The Truth

There’s a villain named Doc Scratch in Homestuck who got me thinking about what it means to be a skeptic or a scientist, as well as what it means to be human in an uncertain world. He is a nearly omniscient being who manipulates the cast into furthering his master’s goals. One of his big things is that he never flat out lies. He’ll tell “temporary lies” for the sake of jokes, which necessitates revealing the lie in the punchline. When he’s called out for “lies of omission,” he has a very good response:

Lies of omission do not exist.
The concept is a very human one. It is the product of your story writing again. You have written a story about the truth, making emotional demands of it, and in particular, of those in possession of it.
Your demands are based on a feeling of entitlement to the facts, which is very childish. You can never know all of the facts. Only I can.
And since it’s impossible for me to reveal all facts to you, it is my discretion alone that decides which facts will be revealed in the finite time we have.
If I do not volunteer information you deem critical to your fate, it possibly means that I am a scoundrel, but it does not mean that I am a liar. And it certainly means you did not ask the right questions.
One can make either true statements or false statements about reality. All of the statements I make are true.

(I’m amusing myself by duplicating MSPA’s antics. If you can’t read it, highlight it.)

We’re story tellers, not just to other humans, but to ourselves. We don’t record all the details of an event the way a camera would, we simplify it into a story where we mostly keep the details that we consider relevant while dumping minutiae. We put this story in our memory and when we call back that memory, we reconstruct it from those elements. Our biases color the interpretation, and we can easily drop details that contradict the story we want to tell each other or tell ourselves. We can also embellish by making up details to convince ourselves of the story’s trustworthiness. Recalling the memory can also change it.

Knowing that our memories are unreliable is one reason we need documentation. An experimenter’s memory may be distorted over time, but if his experiment’s results are recorded as they come in, self-deception from biased memory becomes less likely. Cameras are generally more trustworthy than eyewitnesses, and journals are generally more reliable than your personal recall.

Another aspect I want to bring attention to is the point about asking the right questions. Like Doc Scratch, the universe doesn’t “lie” by capriciously violating its laws to produce deceptive results. If we don’t control for a confounding factor in an experiment’s design, it’s equivalent to being sloppy in asking a question.

We aim to ask questions like “Does A cause X?” If, however, we know that B can cause X and don’t design the experiment with a to exclude B or hold B constant between experimental and control groups, we’re being sloppy and asking “Does A or B cause X?” without realizing it. When the affirmative answer comes in, we fall victim to the sloppy question because it remains possible the positive outcome was actually the result of B’s known influence, while A did nothing.

The universe isn’t malicious like Doc Scratch, but a lot of pseudoscientists are, and in effect, they use his tactics to allow us to deceive ourselves if we aren’t careful and self-aware. There are also plenty of people who don’t acknowledge the complexities of human experience and don’t realize they’ve been deceiving themselves while leading others down the same road. Science is hard work because we acknowledge the difficulty and complexity in asking questions of an uncertain universe. It’s the only way we can trust our results. Self-deception, on the other hand, is quite easy.

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Why I Don’t Trust Burzynski

If anyone’s suppressing Burzynski’s research, it’s Burzynski. The only motivations I can think of are greed and delusion because he’s not doing what an honest, altruistic scientist would do.

An honest scientist wouldn’t have any reason to delay publication of positive results for decades. If he got negative results, he would have moved onto more fruitful research long ago. If he suspected there was some flaw in the study, he would turn it over to peer review so they could engage in constructive criticism and he could start over and avoid those mistakes. Only a delusional scientist would keep testing after negative results, use cherry-picked anecdotes to falsely bolster his confidence and recruit test subjects, and avoid scientific scrutiny.

An honest scientist wouldn’t charge patients ridiculous amounts to participate, because that would make the selection non-random, biasing the results and negating the study’s value. Patients who invest a lot of money into a treatment are also emotionally invested in interpreting their situation in a positive light. Statistical analysis is how we remove our rose-colored glasses.

An altruistic scientist would instead pay for the study by asking for research grants and donations. He wouldn’t give out false promises of results, only that his treatment be given a chance to live up to his hopes. A con artist, however, would seek to make a profit by overcharging desperate patients for drugs that can be bought more cheaply. He would encourage people to spread cherry-picked testimonials to convince laypeople who don’t understand science. He wouldn’t publish his statistics and research methodology because that would allow scientists to discover the scam.

An honest scientist wouldn’t take a long time to publish a study unless what he’s studying really and truly takes decades to gather the data and make conclusions from them. In the case of a long term cancer treatment study, he’d at least publish preliminary results of what happens in the first few years and then continue following the patients for longer increments. That way, if the initial results are promising, other scientists can try to replicate them, and not have to wait for decades.

An altruistic scientist wouldn’t keep his research to himself. Science today depends on a culture of altruism. Scientists are expected to share information relatively freely. Science thrives with transparency and cooperation because new research depends on the reliability of existing knowledge. The era of the lone genius toiling in isolation is long dead because we’ve got good reason to think we’ve figured out all the “obvious” stuff. New research is about the fine details and nuances or the rare and exotic. A scientist who wants to find something new needs to know what others have already found out. Keeping your research secret from the world is downright Randian, because it depends on authoritarianism and the blind trust of consumers, instead of informed consent.

If Burzynski is allowed to continue his scam, that sets a precedent for big pharmaceutical companies to do the same.

Bruce Lipton, Nut

In an earlier post, asking for targets for me to scrutinize, Yakaru suggested I look over Bruce Lipton. I was a bit slow in jumping into the topic, so Yakaru made a post of his own.

I’ll still make my contribution, and skimming over Lipton’s website, I’m drawn to a book excerpt he posted: “The Nature of Dis-ease.” The title alone is an ideological red flag. I’ve seen a lot of altie gurus use it in the past, trying for some kind of clever wordplay. I tend to see another aspect to this word splitting: I think it promotes the idea that health is the default state of being. It’s a meme that’s going to need more and more critical scrutiny because as medicine advanced, we’ve been able to lead healthier lives. It’s because of modern science-based medicine and our society’s infrastructure that we generally take health for granted and see disease as an aberration instead of an integral part of life.

Onto the article itself:

Continue reading

Always Something New

I was reading a thread dealing with the usual dualist stuff. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was brought up, and it lead to johnnyp76 posting a link to an article I thought was interesting. Time for me to catch up on some quantum mechanics, again. I did know that the HUP was about accuracy of measuring a particle’s position degraded accuracy about its momentum, but I never put much thought into “weak” measurements, so it’s intriguing to me that a double-slit experiment could produce both the “wave” and “particle” results at the same time.

At the moment, based on my limited understanding of QM, this is falling into the category of “why didn’t I think of that before?” since it seems to me that weak measurements wouldn’t force the photons into a “hard” wave or particle state, but leave it somewhere between the two. Of course, being a layman and having some old blog friends with better understanding means I should prepare myself for someone to come in, point out something significant I missed, or a misunderstanding of mine, and blow my mind. I will now brace myself.

A False Dichotomy

There’s one important point I feel like emphasizing on the topic of medicine: There is no such entity as “alternative medicine.” The same goes for “complementary” or “integrative” medicine. Part of the problem is that people acknowledge these nebulous labels as if they were concrete, objective, and useful labels. It’s my position as a skeptic that they are not meaningful, and worse, that they are used as dog whistles for propaganda purposes. It’s made to set up a false dichotomy that appeals to black-and-white thinkers. Continue reading