In the near corner, we have Ethan “The Scidolator” Siegel, a record of 0-32, 132 pounds (I’m guessing), southpaw with a slight case of carpal tunnel syndrome, wearing red and yellow, held up with decaying elastic.
In the far corner stands Sam “Reality Boy” Bowman, a new fighter, 158 pounds, ambidextrous, with a pen that shows promise. Bowman is in all white. Rumor is he only took this match to grab some experience points.
Both fighters check their Twitter notifications. The crowd has fallen asleep. The bell rang almost a minute ago. And just like that…
…Siegel has thrown the first punch! “You Must Not ‘Do Your Own Research’ When It Comes To Science“. Bowman saw this coming since yesterday, and brushes it aside with “The four sins of science — and how to overcome them“.
Siegel jabs with his left: “If you ‘do your own research,’ you can no doubt find innumerable websites, social media accounts, and even a handful of medical professionals who are sharing opinions that confirm whatever your preconceived notions about COVID-19 are. However, do not fool yourself: you are not doing research.”
This falls so far short, Bowman thinks it’s a trick. So he starts paraphrasing quotations from Stuart Ritchie’s Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science. He starts with an probing jab:
A so-called ‘replication crisis’ has run through the [scientific field of psychology], with psychologists unable to repeat the results of key experiments, including a famous one on the ‘priming effect’, where researchers were apparently able to influence people’s behaviour simply by showing them the right words.
This takes Siegel aback. He thought he’d be assailed first with Bowman’s credentials. He just wasn’t ready for Bowman’s quick one-two.
The fact that behavioural economics sits on a throne of lies — weak, unreplicable or even downright fraudulent research — has not yet reached many policymakers, who still think of things like priming effects and ‘choice architecture’ as the hottest show in town.
A lightning slash! It sends Siegel reeling into the ropes! But he’s a veteran. He shakes it off. He fakes with his right, threatens a Fauci quote, and lets go with his left:
There is no excuse, with all the wonderful scientists and science communicators telling the truth about a whole slew of issues in our world, for people to seek out only the opinions that confirm their own biases. The best scientists in the world — even the ones who hold contrarian beliefs of their own — all agree that we should base our policies on the scientific consensus that we’ve achieved.
The blow puzzles Bowman. He didn’t expect the “wonderful scientists.” Angered, he lets go with a solid roundhouse right:
Negligence with things like data and samples has led errors to pervade entire fields. One example is the study of cell lines, cultures of animal cells that can be used in place of primary cells for biological and medical research, which are essentially immortal and can thus be the basis for experiments over long periods of time. Here, mislabeled samples and cluttered labs have led to thousands of errors, with scientists thinking they were working with, say, human bone cancer cells when they were actually working with cells from a pigs’ colon
Siegel isn’t fazed. He’s had worse and stayed on his feet. He lashes out with a series of quick jabs: “It’s absolutely foolish to think that you, a non-expert who lacks the very scientific expertise necessary to evaluate the claims of experts, are going to do a better job than the actual, bona fide experts of separating truth from fiction or fraud.” Wham! “The consequences of getting it wrong can lead to permanent consequences and may even be a life-or-death matter for many.” Pow!
The death blow drew blood. The crowd oohs, and even aahs. Siegel smiles.
This was his undoing.
He turns to wink at the press in the box and doesn’t even see Bowman’s powerhouse right cross.
The most surprising thing about Ritchie’s fourth sin, hype, is that it is the scientists themselves — not journalists — who are often responsible. These scientists are frequently heavily involved in writing the press releases about their own papers, and researchers have found that if the press release hyped up a finding there was a much greater chance of the media exaggerating them too.
For a second, Bowman is confused. Siegel smiles again, seemingly unfazed. He turns to salute the crowd—and falls flat on his face.
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