Jun 19, 2014

Informed Opinions are Based on an Understanding of the Facts But Only if You Want So!

Update, 6/23/14:
John Oliver has a great take on Dr. Oz selling magical cures, people's priorities, and corrupt politics. 


It's still amazing--perhaps it shouldn't be give the conservative (primitive) ideology that has influenced our education--that so many Americans don't believe in science, you know, ascertainable facts! Just recently there was another poll that close to a majority of our brethren in the US believe that God designed humans in their present form, which of course means they don't believe in evolution.

I understand that many perceptions, beliefs, and even actions are not reality-based. Perhaps we should stop pretending that most people can be convinced by reason and evidence. They are not--at least not right away if at all. Otherwise, lots of our contemporary debates should have been settled long time ago.

But, people like wishful thinking. They are, at best, misinformed, or, at worst, they practice willful ignorance. Even some of my educated friends are victims to scams and faulty logic. But, there are personal needs that cannot be satisfied by reality, so the alternative is to seek remedies in an alternative universe. I do understand this human need, but I really despise the con artists, most of which are ruthless exploiters and profiteers, like the mediums, faith/crystal healers, voodoo peddlers, religious quacks (any other type, really?), and tellers of secrets, "they (special interests, government, etc) don't want you to know."

Popoff For Jesus

Although some victims do see the light, many don't, even when the scammers are exposed, on national tv nevertheless. Case in point: Peter Popoff, Benny Hinn, Kevin Troudeau, Silvia Browne, James Van Praagh, and many others.

Oprah has had her share of promoting pseudo-science. I think she probably means well but she has a responsibility since she has convincing power. She should not mix entertainment with public health issues. Remember Dr. Oz? Well she made him famous, and now this guy has been making tons of money peddling bullshit. He was admonished during his Congressional testimony a few days ago--where he admitted that his claims (for all sorts of products) had no scientific proof. In other words, they did not work!.

It's very wrong to give bad advice to patients. It's unethical to to create or support anyone's delusions. As it is wrong to tell someone that their schizophrenia is due to demonic possession. It is wrong to tell cancer patients that standard medicine is toxic and there's an easier "natural treatment" that's miraculous! I once had a close friend who went through this, and it was (still is) very painful.

There's no "alternative medicine." What works is medicine, which includes standards of measuring the effectiveness of a remedy/procedure. The so-called "alternative medicine" has no such standards, and it's mostly make-believe and anecdotal. It actually can be very dangerous. I abhor those who sell such bullshit to sick people who are desperate for a cure. 

"Both Sides?"

Finally, open-minded people may have big holes in their heads that their brains fall out. Of course, there has to be debate and examination of the evidence. Any better argument and evidence must be accepted--always, with the door open for amendment. This is the scientific method. 

However, when it comes to education, to a professional opinion, a best-judgment call, it can't be "everything goes!" Not everything has equal value. As a teacher I would be failing my professional duty to say, some people believe the earth is round, some people are flat-earthers!  Likewise for a doctor to say, this medicine is effective x% but there are those who think a voodoo doll is just as effective. Rubbish.

The willfully ignorant or those who a conservative agenda say,  "we should teach the controversy"! OK, I don't expect much more from them. Seriously though? Taught in school as what exactly? Alchemy with chemistry? Voodoo with medicine? Astrology with astronomy? This bullshit isn't appropriate, not in an advanced country that values education and science. We shouldn't be teaching ignorance! This can be a deal breaker. There's only one science: It's a tool for understanding. It employs, reason, inquiry, theory that can be amended, predicts, explains; it deals with facts as best we can ascertain them. Science is NOT dogmatic, doesn't have to satisfy gods, kings, or personal wishes..

Jun 10, 2014

In Politics, Non-Optimal Choices Can be Acceptable. After All, Democracy Depends on Consensus

I had an interesting conversation with colleagues during lunch today and at least one said that they won't vote for Hillary Clinton should she run for president. Some of the reasons cited was that she's openly for big business, that she didn't do anything while at the State Department, and that it's not appropriate to have an oligarchy of the Bushes and Clinton.

Well, I get all that, but in a democracy--as many times in life--we, personally, don't have the ideal choice. We may not have great choices either. We often take the "lesser of the two evils" and it makes sense, especially when one is truly evil, as I believe any serious Republican contender has been in my lifetime and will be in 2016.

Plus, elections have consequences as they can steer the country in a certain direction, elevate certain priorities, and articulate ideas. Successful policies, despite their flaws, convince people about their merits. Let's not forget, many people are conservative--can't imagine in the abstract or analyze ideology. There are many narratives out there. Sure, leadership matters, and that's why we have so many people choosing the ridiculous and want a society more fit for the Dark Ages. However, once they see that, say, Obamacare is generally good, that same-sex marriage doesn't destroy a state, etc, they accept it.

In the same light, I don't think most people readily accepted the ideas of the Enlightenment, of liberalism, or of civil rights for everyone. But, once those took hold (often imposed by elites like Jefferson, Madison, et al), people accepted them. We can see this today in our own country, from state to state--different sub-cultures with very opposing views on, say, gun control, religion, sex, political parties choice, etc. This also shows that most issues aren't decided on their merits, on evaluating the facts, because otherwise we wouldn't still be debating whether humans are responsible for global warming, evolution (and science in general), and the age of the Earth!

In yesterday's NYT, C. Blow's oped titled, "Religious Constriction," makes a similar point about the religiosity of our citizens--highest among affluent countries. You have to look to Greece, Italy, and the oil-rich Gulf countries to find higher religiosity. I maintain that--for most domains, issues, ideas, morality--if religion informs opinion then, most certainly, it's wrong, and imprudent. It is precisely because such opinions are held by so many of our citizens that we don't see the progress we could get nor do we solve many of our own problems.


I have to give another shout to a favorite, Paul Krugman, who he recently wrote [link] along the same lines of my argument:

"The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed."