Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rule of Thumb About Science (From Abstract Nonsense)

This is a repost from Abstract Nonsense

A good rule of thumb about any scientific issue is that you’re not allowed to disagree with mainstream scientific opinion, unless you’ve studied the field in sufficient depth to have a serious, intelligent conversation with an expert. In case there are several competing views instead of one mainstream, you’re not allowed to strongly swing one way or another.

Of course, “not allowed” means “not allowed if you want to be rational.” You’re not allowed to believe in fringe scientific theories, however attractive they might be to your political ideology, just like you’re not allowed to believe in fairies or 9/11 conspiracy theories.

In particular:

1. No matter what your views on fat acceptance or body image are, you must accept that obesity is a major medical problem.

2. No matter what your views on smoking laws are, you must accept that first- and second-hand smoking both cause lung cancer.

3. No matter what your views on race and class are, you must accept that IQ is heritable and measures intelligence fairly decently. At the same time, you must accept that the authors of The Bell Curve have no idea what they’re talking about.

4. No matter what your views on gender roles are, you must accept that there’s a genetic or hormonal component, as well as a huge environmental one.

5. No matter what your views on physics are, you must accept that string theory is a sound scientific theory.

6. No matter what your views on the Kyoto Protocol are, you must accept that global warming is real and anthropogenic and will cause widespread ecological disruption if left unabated.

7. No matter what your views on environmental regulations are, you must accept that DDT is harmful to the environment and encourages resistance to spraying among mosquitos.

Many of the above propositions are the subject of some controversy, but there’s a clear dominant view. I don’t fault Peter Woit for concluding that string theory is unscientific; he’s an expert who knows enough about the theory to make an informed judgment. But to be rational, I shouldn’t side with him just by reading his book, unless I’m prepared to read heaps of mainstream material on string theory.


  1. Anonymous7:25 AM

    Ah, children...

    Just because you throw a tantrum and scream "obesity is a health problem" don't make it so, kiddo. Looks like you're not prepared to read anything except your owned typed out preconceptions. Do some research. Fatness is a normal, human characteristic. Active fat people live longer than "normal" size people, and non-dieters have superior health to anyone who attempts weight loss (you know that 98% of dieters wind up at the same or a higher weight level than before the weight loss attempt, right?)

    You're too stupid to have a blog. And too lazy. Stop talking about things you know nothing about and go play with your blocks.

  2. Apparently you missed the point of the post being about disagreeing with mainstream scientific opinion. The mainstream scientific opinion right now is that obesity causes health problems across the board.

    Verbatum from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health...

    Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for:

    * diabetes
    * coronary heart disease
    * high blood cholesterol
    * stroke
    * hypertension
    * gallbladder disease
    * osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and bone of joints)
    * sleep apnea and other breathing problems
    * some forms of cancer (uterine, breast, colorectal, kidney, and gallbladder)

    Obesity is also associated with:

    * complications of pregnancy
    * menstrual irregularities
    * hirsutism (presence of excess body and facial hair)
    * stress incontinence (urine leakage caused by weak pelvic floor muscles)
    * psychological disorders, such as depression
    * increased surgical risk
    * increased mortality

    For the notion that fatness is a normal human condition for everyone, consider the following from the CDC...

    During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 1985 only a few states were participating in the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and providing obesity data. In 1991, four states had obesity prevalence rates of 15–19 percent and no states had rates at or above 20 percent.

    In 1995, obesity prevalence in each of the 50 states was less than 20 percent. In 2000, 28 states had obesity prevalence rates less than 20 percent.

    In 2005, only 4 states had obesity prevalence rates less than 20 percent, while 17 states had prevalence rates equal to or greater than 25 percent, with 3 of those having prevalences equal to or greater than 30 percent (Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia).

    From Colorado State University:

    Obesity is a growing problem among U.S. children. In 1994, one in five children between the ages of 6 and 17 was overweight. This is double the rate of 30 years ago.1 This adverse trend has potentially profound effects on children's health, including their long-term health.

    I'll agree that some heavy people are heavy because it's in there genes, but if this is the norm, why has obesity surged in recent decades; the age of processed food and take-out/fast-food.

    My research is done long before making opinions about anything.

    Good day.