Ever on the lookout for scientifical examples, here are two that I thought were interesting.
The first relates to my interest in amateurs being scientifical. UFO researcher Budd Hopkins presented the results of a study he conducted at a conference about UFO abductees. According to Robert Sheaffer (Skeptical Inquirer V. 35 No. 3 May/June 2001 p 25-27), he was roundly taken to task. Hopkins devised an image recognition test supposedly to determine if children were being abducted. He also conducted a Roper poll to find out how many Americans believed they have been abducted. His research lacks the basic protocol of credible research. Why? Hopkins is not a scientist. He didn’t know how to construct and execute a proper, valid study. Hopkins has no credible standing in the scientific community and the idea that people are being abducted by aliens out of their homes every night in our busy, crowded, surveillance-heavy, alarm-triggering world is ludicrous. Hopkins failed at being scientific.
Another point that has been brought up on the comments on this blog and also in Sheaffer’s column is that independent researchers, unaffliated with universities or hospitals, do not have to pass their research proposals through an Institutional Review Board. These boards (IRBs) examine the ethical and scientific appropriateness of research done under the auspices of that institution and can disapprove research plans if warranted. When this oversight is lacking, there is the potential that poorly designed studies could result in harm to the participant or be scientifically useless or deceptive. Research (with human subjects) done without IRB review are skirting a critical check in scientific protocol. Unchecked, but superficially scientific, work like that by Hopkins can give the public the impression that science can be done this way. Pretty awful.
The second example is given by Dr. Steven Novella. Today’s homeopath, he writes, “…looks to cloak himself in the respectability of science. That is the path to acceptance, official recognition and reimbursement.” (Skeptical Inquirer V. 35 No. 3 May/June 2001 p 28-29) Right! If it sounds sciencey, people are apt to believe that it is valid and true. we, as a modern society, still hold that science does the best job of seeking out and revealing the closest think to truth about the world. Too bad homeopathy is utter silliness. After Hahnemann (the founder of homeopathy) put forth the idea that an essense of a substance formerly in the water was retained, Beneveniste and others tried to be more scientific and show that water molecules created a memory of the substance. Nice try but water doesn’t work that way. And, homeopathy doesn’t work at all. Yet, ask people who use it. I’d bet they assume it is supported by science.
Now, I’m primed to find lots of examples of how people promoting products and subjects use sciencey processes (but not good science) primarily as an attempt to impress an audience. It happens all the time. Watch for it.