Is it my Duty to be Skeptical? Cassandra Spouting in the Gravel Piles on Breton.

The big Kentwood budget annual was held last eve, and I objected to our spending money on planning and zoning. I thought my comments were appropriate but alas! were not well received. My doubts on engineering other people’s lives are long standing and based in part on my being the victim of urban planning, but that’s grist for another blog.

I confronted the following this morning and it does indeed allow me to expound on my distaste for attempts at altering the human protoplasm. Governmental processes cannot be used to “improve people’s lives,”  since we have not uncovered a workable basis for doing so, city hall not withstanding. 

I commented on an M-live article (modified)

I have personally published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and on the other hand, resigned my Fellowship in the American College of Physicians (publisher of the Annals) in part because of a wildly irresponsible article that they published 35 years ago; nevertheless.

I was not at the symposium, but I know a physician who was. The symposium was excellent, and disturbing. It seems that the Annals, which is one of the 5 fairly reputable general medical mags, has hundreds of articles submitted for publication and sends most out for peer review. Many are graded as worthy by these “experts” in the fields which the article addresses.

These vetted articles are then sent out for statistical analysis, just routine number crunching to be sure that the research was relevant and valid. NINETY-SIX percent are rejected as being “underpowered” and/or as having other scientific irregularities. Only 4% get published in the Annals, but 80% of the rest show up in other journals, so the medical literature is overburdened by this flotsam.

These rejected articles often involve novel treatments (probably few are likely to cause harm, but….) on patients done as part of “research” but are so poorly designed that they will add not one Iota of insight into clinical problems.

One of the main points brought out last evening at the symposium was that there is a lot of junk science out there in the medical wasteland that includes useless and even possibly harmful research.

The reason why I obsess over this “scientific” blather is my increasing recognition that “there is a lot more known than is necessarily true.” If we in medicine can’t design good experiments and our “experts” can’t recognize garbage when they see it, how much confidence can we place in the copious outpourings of the “social sciences” like sociology, political science, economics, psychology, drug rehab, anthropology and the like?

The hard science of physics and chemistry have reproducible, boring experiments that allow for engineering of stuff like bridges, computers and gasoline.

The biological sciences are a step down from the hard sciences, the material is a lot harder to quantify and results are a lot less predictable. If we try to apply biology, as we do in medicine, the reproducible is much harder to achieve which is why physicians, especially recently trained ones get a thorough grounding in statistics and the scientific method. Nevertheless, a lot of nonsense and superstition creeps into medical practice.

You’ll notice that hard sciences are boring, and that the semi-hard ones like biology and medicine are often discussed. It seems to me that humans find nonsense to be much more entertaining and so lulled into belief.

The soft sciences as detailed above are part of the daily conversations on the streets and workplaces yet they rely on “surveys” “scholarly opinion” and armchair reasoning; no basis at all to command our allegiance. Yet we use these to structure our government programs, to make things happen, stuff that’s often tragic for a lot of people.

Sociologists told us that we needed a welfare program, and then seem puzzled that the African American family and more recently the white family disappears. Educational experts deemed more education as a cure for economic malaise, and then seem mystified when college grads and even Ph.Ds work at jobs where they wear paper hats. The geniuses at our Congress, Federal Reserve and Treasury “managed” the economy into the unpleasantness of 2008-10, and then plotted a sure-footed way out of that morass.  Political and Military scientists sent my young butt to the Central Highlands.

So, the point of that excellent symposium funded by the Devos family is not some blather about the internet, but rather that we should be skeptical about the whole “scientific” jape, especially when it’s our money and security that we give up.

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