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"The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullsh*t" - article on manipulation/biases in science

Kyla

ᴀɴɴɪᴇ ɢꜱᴀᴍᴩᴇʟ
Messages
721
Location
Canada
http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/2016/02/16/the-unbearable-asymmetry-of-bullshit/

Wow, this article is spot on.

I am not sure what field the author had in mind, but I think you will find it applies astonishingly well to the methods of certain parties in ME & CFS research

I think I will refer to Sir W. as "Lord Voldemort" from now on.

Here is an excerpt:
A similar phenomenon can play out in debates in medicine. In the case of Lord Voldemort, the trick is to unleash so many fallacies, misrepresentations of evidence, and other misleading or erroneous statements — at such a pace, and with such little regard for the norms of careful scholarship and/or charitable academic discourse — that your opponents, who do, perhaps, feel bound by such norms, and who have better things to do with their time than to write rebuttals to each of your papers, face a dilemma. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Ignore you, and you win by default. Engage you, and you win like the pig in the proverb who enjoys hanging out in the mud.
 

sarah darwins

Senior Member
Messages
2,508
Location
Cornwall, UK
In this story, Lord Voldemort is a prolific proponent of a certain controversial medical procedure, call it X, which many have argued is both risky and unethical. It is unclear whether Lord Voldemort has a financial stake in X, or some other potential conflict of interest. But in any event he is free to press his own opinion. The problem is that Lord Voldemort doesn’t play fair. In fact, he is so intent on defending this hypothetical intervention that he will stop at nothing to flood the literature with arguments and data that appear to weigh decisively in its favor.

Nope. Still can't think who that could apply to ...

:whistle:
 

CFS_for_19_years

Hoarder of biscuits
Messages
2,396
Location
USA
Conclusion

As the programmer Alberto Brandolini is reputed to have said: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” This is the unbearable asymmetry of bullshit I mentioned in my title, and it poses a serious problem for research integrity. Developing a strategy for overcoming it, I suggest, should be a top priority for publication ethics.

Makes sense to me.
 

JohnCB

Immoderate
Messages
351
Location
England
I don't know if it's harder to believe that this isn't White, or that there are other people that bad.
Some things are hard to believe, but just think about all the extraordinary stuff that Lord Voldemort and the Partisan Alliance believe. What you are being asked to believe is nothing in comparison to the stuff the PACE alliance think up before breakfast. Which one is actually Lord V. or do they take in in turns to wear the hat. Brian Earp is clear that he is not talking about a single individual and I think he means he is not talking about a single team either. There are quite a few such people around sadly and you see the tactics and controversial ethics employed in other fields too. It's depressing, isn't it.
 
Messages
3,263
Some things are hard to believe, but just think about all the extraordinary stuff that Lord Voldemort and the Partisan Alliance believe. What you are being asked to believe is nothing in comparison to the stuff the PACE alliance think up before breakfast. Which one is actually Lord V. or do they take in in turns to wear the hat. Brian Earp is clear that he is not talking about a single individual and I think he means he is not talking about a single team either. There are quite a few such people around sadly and you see the tactics and controversial ethics employed in other fields too. It's depressing, isn't it.
Yes it is. You start by really believing in science. It seems like a complete set of rules that allows evidence to triumph over speculation. Then the first time you see an example of the kind of stuff Earp is talking about, the gloss just goes off it, doesn't it?

Probably every person here on this forum has had this very same feeling, the first time they saw how "science" could be used to perpetuate an incorrect and inappropriate model of our illness and its treatment.

We know this happens in our illness - because we can see it - but the scary thing is that its probably happening everywhere else too, but we just can't see it there.
 
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2,087
Did you read the comments by Mike Case and kcrca ? Would love if there was a way of exposing the PACE cheerleaders.
 

A.B.

Senior Member
Messages
3,780
We know this happens in our illness - because we can see it - but the scary thing is that its probably happening everywhere else too, but we just can't see it there.

It seems more and more apparent that the problem with science, at least in this area, isn't merely poor methodology. It's that science here is more akin to advertising, and it's driven by politics and greed. Promotion of CBT/GET is a business, and means to protect financial interests of interest groups.

Criticizing methodology doesn't lead to improvement of the situation because the poor methodology is the way these people prove what they want to prove.

Patient welfare is irrelevant, but these people will say they deeply care about patients as part of the game they're playing.

The superficial appearance that all is well is, disturbingly, enough to keep this dysfunctional system from being dismantled by an angry mob.
 

alex3619

Senior Member
Messages
13,810
Location
Logan, Queensland, Australia
Probably every person here on this forum has had this very same feeling, the first time they saw how "science" could be used to perpetuate an incorrect and inappropriate model of our illness and its treatment.
Its not just science either. Much of economics is unproven theory, and few are looking to find contrary evidence. Its a confidence game, where theory is taught to new economists as fact. Many wake up to this, but they are in the minority.

Even in economics, evidence should trump theory.
 

Art Vandelay

Senior Member
Messages
470
Location
Australia
Its not just science either. Much of economics is unproven theory, and few are looking to find contrary evidence. Its a confidence game, where theory is taught to new economists as fact. Many wake up to this, but they are in the minority.

Even in economics, evidence should trump theory.

A lot of that is due to the fact that most economists (as, indeed, do most people) suffer from hubris. Macroeconomists in particular are way too over-confident in the reliability of their theories and models and are guilty of scientific pretensions.

Yet, in my economics degree, we were taught the limitations of the theory and a few of my lecturers strongly put it to us that economics was an art rather than a hard science but I doubt much of this resonated with many students. (If you're interested in these sorts of philosophical questions, I enjoy Deirdre McCloskey's writings, particularly The Rhetoric of Economics.)

On the subject of economics and hubris, one of my favourite quotes:

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

F.A. Hayek​
 
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alex3619

Senior Member
Messages
13,810
Location
Logan, Queensland, Australia
Yet, in my economics degree, we were taught the limitations of the theory
Yes, there are a good percentage of economists, and some who lecture, who are aware of the pitfalls. Yet they are in the distinct minority.

Yet there are similarities with medicine. Doctors have long held authority by being gatekeepers to healing. Yet that is being severely eroded, and a hundred years from now we might have almost no doctors left in the world. Their power and authority is being eroded. Part of that is they have become too complaisant, and lack organization at a political level. There are AI systems that diagnose better. Robots (that are being constantly improved) do surgery. Central and insurance authorities use managerial methods and ideas to limit doctor options. Nurse practitioners are only the beginning of the issues with doctor replacement. Doctor training is also terribly inadequate. Why does Gigerenzer keep finding, repeatedly, that the vast majority of doctors lack the capacity to understand even basic statistics in scientific papers?

Economics is different in that the power and authority typically rests with those who have power and money via other means ... government, large banks, and so on. Yet its that power and authority that supports economics. Its a bit like Zombie Science, and I have called it Zombie Economics before. It can be changed, it can be improved, but without wide engagement from economists its spiraling down to a gurgly grave.

Some of this is economic ideology gone bad too. Economic rationalism, Thatcherism, Reagonism, all push for efficiency. On a short term case by case basis this is good. One doesn't want to waste money. On a strategic long term level its a disaster unfolding. We are crafting efficiency at the expense of robustness. I expect future global economic crashes will show a trend to worse and worse outcomes. One really bad one and the US will default on its debts, and things will crash even further.

Doctors also need to engage with the wider problems.

There needs to be better engagement with science, and better governance measures, if economics and medicine are to become what we need them to be. Psychiatry is in even worse shape than most of medicine. They need to decide what parts of psychiatry have a scientific basis, and what parts are babble. Until they do that they will continue to lose power and respect. Though of note, we see that the engagement in politics and public relations, not sound science, is what props up the psychobabble involved in ME, and this probably extends to other areas of psychiatry.
 

TiredSam

The wise nematode hibernates
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2,677
Location
Germany
Its a bit like Zombie Science, and I have called it Zombie Economics before.
BBC Radio 4's More or Less uses the phrase "Zombie statistic" for an urban-myth type statistic that although wrong, is commonly accepted and reappears in the uncritical media every few years, refusing to die. The do a nice sound effect when they mention one.