Let’s think about evidence, and its nature using a modern peer-reviewed paper as our example.
The paper is “Lifting Universal Masking in Schools — Covid-19 Incidence among Students and Staff”, by Tori Cowger and host of others (all female?), in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Now if we were to play a game and I were to ask you, What to you think this paper is about, you’d lose. You’d use the title, look at where the paper was published, a medical journal, and say, “It’s about how great masks are at preventing the coronadoom in kids.”
A fine answer, one which you’d be fairly certain was right, conditioned just on those bits of information.
But if you were to add to your premises that the journal is no longer strictly focused on medicine, but has in recent years ventured into politics, and that the doom itself is a highly political thing, you’d still give the same answer, but would reduce your confidence in it.
Which is the right thing to do. Because here, in their own Results, was what the paper was about:
As such, we believe that universal masking may be especially useful for mitigating effects of structural racism in schools, including potential deepening of educational inequities.
This is asinine and idiotic, not least because there is no “structural racism” in schools. Not against preferred and sacred Victims, at any rate.
Here’s our next game. Would you read this paper knowing this was their dramatic conclusion, a conclusion that has nothing to do with whether masks prevent transmission of a respiratory bug?
It would indeed be a fallacy to conclude that their coronadoom results are false because of that massively lunatic conclusion. It could be this is just an ideology-spot for our authors: they can’t help themselves. They are foolish here, but sane when it comes to medicine. Or maybe NEJM editors now insist on Regime-approved propaganda being inserted into all papers. Masks might still work.
Even though we cannot conclude with certainty that their covid results are wrong, we can sure increase our judgement that these are people who can’t be trusted to find their own wee P.
Thus it would be rational to conclude that reading the paper is not worth your time. Because anybody who is stupid enough to bleat about masks reducing “structural racism” is likely to let that stupidity seep into their usual work.
Anyway, I started writing a post on the silly stats of the paper myself, showing we can reject the covid conclusions on evidential grounds as well. But the work has been done for me by Tracy Beth Hoeg in a Substack article.
If you don’t have time to read it, it’s the usual story. Unnecessarily complex statistical models, in which (difference in difference) proxies are used instead of direct observations of kids with and without masks and infection. I’ve warned us all a thousand times never to given blanket trust to proxies. The danger of the epidemiologist fallacy, among others, is present. And is here.
Plus, as Hoeg says, they “failed to weigh the known downsides of continued making of children.”
Suppose Hoeg’s demonstrations of paper’s statistical ineptness are true (and I think they are). And recall the asinine non-covid conclusion about “systemic racism”, which should not have been there.
Given this evidence, which was also available, or should have been, to the paper’s editor, why would the journal print the paper anyway?
Because, of course, masks are political, and the NEJM loves to weigh in on the side of Regime-approved politics. Perceiving, we might guess, that they’ll benefit from their signalling. A perception which is probably right.
But the paper also is there because scientists, being people, are just like people in hungering for any evidence which confirms their beliefs. And are bad at finding contrary evidence.
Scientists are better than regular people at finding confirmatory evidence. But they’re no better at uncovering disconfirmatory evidence.
Like I’ve said a thousand times, every scientist believes in confirmation bias, but they all also believe it only happens to the other guy, never themselves.
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