Fake Science

The documenting of junk science is hardly new. I recall reading skeptics taking on nonsense studies back in the 1980’s. I’m old and my mind is slipping, but I think the term “junk science” was in use back then, but I may be misremembering. Alar is probably the first example I recall reading about, where the “science” turned out to be complete nonsense. DDT is the most famous example.

Still, the debunking of pseudo-science has a long history. It is generally tangled up in some cause, claiming to be about fending off an emergency. Anthropomorphic Global Warming is looking like the Godzilla of all junk science. Everything about it is fanciful, even the labels. The shadow of Rachel Carson will be with us forever.

The rise of the fake nerd has only made it worse. Fake nerds, as I have written about before, are all around us these days. Pretending to be “tech savvy” or really into technology is one part of it. Another is the use and abuse of statistics. The sporting press is being over run by guys with a couple of stat classes, carrying on like they are Bill James. Nate Silver is making a career out of it.

The mistake all of these guys make is in thinking statistics are science. Science uses statistics, but it also uses hammers and blow torches too. No one calls a carpenter a scientist or a geek, yet the typical carpenter is more empirically minded than most of these nerds. He understands cause and effect. He also understands that correlations can be misleading, so they must be treated with care.

Anyway, fake science has become the religion of the fake nerd cult. Take any amount of wishful thinking, slap on some statistics, scientific jargon and you have catnip for the fake nerds. This story is a great example.

The human race is really starting to feel the consequences of their actions. One area we are waking up to is the massive amount of pesticides we spray (especially in North America) on our food that has not only been linked to human disease, but a massive die off in the global bee population within the past few years.

A new study out of Harvard University, published in the June edition of the Bulletin of Insectology puts the nail in the coffin, neonicotinoids are killing bees at an exponential rate, they are the direct cause of the phenomenon labeled as colony collapse disorder (CCD). Neonicotinoid’s are the world’s most widely used insecticides.

Right away you see one of the hallmarks of fake science. That’s the apocalyptic warnings about humans living better than they deserve. In this case, it is the use of chemicals to ward off horrible plagues and produce more food.  Then you have the “case is closed” assertion that tells you the case is anything but closed. The fact that science is an ongoing debate is lost on the fake nerds.

For this study, researchers examined 18 bee colonies at three different apiaries in central Massachusetts over the course of a year. Four colonies at each apiary were regularly treated with realistic doses of neonicotinoid pesticides, while a total of six hives were left untreated. Of the 12 hives treated with the pesticides, six were completely wiped out.

This is an example of the classic logical fallacy they used to teach kids back in the olden times. It goes like this. If A then B, therefore if B then A. This is the error of affirming the consequent. In this case, overuse of this pesticide results in fragile bee colonies. There may be many reasons for fragile bee colonies. At best, this study suggest there may be a relationship between pesticides and fragile bee colonies.

Real scientists, like this guy, understand that there can be many causes to a single observed phenomenon. Those causes can interact with one another to mask and amplify their effects. Teasing out the true causal relationships is difficult. Correlations can help locate causes, but they often lead us down a blind alley. That’s the plight of the fake nerd. They believe they are empirically minded, but fall for this sort of nonsense all the time. The result is a flood of junk science.

1 thought on “Fake Science

Comments are closed.