Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Pseudoscience informing public policy

Much of what passes for science is in fact pseudoscience. As the editor of the Lancet said:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”.

This is a serious problem. Whole areas of “science” are currently little more than pseudoscience. Computer model outcomes are presented as though they are evidence about the world. Epidemiological studies are touted as proving X or Y when even a cursory reading of the actual research shows that no causal agent has been identified. Social science is filled with political activists who merely dress up their biases and prejudices in impenetrable jargon to hide its vacuity. None of this would matter very much if it all stayed within the ivory tower of academia. Unfortunately, all too often, such pseudoscience is used to inform public policy. This can be seen, not just in the current panic around a virus, but in such areas as global warming.

The use of pseudoscience to inform public policy inevitably results in policies that cause serious harm. An obvious defence against such harm would be a scientifically literate political elite. Unfortunately that is exactly what we do not have. The politically successful have virtually all been educated to hold the “correct” opinions rather than to understand the scientific method. This was laughably illustrated recently by Dawn Butler (then the Shadow Equalities Minister) when she asserted that 99% of giraffes are gay (meaning homosexual). She said this to exhibit her solidarity with the trans activists. As long as holding the right opinion is considered to be more important than anything else, we will have nothing but public policies that do more harm than good.

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