Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

I came across this article recently that helps us all pick out when someone is trying to sell us bogus science.

On a side note, first thing i generally do when reading an article i like or dislike, is to learn who the authors are. A simple google(Robert L. Park) helped that immensely. (See, those search engines are useful for finding out lotsa things)...

I figured, OK, i liked the points he raised. These are definitely valid arguments.
Lets see if i can find any local examples i have experienced myself.
I am not going to use his definitions here, just his 7 points which i will elaborate on.

For his full article, please go to : http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i21/21b02001.htm

1) The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media
What this means is, taking a shortcut to publicity.

No need the reviews by fellow scientists, just pushing your products to folks that have no idea how it works.

I've seen this with recent Enzyme practitioners in Penang. Enzyme is a product being promoted to clean everything from the kitchen, your gut, and the environment.(I will have a write up specifically on Enzyme soon, as it deserves a post of its own)

Bottom line: it was being promoted by the Penang state government under Lim Guan Eng, by releasing lots of it into our rivers as an "environmental" act. I have written to them on this, but seen no reply yet.

How much me and my buddies flinched when we saw the people we voted into office come out and support something they do not even understand. Heck, from my emails with the practitioners of Enzyme, even they do not understand it themselves, yet they promote it fervently.

I even had to put a stop to them running a workshop in the company i work in. Its an MNC by the way, and the only justification the folks(practitioners) in my company were using to back up their workshop was that it "was practiced even by the state government"... see what can happen when you put support to a product outside of your field of expertise?

When we do not understand something, yet promote it sometimes to the extent of getting organizations involved, we end up giving the illusion that the organizations are then in support of those products.

2)The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work
Fuel Savers! Ever hear of those? Remember our last round of petrol price hikes? all the way up to RM2.70?

Like mushrooms did the fuel savers pop up. Ever ask a salesman "why aren't these available on standard cars?"...heh :)

You will now learn of a conspiracy between all car manufacturers and the government to cause us all to use more fuel... and the only solution is the magnetic fuel savers or the tank tablets that miraculously make your car run better.

People forget however, that regardless whether the conspiracy exists or not, it does not change the fact that the product is a scam and has no science or even proof to back it up.
None that will stand up to real tests anyways.

Eventually even folks like me will be labeled by somebody as having monetary interests in defaming other people's competing products... What most fail to understand is that skeptics like myself are only in it because we want to reduce the number of idiots around. We gain by having a cleaner gene pool.

3)The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection
There is never any surefire proof. Always some imperfection to the tests that need to be explained.

Results always "seem" possible, but play just out of reach. Maybe claiming to having done lab tests, but the lab tests are in some obscure location. Or maybe they are waiting for a visit from their foreign enzymeologist(who apparently does not have a name) to visits Singapore to better explain their product. Information always just out of reach. This example again taken from Enzyme.

The intention, to me it seems, is that by the time you would normally be pushing for more information, you would already be sold on the product or already too deep in to back out.

4)Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal
This was covered in my previous post.

In fact, when talking to a Homeopathy Doctor from Tg Bungah who happens to be the main person behind the Enzyme drive in Penang. (By main person, i mean most people point her way when i ask questions)

The first and foremost thing offered to me was "plenty of testimonial data" of how great the product was.

As a note to point 2 & 3 against testimonial data in the previous post, let me just say that there have always been people with doubts to the product.
When i asked them why none had voiced their concerns,  their reply was simple. "let them be", "i dont want to look negative", "their choice lah", "cant be bothered".
Many just choose to walk away quietly than bust someone elses groove.

What happens is that woo practitioners ignore these people and their thoughts, but latch on to every positive result thrown their way. Its called Cherry-Picking in data diving terms.

No credibility. This is why testimonials are always a bad idea.

5) The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries
This one is a no-brainer.
There are FEWER reasons than this to re-evaluate a practice.
Things revered following age should be kept to the elder folks, wine, cheese and the odd trinket.

There usually is some mention of it or its origins being many years in its coming.  Quantum Pendants claim scalar energy popping up about a hundred years or so back. Homeopathy is in the few hundreds... in my opinion, if an idea has been about for even half a decade and remain unchallenged, it needs a good proper revisit.

The beauty about using science is that it is always open to review. Practices that begun years ago may always be re-evaluated with new methods, and amendments can be done to our knowledge of the subject. We learn.

6) The discoverer has worked in isolation
Well, i haven't personally encountered this one. Most of the time, the woo figures i get instead are the "Enzymeologist from Russia", "Specialist from Germany" or some other foreign dude that has been so busy pushing the envelope of science to its brink by themselves in some foreign land.

For some reason, they seldom have support or even notice from other scientists...
Must be bad BO or something.

7)The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation
This one is classic.

I once attended a QiGong class. A demonstration used to show the power of QiGong was for 4 people to lift a relatively large person with their finger and fist. Similar to this one, if you aren't sure what I'm talking about.

Then i saw it again, but this time at a Quantum pendant demo. Then again from a crystal bauble street demo... every time they used this trick to make the audience go "ooooo"... but each time i hear some new story about how it works. They keep plucking new theories out of their arses.

Here's another one... same concept ...find a trick that amazes people, then milk it for what its worth by saying its some new power or product and then sell it.

If you ever get the chance, just ask promoters if they dare perform these tests blindfolded, just tell them that you will be the one placing the pendant/crystal/whatever onto the test subject every time, but you will swap between a fake and a real one to see if they can repeat the tests without knowing if the real or fake item is there... Then take the time to enjoy the different excuses they use to back off from your challenge.

Oh, another thing. That first example's YouTube video also does not allow unmediated comments... another surefire sign of bogus science.

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Aside from all those mentioned above, there are of course other hints as well.
Experience to see thru these will come as long as you keep asking the right questions.

Here is to the tiny hope that my messy thoughts and typing eventually get to help someone out there.

-e-

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