medicine studies.

**Presumably, referring to her regular studies and the additional studies. The formulation is idiotic in German too.

***Note the English expression “echo chamber”.

My main take-away is that medical* education might be flawed through focusing too much on knowledge and too little on understanding and thinking. However, both the lack of willingness to question (for whatever reason) and the “bubble” appear to match large portions of the social sciences, including “gender studies”, well.

*This, obviously, is a criticism that I have made against large portions of the education field in general, and is likely not specific to medicine. However, medical education does have a reputation of being based more on very hard work than on very high IQ.

Grams las [ein Anti-Homöopathie-Buch] und war wütend. Hier verhöhnten offenkundig Ahnungslose eine bewährte Therapie, auf die viele Menschen schworen, wie jeder Anwender und Scharen von begeisterten Patienten bestätigen konnten, zürnte Grams. [She wanted to write her own book in defense of Homeopathy.]

Gram read [an anti-Homeopathy book] and was furious. Here an obvious ignorant spotted a proven therapy, that many humans swore on, that ever user and hordes of enthusiastic patients could confirm,* vexed** Grams. [She wanted to write her own book in defense of Homeopathy.]

*Equally bad in German, The intent is likely that they could confirm how well it worked.

**The German original uses a “zürnen” (“to grow angry” or “to grow angry at”) in a similar non-standard manner. The intent is likely that she expressed the opinion preceding the “vexed” while being vexed.

This is broadly just an illustration of the prior quote, but it catches the mood in Leftist circles well: we have the truth and those who disagree are unenlightened buffoons, who should shut the fuck up until they have taken “gender studies 101”. (Also see excursion below.)

Dafür allerdings musste sie recherchieren. Sie war gezwungen, nach Belegen für die Wirksamkeit von Homöopathie zu suchen, […] Das Ergebnis war niederschmetternd. Grams stellte fest: Verdammt, die Kritiker haben recht. […] “In dem Moment ist meine Welt implodiert.”

But to do this, she needed to research [the topic]. She needed to search for proof of the effectiveness of Homeopathy, […] The result was devastating. Grams found: Damn, the critics have it right. […] “In that moment, my world imploded.”

And so it is with e.g. Feminism: actually look at the facts with an open and critical mind and the Feminist world-view proves a fantasy or nightmare. (Cf. e.g. 77 cents on the dollar, rape statistics, or any number of Woozles.) But: all too few are willing to do that …

[…] dass es einer seltsamen Beweislastumkehr gleichkommt, wenn gefordert wird, die etablierte Medizin müsse eben so lange forschen, bis sie auf Belege stoße, die den Homöopathen recht gäben; dass es ein seltsamer Sonderstatus der Homöopathie ist, wenn sie ihre Methode trotz seit 200 Jahren ausständiger Belege am Patienten anwendet, während alle anderen Sparten der Medizin zuerst Wirksamkeitsbeweise brauchen und dann erst therapieren dürfen; […]

[…] that it is an odd reversal of the burden of proof, when established medicine is required to research, until it finds proof that the Homeopaths are right; that it brings an odd special status to Homeopathy, wenn it uses it methods on patients, despite 200 years of undelivered proofs, while all other branches of medicine have to give proof of effectivity first and treat later.

The same problem is very common with “gender studies”, Feminism, Leftist propaganda. The rules are different for the Left, the non-Left must prove* its points while the Left is to be believed, and the Left has tolkningsföreträde on any issue.

*And any proof given is likely to be discounted for/in an unscientific or intellectually dishonest reason/manner, e.g. an unfounded accusation of sexism/racism, ridicule, or outright censorship.

Sie schrieb ihr Buch, […] Wie sie selbst, dachte Grams, müssten doch auch all ihre Kollegen daran interessiert sein, Argumente auszutauschen und das wissenschaftliche Fundament ihres therapeutischen Konzepts zu erörtern. Sie waren es nicht. Sie erntete Bestürzung, Ablehnung und offene Feindseligkeit. Sie hatte sich der Ketzerei schuldig gemacht.

She wrote her book, […] Just like she, thought Grams, her colleagues must be interested in an exchange of arguments and a discussion of the scientific foundations of the therapeutic concept. They were not. She reaped chock, rejection, and open hostility. She had spoken heresy.

Her expectation is a little surprising, as she had shown a similar reluctance herself, before her research, but the observations are well in line with the PC crowd: Their “truth” is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–and must not be questioned.

Excursion on who is the unenlightened:
A very annoying problem, mentioned repeatedly, with the Left (and, apparently, Homeopaths) is that dissent is usually viewed as “You are an unenlightened buffoon. Once you have seen the light, you will also see that I am right.”, while the truth is usually the opposite. I, e.g., grow up with many Feminist prejudices that I only later learned were unfounded—and the more that I have seen of statistics, reasoning, Feminist debate methods, male and female behavior, etc., the more I have realized how flawed their world-view usually is. (The same applies to e.g. the “Old Left”, but I saw through it a lot earlier.)

For instance, the first major doubt came at some point in my teens: I read about a behavioral study in a news-paper, where male and female pedestrians had been placed at zebra crossings and the number of male and female drivers who did and did not halt had been counted. This seemed like a no-brainer: The kind and considerate women would tend to halt, the egoistic men would tend to drive, and when a “mere woman” waited at the crossing, men would be less likely to halt than for other men. The results were the exact opposite: Men halted more often than women, the constellation with the highest proportion of haltings was male driver/female pedestrian, and the one with the lowest proportion was female driver/female pedestrian. When I read this, I had a big “what the fuck” moment, and wondered if there had been some error somewhere. Today, based on another thirty (give or take) years of experiences with men and women, I would not have been the least surprised.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 23, 2020 at 12:59 am