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3 July, 2010

It's not about the people

In a comment on a Bad Science article on confirmation-bias in peoples' consideration of scientific research, 'MontanaWildhack' says:

Not being a sciency type, I think I tend to give too much credence to things that claim to be scientific. If it sounds sketchy to me, I try to find out more about the authors of the study, where the funding comes from, etc.
It is a major problem. If one isn't equipped to address the science itself (and I don't mean that as a criticism), it's natural to consider the credibility of the researcher instead. However, I'd argue that that isn't an appropriate, or even acceptable, response. Scientific research is about the methodology and the results, not about the researcher, nor the funder. 'Bad' people can conduct 'good' research, irrespective of their motivations. For that matter, 'good' people can conduct 'bad' research, too – 'appeal to authority' is a recognised logical error which applies in both potential situations.

One simply has to address the science itself and (and here's the contentious bit...) those unable to do so are disqualified from expressing an opinion – science isn't a democracy, and lay opinions are irrelevant. Whatever the media might claim in allegedly seeking 'balance', not everyone can play.

And "common sense" isn't adequate, either....


Obviously at some hyper level of postmodernist doubt you would have trouble with most propositions, but that a dispassionate enquiry using techniques to overcome bias is still teh best hope we've got.

Of course, in many cases it's interesting to find out about teh background of people making certain claims, especially ones with political consequences. But politics is not science.

Posted by looby at July 6, 2010 07:03 PM
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