The Myth of Republican Opposition to Science

Discussion in 'Politics' started by BluePhantom, Apr 28, 2012.

  1. BluePhantom
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    BluePhantom Educator (of liberals)

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    I am going to post this twice. The first will be short and sweet including only main headings and brief statements of the overall argument or sub-argument for those who wish to simply look at the main points. Next I will post the same thing but expanded to include examples, supporting links, and commentary for those who have the inclination (and patience) to read through the whole thing.

    This represents my personal point of view. I do not claim to speak for every Republican everywhere.

    It’s one of the most basic liberal ploys to influence the weak minded to reject the Republican Party: “Republicans are anti-science. They are deniers of scientific fact relying instead on religious dogma to advance a theological agenda”. The second part of that (after “relying on….”) is thrown in there for good measure just to scare people shitless. But the reality is quite different. Republicans love science. What we hate is ”junk science”. What is “junk science”? Essentially, it’s politics masquerading as science (which is why I am posting this thread in the “Politics” section instead of the “Science and Technology” section), and we see it all the time although we rarely pay enough attention to realize it. From AGW to second hand smoke, we are hammered by political agendas propped up as “science” when in reality there is little, if any, legitimate scientific fact behind it at all. So how does one know when it’s “junk science” instead of real science? Consider the following red flags:

    1) Causation: Scientific studies show the degree of correlation, not causation. Correlation does not prove causation. Media reports or people in general who say “this study proves/shows/demonstrates conclusively that A causes B” are engaging in politics not science.

    2) Statistical Deception: Studies which use statistical deception (i.e. lowering the Confidence Interval) should be another big red flag that it’s not science, but “junk science” created for political purposes.

    3) Aversion to Skepticism: When a “scientist” releases results and attempts to block other scientists from questioning their results….Houston, we have a BIG problem.

    4) Suppression of Data: When scientists are hiding their research…trust me….there’s a reason why they are doing it and it has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics. This segues beautifully into point #5.

    5) Follow the Money: Studies funded by organizations with a financial stake in the results should be approached with incredible skepticism.

    6) Beware the Body Count “MSU” Statistic: “We have created one million jobs with our policies.” Bullshit! There’s no reliable way to track how many jobs were created by a given policy that wouldn’t have been created anyhow. It sounds good in a speech but it’s a load of garbage. I refer to these as “MSU” statistics (“made shit up”).

    7) The False Connection and the Hype: This usually follows some logical linear argument. “A causes (see point #1) B, B causes C, and C causes D; therefore A causes D.” The problem is it doesn’t quite work that way.

    8) Ignoring the Confounding Variables: With any experiment or study there is always the danger that something the scientist has not accounted for exists or is introduced that will give a false measurement. When the confounding variables are ignored the results are not to be trusted.

    I could go on and on with this but you get the point. There is reliable scientific study and then there’s a bunch of bullshit intended to advance a political agenda. Sometimes it’s not that the scientists themselves are at fault or guilty of some evil plot...sometimes it’s just an honest mistake.

    Unfortunately, sometimes, there actually is deceptive intent, and in reality it’s not all that hard to figure out when it’s “science” and when it’s “junk science”. All it takes is the willingness to dig a little deeper than the headlines and verify that what is being reported isn’t being manipulated. So it’s not that Republicans have a problem with “science”, it’s that we have a problem with “bullshit”. So when someone from the left throw one of these “scientific facts” at us and we look a little closer and find out: “uh….this research has some serious flaws in it” we tend to look at said liberal and say: “who the fuck are you trying to kid?”
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  2. BluePhantom
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    BluePhantom Educator (of liberals)

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    OP Expanded with full commentary

    This represents my personal point of view. I do not claim to speak for every Republican everywhere.

    It’s one of the most basic liberal ploys to influence the weak minded to reject the Republican Party: “Republicans are anti-science. They are deniers of scientific fact relying instead on religious dogma to advance a theological agenda”. The second part of that (after “relying on….”) is thrown in there for good measure just to scare people shitless. But the reality is quite different. Republicans love science. What we hate is ”junk science”. What is “junk science”? Essentially, it’s politics masquerading as science (which is why I am posting this thread in the “Politics” section instead of the “Science and Technology” section), and we see it all the time although we rarely pay enough attention to realize it. From AGW to second hand smoke, we are hammered by political agendas propped up as “science” when in reality there is little, if any, legitimate scientific fact behind it at all. So how does one know when it’s “junk science” instead of real science? Consider the following red flags:

    1) Causation: Scientific studies show the degree of correlation, not causation. Correlation does not prove causation. For example: in the 1990s it was widely believed that women who had large families were at less risk for breast cancer. Many studies were done that showed there to be a correlation between large families and lower incidence of breast cancer so everyone said “you must have lots and lots of kids”. A decade later it was reasoned that women with large families usually have their first child at a younger age and they asked “maybe it’s more about the age of a women’s first pregnancy rather than the number of them”. Guess what…turns out that women who have their first child before the age of 20 have pretty much the same rate of breast cancer whether they go on to have one child or fifteen.(1) The point is that media reports or people in general who say “this study proves/shows/demonstrates conclusively that A causes B” should be a big red flag that they are engaging in politics not science.

    2) Statistical Deception: Confidence Interval (CI) shows the accuracy of the study. The scientific standard is 95%. This means basically that there is a 5% chance that the effect being studied is happening by freak chance instead of some actual measurable reason...or at least the reason they suggest. For health and medical studies you will see Relative Risk (RR) which is the degree to which doing A increases the risk of experiencing B. In these kinds of studies CI measures the accuracy of RR. The scientific standard is 3.0.(2) If the RR is below 3.0 the risk is considered irrelevant or at least minimal. If the CI is below 95% the study is considered scientifically invalid. There are many things today that we see in the media and pounded down our throats by activists who base their position on a “scientific study” supporting that position yet that study has a RR of less than three, a CI of lower than 95% or both. The 1993 EPA report on second-hand smoke is a perfect example: it claims to prove (see point 1) that it causes cancer yet the RR is 1.19 and the CI is 90%. (2) Studies which use this type of statistical deception should be another big red flag that it’s not science, but “junk science” created for political purposes.

    3) Aversion to Skepticism: The whole point of science is skepticism. A scientist will release the results of a study or experiment and hope/expect other scientists to duplicate it to see if the results are the same. It is supposed to be approached with skepticism. When a “scientist” releases such results and becomes infuriated that it is being questioned and/or attempts to block it from being scrutinized or even (such as with AGW[3]) attempts to discredit another scientist who is daring to challenge his work or discredit a given agency that publishes opposing research….Houston, we have a BIG problem.

    4) Suppression of Data: When the results are unexpected a real scientists will say: “wow…that’s not what we expected. Publish the research.” A junk scientist will say: “shit…that’s not what we wanted. Bury it.” East Anglia is of course very well known for this one (3) but it’s not at all uncommon. The World Health Organization provides a textbook example. They were going to prove once and for all that second hand smoke causes cancer and this time no one could laugh at it like the 1993 EPA report. They were going to do a case control study, not just a meta-analysis like everyone else did and they were going to do it all over Europe, not just in one place so someone can claim it was pollution from a factory or something in the water. Unfortunately, when the results showed not only that there was no statistical degree of significant risk but it may actually have a protective effect(4), what did they do? They buried the report. When the British press sued them to release the report they quickly pieced together a meta-analysis, dropped the CI to 93% to show a RR of 1.16, and hoped everyone would accept that. They didn’t and after a court battle were forced to release the original study showing a RR of 0.64 – 0.96 for children….in other words a correlation to a beneficial effect. When scientists are hiding their research…trust me….there’s a reason why they are doing it and it has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics. This segues beautifully into point #5.

    5) Follow the Money: Do you really think researched funded by R.J. Reynolds that shows a positive correlation between smoking and cancer will ever see the light of day? Do you really think researched funded by the EPA or American Cancer Association that shows no correlation between smoking and their anti-smoking agenda will ever see the light of day? The WHO in point #4 is a textbook example of “he who pays for it gets to say what happens to it.” By contrast the reverse is true as well. A study by R.J. Reynolds that shows no correlation between smoking and cancer is widely laughed at as biased. The same holds true for studies by the ACA, EPA, etc. They have a financial interest in furthering their political agenda, hence they are only going to release information which supports their agenda or they will engage in statistical deception (point #2).

    6) Beware the Body Count “MSU” Statistic: “We have created one million jobs with our policies.” Bullshit! There’s no reliable way to track how many jobs were created by a given policy that wouldn’t have been created anyhow. It sounds good in a speech but it’s a load of garbage. “800,000 people die every year from exposure to chemical A that caused a fatal disease.” Really? Can you name me a couple that conclusively got said fatal disease by that exposure specifically? I mean you are 100% sure they didn’t get the disease some other way; perhaps just a genetic predisposition or a bad diet? “Exposure to chemical B will double your risk of cancer.” Yeah your risk goes from one in 100,000,000 to two in 100,000,000. It most certainly doubles….from zilch to still zilch. Headlines, statements, and reports that make these sorts of claims are pure politics. There is simply no reliable way to determine such a statistic with any measure of real accuracy. I refer to these as “MSU” statistics (“made shit up”). The reality is they don’t have a fucking clue how many jobs were created, how many people contracted a disease specifically by exposure rather than other ways (even naturally occurring ways), etc.

    7) The False Connection and the Hype: This usually follows some logical linear argument. “A causes (see point #1) B, B causes C, and C causes D; therefore A causes D.” The problem is it doesn’t quite work that way. When you look closely at such arguments you often comes up with a logic that has been twisted and it as reasonable as saying “heroin addicts drink massive quantities of milk, therefore milk causes heroin addiction”. A great example of this is DDT which has been banned in the United States and due to political pressure is illegal in many nations. Unfortunately, there is almost no evidence at all that it causes any problems in humans and frankly it’s extremely effective against Malaria and Yellow Fever which is common in many third world nations.(5)

    8) Ignoring the Confounding Variables: With any experiment or study (even a well conceived and executed one) there is always the danger that something the scientist has not accounted for exists or is introduced that will give a false measurement. For example, if we wanted to do a study on whether alcohol use leads to earlier death we have to account for gender vs. the percentage of men and women in the study, we have to take into account economic factors, access to health care, the ability to buy or the availability of healthy food; we have to consider race because black people on average die at a younger age than white people, what nation are we in, blah, blah, blah. It’s a huge list that must be considered. So if a poor black guy who is a moderate drinker and lives in Liberia dies earlier than a white non-drinker from an affluent lifestyle in Kansas….is it the alcohol or is it race, availability of medical care, average diet consumption, family history of medical problems related to liver disease, etc. When the confounding variables are ignored the results are not to be trusted.

    I could go on and on with this but you get the point. There is reliable scientific study and then there’s a bunch of bullshit intended to advance a political agenda. Sometimes it’s not that the scientists themselves are at fault or guilty of some evil plot. The breast cancer example in point #1 is not a situation where scientists were intentionally up to no good. Their research was well crafted, properly executed, reasonable in their conclusions….but, unfortunately, wrong. There was simply a confounding variable that no one had accounted for and without that scientific skepticism (point #3) we probably would never have figured it out and of course the possibility remains that in the future someone may find another confounder that blows the “age and breast cancer” theory all to shit as well. In other words, sometimes it’s just an honest mistake.

    Unfortunately, sometimes, there actually is deceptive intent, and in reality it’s not all that hard to figure out when it’s “science” and when it’s “junk science”. All it takes is the willingness to dig a little deeper than the headlines and verify that what is being reported isn’t being manipulated. So it’s not that Republicans have a problem with “science”, it’s that we have a problem with “bullshit”. So when someone from the left throw one of these “scientific facts” at us and we look a little closer and find out: “uh….this research has some serious flaws in it” we tend to look at said liberal and say: “who the fuck are you trying to kid?”

    1. Reproductive History and Breast Cancer Risk - National Cancer Institute

    Epidemiology of endocrine-rel... [J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2002] - PubMed - NCBI

    Reproductive factors and breast cancer ris... [Breast Cancer Res. 2006] - PubMed - NCBI

    Parity, age at first and last birth,... [Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1996] - PubMed - NCBI

    2. RR

    http://oaspub.epa.gov/eims/eimscomm.getfile?p_download_id=36793 <--- WARNING: this is a 600 page, 4 MB download link of the full 1993 EPA study. If you click it you will download the whole thing.

    3.Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'? &#8211; Telegraph Blogs

    4. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/90/19/1440.full.pdf

    5. CID at Harvard University :: "DDT Should Not Be Banned"
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  3. tigerbob
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    tigerbob Increasingly jaded.

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    Your second post was very long, so I've only read the first one.

    I agree.

    However, I don't think that one of your conclusions is as cut and dried as you state, specifically "Republicans does't have a problem with science, we have a problem with bullshit."

    Sorry, red flag. An awful lot of the bullshit comes from Republicans. And an equally large amount comes from Democrats.

    Both groups are, by nature, political. Both have an agenda. Both choose, from the myriad statistical sources available to them those figures that support their views, and conveniently ignore statistics that are more in a grey area, or are indeed contradictory.

    I don't think you can ascribe the position of "bullshit aversion" to one side or another, when both are equally guilty of cherry picking their data to suit their arguments.

    And the fact also remains that most of the public neither have the time, the desire, the patience or the mental discipline to review the source data. And of course in many cases the source data is not made available.

    All that said, I agree with your broad view, and agree also that the charge often laid specifically at the door of the GOP (faith over science) is in many cases disingenuous.
     
  4. BluePhantom
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    BluePhantom Educator (of liberals)

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    Fair enough, but I was responding specifically to allegations that Republicans are anti-science. Yes there are certainly those on the right who twist research as well but the common charge from the left is that it's Republicans who reject legitimate science usually in regard to a political agenda being furthered by the left; AGW for example. It's not that we deny science in those cases, it's that we recognize the faults in the given scientific process that render the whole thing unscientific. Yes, the right does this too sometimes, no question about it, but your last sentence is the main point of my argument...it's not the Democrats who usually face these charges...although they probably should.

    As far as not having the time, patience, etc to review the source material...that's fine. But when a person who doesn't runs into someone who does and the former is made to look like an ass, don't cry "aversion to science" simply because one did their homework and the other didn't.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012

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