Corrupted knowledge

Oct 24, 2012

Discussion by: Raymond Sutcliffe
Science is often thought of as the search for truth via experimental analysis, but if or when this “truth” eventually reaches the man on the street, it often bears little or no resemblance to its original form.  
Can anything be done to combat this suppression and corruption of knowledge?

25 comments on “Corrupted knowledge

  • 1
    funnieguy says:

    Emphasize that it actually works and show the applications of these findings. There could be an introduction of scientific theories from the ones that are easier to appreciate to those which are harder. A good reason to belief in something is that it actually affects you. For the roller coaster or see saw to work, gravity must be true. Maybe there can be more effort towards the lay population, other than the efforts at state or national levels.

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  • 2
    crookedshoes says:

    Make the average man on the street smarter.  Then the cutting edge science will not have to be watered down for them to understand.

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  • Yes, it involves scientific education.

    Not just learning about the fruits of science – knowledge and discoveries, but the processes of science and the origin and functions of human cognitive biases.

    Something that can’t be easily defined, because there is no formula for growing knowledge and being sure it’s true, but there’s plenty of examples of successful science available to learn about and contemplate. Most of the educational focus is on this good science. But good science is only good in comparison to bad science and pseudo-science.

    There needs to be more of a focus on bad science and to cultivate an awareness that science is always tentative. Science is the very opposite of certain knowledge. It’s a trial and error process. But academic syllabuses tend to focus only on the successes and the heroes (ignoring the teams of coworkers and preceding researchers). This is misleading. Kids learn more of the fruits of science. But they don’t learn how to distinguish between the fresh healthy fruit and what’s now well past its use by date.

    It was once said in connection with new med students that most of what they will learn at university will turn out to be wrong in their lifetime, so they will need to keep their wits about them in their future careers as physicians. That seems to be the attitude that needs to be cultivated earlier than at post grad level.

    I had a good example yesterday:

    My kids are now at an age where they are very interested in fitness and strength training to improve their appearance and sports performance. Expensive gym memberships and protein supplements are involved. I’ve been trying to give them some basic physiology and fitness training knowledge. I know a little about it myself, being a former athlete.

    One of the common themes of pretty much all information about fitness training is that the energy powering muscle contraction uses glucose as the primary energy fuel. Which implies that athletes need to eat plenty of cereal, pasta etc. And to top up their glycogen stores before and after training. This is an error comparable to the persistent flawed theories linking cholesterol and saturated fat to various diseases. Despite being thoroughly debunked they just never go away. Most of the reputable fitness authorities and experts cite various scientific papers about studies of athletic performance and diet but fail to assess whether the findings are actually valid and statistically significant. That a paper was once published seems to be sufficient, or that there are large number of similar papers (all involving similar flawed assumptions), including ignoring subsequent papers even from the same researchers which come to the opposite conclusion from their previous research.

    The specific example I was looking at was via Google search on the hazards of high fat / low carbohydrate diets for athletes. The issue being that very little research has been performed, and most of that research fails to allow sufficient time for gene expression and enzyme adaptation owing to most elite athletes already consuming a pathologically high carbohydrate diet – based on the flawed assumptions about glucose being the fundamental fuel source for human metabolism.

     It’s like drugs in cycling, except that high carb diets are performance diminishing for athletes – the athletes, coaches, and training experts way downstream from the scientists just don’t know it yet. But if everyone is more or less doing the same thing then everyone remains competitive. (Much of the ‘performance enhancement’ previously attributed by professional athletes to being the results of extremely sophisticated training techniques and carbohydrate loading practises now seems to have much more mundane origins in the illegal use of drugs like testosterone, EPO, and various anabolic steroids.)

    Recent experiments with diets and athletic performance are more relevant by allowing closer to the several months adaptation period that allows muscle tissue to revert to their optimum energy sources fueled primarily by animal fat, either eaten directly or via adipose storage and intra-muscular storage. Yet these evolving experimental results fail to penetrate to the expert practitioners because the prevailing paradigm is somehow set in stone and the question is regarded as ‘resolved’. i.e. The popular perception that science is perceived to be some kind of static body of progressively accumulating knowledge. It’s more like my attic. It’s only useful for accumulating stuff to the extent that the previously stored useless junk gets thrown out from time to time.

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  • 4
    applexpanther says:

    It’s taken as unquestioned doctrine that high carb/low fat is the way to go.  Several of the studies trying to denounce the low carb/high fat diets are based off of flawed studies or simply refer to government claims.  I doubt things will ever change, what would happen if government suddenly switched its position on the food pyramid after all these years of telling people how to eat?  I personally eat ketogenic diet and have done so for months with outstanding health benefits and tremendous boosts of energy, normalized cholesterol, lowered blood pressure, etc.  The opposite of what gov’t and financially motivated science claims.  So while i think you’re right in the science aspect; I believe government will never allow this to change.  

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  • 5
    Alan4discussion says:

    Make the average man on the street smarter.  Then the cutting edge science will not have to be watered down for them to understand

    This needs to start with very young children playing around with practical science stuff:- measuring weights  densities, volumes,  lengths, widths, volumes, and playing around with sand, water, containers, batteries, bulbs, buzzers, small electric motors, construction toys, lenses mirrors etc.

    Reading NF books and instruction leaflets on craft hobbies, cookery,  or sport-skills, where opinions and directions can be tested in practical outcomes, rather than opinions with a disconnect from the physical world only seeking reinforcement from crowd approval.

    Children should also be directed away from filling large amounts of their time with “rubbish – amusement only  TV”.

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  • A good example of how when governments do something badly they are inherently unscientific in that they also monopolise and displace prospective alternative players offering contradictory evidence. (Mainly because their health consulting and advise services are ostensibly ‘free’.) So there are few sources available to inform the public of important research that contradicts  authorised official policies. For the time being there is the internet, though we can expect that the prevailing censorship free situation is unlikely to persist for much more than another few years.

    If you’re interested in fat adaptation in athletes there’s an interview uploaded last month. It’s a rapidly developing field.

    Discussion involves fasting for 24 hours followed by a 6 hour, long-distance bike session. Plus mentions the importance of eating sufficient salt. Yet another established diet myth bites the dust. Nutrition would have to be one of the most fruitful and entertaining areas to explore poor quality science. (2nd only to economics.) I think that kids would love to attack this stuff in class. They like nothing better than to see adults make fools of themselves. Perhaps get them to watch the movies ‘Supersize Me’ followed by ‘The Fathead Movie’.

    I think it’s quite interesting that people actually have more energy for endurance performance the less they eat. I notice the same thing myself. I frequently do a 4 hour bush walk on Friday evenings, typically finishing close to midnight. And typically not eating at all that day, plus sometimes having already done a 10 km walk or jog early that same morning before work. I wish I’d known about this stuff back in the day when I was doing some much more bush walking and seriously over-training for sport events. It is so much more convenient not to need to take a bunch of bananas on the bike rides, or to stop off here and there to top up on chocolate and muesli bars.

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  • 7
    SaganTheCat says:

    much of what the man in the street knows about science is from the media.

    this is a problem becase a) the medial love a good science story because these stories are about the future; one day doctors will cure something or people will have a better life etc. or alternatively we’re all doomed. either way it’s the old job of the soothsayer that people lap up and b) science stories are 99% unnewsworthy.

    what gets peer reviewed and published opens up possibilities, drives further research etc but no scientist would dare extrapolate one possible outcome of their study then make it front page news but this is what happens on a weekly basis. the daily mail being a great example of a paper making claims on behalf of scientists (e.g. that eating X prevents cancer) followed by countrary claims on behalf of scientists (eating X causes cancer).

    the recent news in Italy is the sad conclusion. scientists have been scapegoated for deaths dispite them not claiming that an earthquake was unlikely. New Scientist (spit) suggest scientists are at fault because they should do more to engage with the public and not rely on non-scientists to handle the media but the fact is very simple:

    we are all responsible for our own understanding. corrupted science is the reward for laziness, for allowing others to explain otherwise often totally inconclusive data and trusting them to not sex it up or dumb it down.

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  • 8
    crookedshoes says:

     i agree.  The way to thwart religious indoctrination of young people is through education.  The thing is, the first toys and TV that a child is exposed to are at the hands of their parents (not schools).  So, the earliest education that they receive and the education that they carry into school with them is fostered by the environment at home.
    I once read (while at an educational conference) that a child brought up in a home where both parents have college degrees hears over a million more words than other children before they get to first grade!  Over a million more words (not different words — just repeated words).  This is a huge advantage entering the school system. 

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  • 9
    Alan4discussion says:

    Preschool playgroups and nursery education can help with these skills,  but home has a great influence.
    My younger son was making electric circuits with buzzers, switches, lights, toy electric motors, with  propellers as fans or propulsion at the age of five.
    Like his brother and sister, he was also growing and picking fruit etc. in the garden and greenhouses.

    He was showing his teachers how to use computers when they were stuck by the age of 6 &7.
    He now works for an IT company writing commercial database management software for governments and companies (including some US ones).

    It’s how you give them a start in life.

    BTW:  A couple of weeks ago he  lent me a gospel to read: –  – The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  AARRrrrrrh!

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  • 10
    crookedshoes says:

    It is amazing how many people have children and “want what is best” for their child.  They then proceed to place every possible obstacle in the kid’s way.  I have said it for close to a decade.  We are experiencing a crisis in parenting.  This crisis precipitates all other crises.  

    The crisis in obesity?  Parenting.
    The crisis in education? Parenting.
    The crisis in drug abuse? Parenting.

    We are amidst the worst generation of parents to ever raise children and the result surrounds us and engulfs us.

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  • I don’t agree that parenting is a root cause of those various acute problems. It’s relevant, but more as a symptom. You need to go one step deeper.

    Parenting can be trial and error. It’s not instinctive but most of us will hopefully have a chance to make some improvements to our past performance with the grand-children. i.e. Parenting may also involve teaching one’s kids how to be parents to their own children. Based on mistakes made the earlier generation! It can be self-correcting as extremely poor parents tend to find themselves in the role of grand-parents very much earlier than normally expected. So they can get an early start on doing it right by helping out with the next generation.

    Unfortunately there’s been considerable social disruption in recent decades. More often than not the grand-children live in different suburbs or even different cities and countries from their grand-parents. So it’s more of a child-care crisis, in that many families can no longer afford to have 1 parent at home with young kids. And they often don’t live in proximity to extended family. Effectively it is really a poverty crisis. People are compelled to migrate and undertake long commutes to earn an income.

    Everyone apparently now has more money than in previous generations, in terms of superficial monetary tokens, loans, and real estate valuations, but that’s because so much money has simply been printed over the decades. The underlying assets and capabilities remain the same: a house is still a house, same with clothes and food and all the services and commodities we all simultaneously consume and also provide to each other. These assets still provide more or less exactly the same services as they’ve done for thousands of years. Just they’re apparently ‘worth’ very much more today.

    But there is actually less real wealth around in the hands of families with kids. E.g. To enable a comfortable retirement today then simply being a millionaire is no longer considered adequate. i.e. net assets, including annuities, pensions, investments, residence, furniture etc adding up to only $1m. (In my area real estate agents sometimes advertise houses valued at $750,000 as an ideal first home.)

    And for those who are retiring in comfort today (in Australia at least) most are beneficiaries of extraordinary superannuation taxation policies of recent decades which are effectively a massive subsidy paid by large numbers of poor people to relatively small numbers of wealthy people. (Because only wealthy people can arrange their affairs to qualify for the relevant super fund tax exemptions, while poor people cannot afford to arrange their affairs to avoid the consequential tax impositions that effectively fund the exemptions for the wealthy.)

    A family now has to be either relatively poor or relatively rich to afford only 1 parent as income earner. Something that was commonplace as recently as the 1970s. There are now fewer people in the middle area of wealth, which is where most people used to be when it was mostly the kids from very poor or very rich families who caused most of the trouble in schools. Now there is much greater equality in social dysfunction.

    The root cause is general public acceptance of unscientific economic policy. (Basically the real issue of this blog discussion item.) Mainly because we’ve all relied on apparent experts, but who have no real scientific substance behind them. The results have been the inexorable expansion of the scope and extent of consumption of wealth by central government, facilitated mainly by the hidden wealth transfer caused by the expansion in the volume of monetary and credit tokens, which results in the massive transfer of wealth away from ordinary families and towards those who are relatively closer to and effectively dependent on government activities.
    E.g. Most major law firms make their revenue from government-related activities. Most very wealthy people are involved in highly government regulated areas, financial markets, etc. The extent of government regulation results in very high entry barriers and so insulates the incumbent players from the accountable performance otherwise produced via the consequences of potential open economic competition. These ‘closed’ industries are effectively open to participation only to a handful of privileged elite.

    There is a tremendous difference between open-entry and potentially competitive institutional regulation and central government regulation, via legislation. Absence of government regulation does not imply absence of regulation of various markets and activities. This is the major economic fallacy involving opportunity cost: assuming that because something didn’t happen or isn’t there then it is irrelevant. But the presence of government regulation unfortunately often does produce a state of extremely inadequate regulation. Just because of the monopoly effects where quality and effectiveness need not be major factors in the ongoing existence of the monopoly player, typically the regulating agency.

    The economic situation has taken a long time to get to this point, which is essentially where things must inevitably end up at after nearly 100 years of democracy. Possibly best defined by the situation in the USA where an obvious plutocrat and overt tax evader may effectively purchase the opportunity to become the nation’s next president. Modern democracy is basically just a less acute version of communism, doomed to collapse eventually, but will just take a little longer. The drivers for this situation are well-understood, but you don’t hear about it much.

    I’m not sure of the specifics about the crisis in education. Presumably it’s superficially a funding crisis. But the economics of monopoly are the major barrier here. Essentially taxpayer-funded education is intended to provide educational opportunities for all. Which should be a good thing. The problem is that anything that is effectively free always displaces, at least to some extent, similar alternatives that would otherwise incur additional explicit costs. Everything that happens is always associated with the invisible opportunity cost of something else not having happened. To this extent then these other alternative institutions just don’t exist. Examples being the non-existence of reliable, independent agencies which can rate the quality of teachers and educational institutions and practises for parents and students, or for alternative funders like charities or even governments. So there is no competition in that area. It’s got nothing to do with performance pay for teachers or class sizes or anything else that usually crops up in media discussions.

    Ultimately it’s a problem of reliable information about what works or doesn’t. What is good or bad. And who and why we can trust them to analyse and inform on behalf of the rest of us.

    Same applies to the drugs crisis. Via being illegal, which is effectively a similar situation to the de facto educational monopoly in that most alternative suppliers are crowed out by the monopolist: in this case the government who forcibly prevents anyone else from supplying drugs (by driving up their costs – via fines and imprisonment) and then deliberately fails to deliver those same recreational drugs itself as the monopolist only player left standing. (Actually that’s very similar to education now that I think about it! Plus the police are often found to be in cahoots with major drug suppliers in many nations.) So you end up with only the marginal, illegal players in the recreational drugs supply business.

    There is certainly no independent and reliable agency informing consumers about which of these recreational drug supplier brands are reliable and safe. So there is effectively no accountability. If your kids suffer from drugs then there is no one accountable to sue for damages, or to respond to the threat of such liabilities by mitigating their supplier quality issues. The legal situation is between government law enforcement and the illegal drug suppliers. The parent and child are on the sidelines and have no real role to play, other than as helpless victims. There’s plenty of reasons why kids might be foolish enough to indulge in risky recreational drugs, and for parents to fail to control this, but it is ultimately a result of lack of competition in the industry. As long as some kids are stupid and can earn, beg, or steal money, then there will be a paying market for recreational drugs. Parenting is a factor, but less significant than most parents might think.

    And I think you’ll find that obesity is in the same situation. It’s the quality of the available public advice. Here’s a good blog site on that:

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  • 12
    crookedshoes says:

    Pete H,
    Your post is very well thought out and raises some excellent questions and insights.  Perhaps we are looking at children of differing ages in our analysis of parenting.  You seem to be focused on older kids.  I am talking about younger kids and the instruction and behaviors that they receive in their parent’s houses.  

    If you have a morbidly obese three year old the root cause is either a genetic predisposition to the extra weight or the fact that the parent feeds the child excessively and cannot say “no” to the kid.

    The simple fact of the matter for education is that a very high percentage of non-readers have a non-reading parent.  A non-reader is a parents fault.  These kids then are loosed on the educational system where they wreak havoc behaviorally and usurp resources and time from the other kids whose parents have done the right thing and gotten them to the point where they are educable.  We have too many uneducable people attending our schools.  If they were dogs they’d be required to be on leashes.  They cannot sit still (never been required to at home).  Cannot pay attention (never been required to at home).  Cannot control their impulses….  Cannot learn….cannot function in a school setting…. 

    The idea of drugs and drug abuse is, again, very nebulous.  I assert that there are two type of drug users: people who DO drugs and people who get DONE by drugs.  I am not claiming that parents are responsible for a person’s choice to try drugs, but rather for the development of the personality type that gets spiralled out of control through the inability to control themselves.

    You also seem to be focused on grand parenting…. again, perhaps due to your station in life???  Your points about stay at home parents and the way they have disappeared bolster my points.  The way a family is spread so widely these days bolsters my points.  I think we agree but for semantics and we differ in what we are calling a child.

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  • Probably correct. I’m not a grandparent yet, but I’m like the guy that said something like before having children he had lots of theories about raiding kids, now the situation is reversed: he has lots of kids and no theories. I have relatives who have become grand-parents unexpectedly early. I don’t think it’s a bad thing though.

    But there’s only so much one can do for kids. At some point, hopefully when they’re a little older, you have to let them get on with it for themselves. Learning depends mostly on the kids actually wanting to learn and in making attempts and error corrections

    I’m not sure if teaching kids to sit still and concentrate is of much value. They can easily do that naturally anytime if they want to. It might even be useful if they aren’t able to fake it. At least you could more easily tell if they’re really interested at that time. Beyond the basic instincts of fear and greed people can only learn anything more subtle if they are interested in it enough to focus.

    I suspect that the traditional classroom environment of herding 30+ kids of approximately the same age but from random, dysfunctional backgrounds, and expecting them to all be interested simultaneously to whatever the committee for educational practises has deemed appropriate is just going through the motions. You end up with a baby-sitting service. Some kids will do well anyway, despite everything. The ‘good’ schools just being those which are able to screen and select these specific students to populate their own ranks.

    One outcome is that this process inadvertently selects for kids who are not particularly passionate and so are more inclined to sit still and do what they’re told, and learn stuff to please parents and teachers. They end up with good marks and qualifications but are effectively useless for anything. What you really want is for the distracted and attention seeking kids who make trouble to go on in life making trouble where it really counts.

    There are obviously serious problems affecting some kids. In Australia there is foetal alcohol syndrome which can impact entire communities of Aboriginal kids. Now many generations downstream. Even the grandparents have brain damage. The extent makes this a mental illness issue rather than education policy. Same applies to drug abuse and even to petrol sniffing.

    A morbidly obese 3-year old would be pretty rare and an obvious target for medical attention. (Perhaps excepting in aboriginal communities in Australia.) The obesity epidemic impacting on kids and adults is more subtle. It is really of concern due to the way it feeds into the diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s epidemic. Complicated by the need for young kids to carry some body fat, growth spurts, and hormonal changes.

    Childhood (and adulthood) obesity, plus the lesser evil of middle-age flab, is pretty much a solved problem now. The main outstanding issue is implementation and the main barrier to implementation is dodgy science, widespread ‘common-sense’ flawed assumptions, and political interests. All of which have long since been debunked by scientists. (Though science is so specialised that most scientists outside the key researchers probably wouldn’t know this or care about it. Even the ones who’ve grown flabby.)

    The issue for most is genetics, though this has an effect to the extent that many kids don’t get overweight despite their circumstances, just as many kids are not handicapped by their underprivileged and dysfunctional family circumstances. It is also not caused by excessive feeding allowed by parents. Excessive feeding is a consequence of the problem. As also is insufficient exercise. And there is probably an influence from unethical opportunistic marketers targeting kids with sports drinks, cordials, fruit juices, and soft drinks. (Plus alco-pops for the older kids, and glue, paint, and petrol sniffing supplies in aboriginal communities.) But attacking the consequences of the problem is missing the real root causes and will have no effect.

    I think the real issue on this problem, as for the others you mentioned, is the disconnect between the relevant scientific knowledge, like research in physiology and anthropology, and what most people have been led to believe is the state of scientific knowledge. Ignoring that detailed scientific knowledge is a constantly moving thing. The big picture might not change dramatically, but in applications where the details really count then a disconnect between what is known to be true and untrue and what is believed by the broader community to be true really matters. 

    I don’t think it is practical to expect everyone who graduates from school to know, respect, appreciate, or even to do competent scientific research, or to be able to criticise and validate scientific research. Routine weeding and pruning in the scientific orchard is really a job for other scientists, as an inherent part of the scientific process.

    From an economics perspective the idea of division of labour means that non-scientists (and scientists who are outside their speciality) are inclined to outsource this process by trusting expert authorities to form conclusions and recommendations based on accumulated research.

    Typically institutions associated with or part of the government bureaucracy perform this consolidating and validating role and produce policy recommendations. Which isn’t very different from  expert committees that develop and recommend road rules, standards and measures, and legal guidelines and procedures for dispute resolution. The fact that someone is already paid handsomely for performing this role tends to crowd out anyone else from profitably competing in similar roles and providing competing alternatives. And one of the widely recognised issues associated with government is that they tend to be monopolies, and that all mandated monopolies inevitably have relatively high costs and relatively low quality (or some combination).

    The underlying problem is that there is a difference between the functions of government between acting as rulers, who increasingly exact tribute from the ruled in rapidly evolving and increasingly subtle and less detectible ways, and acting to govern (the coordinating and regulating services provided to the community). There is a pathological side to modern democratic government which is becoming increasingly obvious all over the world. When this pathology dominates everything then aspects of science which aren’t politically convenient for the relevant vested interests will inevitably be distorted when passing from the realities identified by researchers to the conclusions and implications presented to the public by the expert authorities. This is an acute issue in economic science.

    It seems pretty obvious that when there is a scientific theory, say about harm to the community associated with recreational drugs, which implies specific conclusions (e.g. criminalisation of drug supply and use) then the experiment of seeing if this theory is true (i.e. applies in reality) should be done. i.e. Enforce the criminality aspect. If the harm is then not mitigated even after 50 years of trying then the experimental outcome cannot be claimed to support the theory. It is time to move on and the theory should be discarded. If instead the proponents of the theory claim that the ‘real’ outcome actually supports the theory, that the experimenters aren’t trying hard enough, or that the harm would have been much worse had the experiment had not been performed, and that those proponents’ livelihoods depend on continuing the experiment, regardless of the outcome, then you know you are dealing with pseudo-science (aka politics).

    This is not obvious to most people because of the conflict of interest. The expert authorities that people trust to identify and recommend appropriate policy (best scientific theory) are the same people who benefit from the chronic failure of existing policy. As has been said before: It is difficult to get someone to understand something when their livelihood depends on their not understanding it.

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  • 15
    sarcasmsc says:

    Sometimes i think the issue is more that we rely on the information coming to us instead of going to get the information ourselves.

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  • 16
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    Mass media are terrible at reporting science. That has to do with the way the media are organised and funded – creating unnecessary vested interests and political structures. The result is a mass media that treats any new information as a political opinion. If your interested in how this works I highly recommend two books:

    – Dial M for Murdoch, Tom Watson & Martin Hickman

    – Flat Earth News, Nick Davies

    As a result mass media often presents science juxtaposed with woo and the opinions of people paid, essentially, just to have contrary opinions (the vacuity of their arguments notwithstanding).

    There are some areas where this is not so – almost exclusively associated, it has to be said, with state-funded media. Foremost among these is the BBC, which regularly produces some outstanding science programming for radio, TV and Net.

    As to how to fix the problem …

    Much as I dislike State involvement in anything, it has to be said that the BBC is an outstanding advertisement for factual programming. The difficulty is that many state broadcasters are not funded at arms length by liberal democracies and, in recent years, even the BBC has been interfered with by politicians that don’t like the fact that its output leans to the factual. This would seem to be evidence that no State Broadcaster can ever be entirely free of political influence.

    In addition, we need to be strengthening primary and secondary education. Mass media would not be getting away with the serial murder of truths if it was being consumed by citizens armed with critical thinking skills, and a working knowledge of the pressures on politicians and media managers.

    Sadly, it is true of all the World’s current states that education is poorly funded, badly managed, focused on the subjugation of citizens rather than their enlightenment, lacking in scientific rigour, subjected to interference by politicians and religions, and failing to provide the basis for life-long learning.

    But I am not wholly downhearted on education. Critical thinking exists in science education and the modern World would quickly dissolve into anarchy without the technologies that science delivers. Thus; critical thinking – a fundamental part of what science is – is taught, if only in the most tangential way. Amazingly, organised religions seem only to have understood this in recent years, and it appears to be a major reason for the rise in religious anti-science.

    Those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy the fruits and freedoms of liberal democracies need to be pressing our politicians to make critical thinking a more integral part of every subject.

    Finally, there is the media model that we have. It is based on the idea that what is good for cars, or tin trays, or MP3 players … etc. … is good for news, current affairs, investigative journalism and broadcasting the arguments and positions of the public square and town hall. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not true.

    Britain’s Leveson Inquiry exposed the reality of what happens, in all probability, in every democracy. Yet it is only the tip of the iceberg.

    Old Media is also working hard to shore up what is, ultimately, an untenable position. The most frequent, and frightening, manifestation of this is the PIPA/SOPA wars in the US. While, officially, these bills were shelved the Media lobbyists continue to push for alternative versions of this kind of legislation.

    We are hanging on to free expression, under this Media/copyright onslaught, by our fingernails. Civil rights groups in the US are currently requesting letter campaigns about every two weeks to counter this kind of legislation – which gives an illustration of the enormity of the problem. It is a hidden war for the heart of democracy that goes unreported in traditional Media for reasons that are obvious.

    The Net is the future. This very Site is a good working example of the transitional phase we’re in. While the News section re-packages traditional Media stories the Originals and Comments sections show what the next iteration of news media is going to be like. Add to this; that some items in the News section comes from Blogs, On-line only titles like Slate and Huff Post, and that all sections have comments sections and it is easy to see that we don’t need the traditional model:

    – Take raw material (news)
    – Manufacture product (make stories and commentary)
    – Label product and add restrictions on use (copyright and claim ownership of news and comment)
    – Sell to ‘consumers’

    Note the passive, reception-only, nature of the Citizen’s role in this model. Citizens of governments that embrace this model are basically stitching up their citizens three ways: They charge the Citizen for what is free in order to sustain oligopolies (newspapers, radio stations, etc.). They allow the oligopolies the power of conspiracies of silence (much news goes unreported), presentation over substance (how many arguments are presented in the average newspaper – as opposed to facts) and the locking up of history (archives), and they pander to the needs and wants of unelected (media Owners) over the elected in order to curry favour.

    I will concede that the Net, so far, has not come up with a very good model for investigative journalism – though Wikileaks, Alaveteli, Iceland Modern Media Initiative and the Investigative Dashboard are all straws in the wind.

    In the short term, while the Net sorts itself out I encourage you, and everyone who reads this post, to join a group in your country working to maintain free speech on the Net. I have written to my Representative more times in the past year than I did in the entirety of my previous life. It is not enough, we need more supporters desperately.


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  • Might have been a helpful spell correction software somewhere in the loop. But sometimes these errors are more accurate than what was originally intended. Best not to learn to touch type. Otherwise the rate of production of verbiage can exceed the rate limit for rational thought.

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  • That’s more or less what I’ve said in previous posts. Only that I took several thousand words to say the same thing!
    We are paying exorbitant rates for someone else to act as intermediary. But they’re just taking the money and not delivering.

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  • I think you need to chuck out the democracy baby with the dirty bathwater. Karl Popper covered the issue decades ago. Basically he beleived that how people become ‘elected’ to political power is irrelevant. It’s how they get unelected that’s way more important. The main issue is that democracy has nothing to do with how rulers obtain power. That happens anyway, whatever the political system. In practise, at present, individual players may be removed via elections, but the behind the scenes players remain firmly in control, regardless of which political party happens to pretend to be in power at any particular moment.

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  • 20
    Alan4discussion says:


    That happens anyway, whatever the political system. In practise, at
    present, individual players may be removed via elections, but the behind
    the scenes players remain firmly in control, regardless of which
    political party happens to pretend to be in power at any particular

    Unrestricted sponsorship for political campaigns, can easily result in electing the “monkey” while the organ-grinders or puppeteers remain hidden in the background.  (Some countries or states, cannot find respectable capable leaders, or decent quality puppets, so the have to use actors to impress gullible voters!)

    Negotiators often come up against this when trying to settle a claim or dispute with a front man or group, whose terms of reference are a disingenuous PR front for people who have no intention of negotiating an even-handed settlement, or resolution of outstanding problems.

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  • 21
    esmith4102 says:

    Raymond: personal autonomy is a basic tenet of democracy. While I am sympathetic with the condemnation of the purveyors of false information, misdirection, propaganda, and misleading innuendo, I find myself not being able to forgive the listener who hears and believes what she/he is told. Science literacy is not as easy as opening an unexpected Christmas present on Christmas morning, but can be achieved by the same attention one gives to the health and safety of ones own family. Excuses for not understanding science in our modern world doesn’t hold water anymore. Paying attention, understanding academic criticism and skepticism, learning the issues from vetted sources, learning science history and the basic questions science poses are, for starters, answers to science illiteracy. No citizen is excused from his/her responsibility in thoroughly understanding the basic premises of science – otherwise, how else can our democracy survive, especially with global warming looming over us. An ignorant citizenry will only enable the purveyors of false information.

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  • I’m not sure if I heard this right but this evening’s news (Sydney, Australia) was that the Indonesian Government is planning to remove science from the national school syllabus (along with English) to make room for more essential subjects. It won’t be any surprise as to what the released time in the syllabus is intended to accommodate: extra Islamic religious training.

    This is in the context of recent political press releases regarding maybe eventually the Australian Govt might make available more resources for teaching Asian languages, seeing as various Asian nations are major trading partners for Australian businesses. So reporters have been checking the reciprocal status in various Asian nations regarding their kids’ ability to speak Strine. (The main newsworthiness being that English is being dropped. What’s happening with science being less relevant. Presumably most journalists study English at school and tend to avoid science classes.)

    Not sure if this is good or bad. Isaac Newton presumably didn’t learn much science at school. Apparently he spent most of his intellectual efforts focusing obsessively on religious trivia and currency reform.

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  • 23
    epeeist says:

    “Science is often thought of as the search for truth via experimental analysis”

    It might be thought of as this, but if we take “truth” to imply certainty then it cannot be. Rather it is the search to eliminate errors in our description of the world or, in Marc Lange’s words, to eliminate unexplained explainers.

    This gives a far better view of science, with out theories being the best description we have so far but still contingent and corrigible.

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  • 24
    Scott Mayers says:

    If you think about it, I’m guessing that most of us here owe are reasoning capacities not directly to what was taught TO us, but rather what we discovered on our own due to early-life experiences of contradictions that forced us to question things ourselves. I remembered that son of that famous American Atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair who became a fundamentalist Christian. It would seem odd that having a parent who may verse their children well into logical or critical thinking skills could turn a blind eye to reasoning. But it makes sense in light of realizing that though a child can be exposed to information, realizing or internalizing it comes with an emotional investment to desire to know for some particular reason.

    I’ve noticed this all my life with family and friends too. It doesn’t matter how much verbal reasoning you can use to present something, even if they are forced to agree with you logically, their emotions block them from internalizing anything. In fact, if you prove something that is unfavorable to another person’s sense of emotional comfort, you can actually alienate them from hearing you.

    If this is so, then it seems to make sense that if you want someone to internalize logic and reasoning capabilities, you’d have to go at it in a way that encourages the ‘student’ to discover by their own drive and necessity to absolve problems. But they can’t know that they are a ‘student’ and the type of problem you present them with must coincide with their personal life’s drives.

    The trick is to try to figure out how to do this on a grand scale and that is more universal to most, if not all, individuals. You would also have to consider that there is an ongoing unspoken campaign to dumb society down by corporate and political interests because skepticism is universally welcomed by most of them.

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  • 25
    fidomusic says:

    I’m not sure science not resembling its original form is always because of suppression and corruption of knowledge. New scientific knowledge is usually highly specific and is couched by scientists “at the coal face” in specialist jargon, and in some cases, highly esoteric mathematics. There is little chance of the majority of non-scientists, or even scientists who are not specialists in the relevant subject area, of understanding new scientific knowledge without some mediation. Therefore a certain amount of “corruption” of the original knowledge is highly likely. This highlights the fact that in science communication, a certain amount of trust is involved; trust in the authority of science. However, hopefully, in the case of science, the trust is warranted – scientists can justify the trust.

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