Sunday, November 30, 2014

Science vs. the media vs. pseudoscience

Assume that you don't feel well and go to a doctor. After much study and experimentation, the doctor presents a diagnosis of cancer. He shows you the scans and the results of the tests, he explains in detail what kind of cancer it is and what stage it is in, and suggest a treatment that has a good prognosis.

You then go to a second doctor who knows nothing of this, and he performs a lot of experimentation and comes up with a very similar, if not identical, diagnosis, and a very similar treatment suggestion.

Then you go to a third doctor, and the same thing. You keep repeating this with 99 doctors in total. Some minor details may have slight differences (such as the estimation of the advancement of the cancer, or minor details in the suggested treatment), but overall they all give pretty much the same diagnosis and the same solution. They all show you the scans and the results of all the other tests for you to see, and you can corroborate that they are all pretty much the same.

Then you find a doctor who gives you a quite different diagnosis. He says that it's probably just a benign tumor, and it might just go away by itself. He suggests that you just wait some months to see what happens. If you ask him for the scans and test results, he is evasive.

Then you go to a holistic new-age spiritualist, and he says that cancer is just a lie invented by greedy medical corporations, and that your problems will just go away if you change your diet. All this, of course, without performing any kind of experimentation or measurements on you.

Who would you trust? The 99 doctors who all agree on the diagnosis and the treatment, and who showed you all the results, the one doctor who gave a differing diagnosis and treatment, or the spiritualist?

The answer to much of the modern media (not all of it, of course, but a way too large portion of it) is to give equal time to all three groups. There's a big controversy over your diagnosis! This is headline news! Besides, all views on the subject deserve equal time, don't they?

The answer of pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists is to believe the spiritualist. Science is closed-minded, nefarious and greedy, so it's completely untrustworthy. Besides, look at that one doctor who said that you don't have cancer! Clear proof that you don't! It's all a conspiracy and a lie. All those other doctors fabricated all the test results and evidence, and are misinterpreting it. Also, there's this one paper from 1937 that casts a completely different light on the whole cancer thing, and that paper is completely trustworthy because it was written by a PhD! (He was a PhD in English literature, but never mind that.)

Of course I'm not talking just about medical diagnoses here. This was a metaphor for all science that has a fictitious "controversy" surrounding it.

Unfortunately a large part of the general public swallows these things whole, without much criticism or scrutiny.

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