Ten Common Misconceptions About Science

Your mission as an ethical skeptic, is to oppose agency. Ten top apothegms follow which are highly indicative of agency masquerading as science communication.

If you approach any typical skeptic or science communicator, and ask them to enlighten you as to the core principles of science, odds are that many or most of these precepts below will crop up inside the discussion. Below are my top ten favorite misconceptions about science – which are sold by social skeptics. What you will find after a couple decades of experience in debating plurality, is that these gems of a lie are most commonly spun by persons promoting some form of agency. Your task as an ethical skeptic, is to oppose agency – and allow genuine science method to do its job. No matter who is conducting it, what question they seek to address, nor the results suggested from their study.

1.  Science starts by asking a question

The process of science begins through observation, the crafting of data collection/intelligence frameworks and finally the establishment of necessity under Ockham’s Razor. In absence of a well framed necessity to consider an idea inside a schema of intelligence, inside a domain of research – a question, asked prematurely will simply serve to bias the process of research or mislead researchers. The most common tactic of official pseudoscience, is to ask the wrong question from the very start.

“The first step of the scientific method involves making an observation about something that interests you.” – ThoughtCo., The Scientific Method

2.  The simplest explanation tends to be the correct one

The only way one would buy this apothegm, is if their entire life had been relatively simple up unto the point of first being presented it. This circumstance occurs most often inside of academia. Science and Ockham’s Razor hinge upon plurality, not simplicity.

“…there are numerous reasons to suspect that this simple [Occam’s Razor] is itself fundamentally misguided.” – Science Blogs, Why The Simplest Theory Is Never The Right One: Occam’s Razor Has A Double Edge

3.  The ‘gold standard’ or most rigorous form of science is a meta-study

A meta-study, in absence of risk assessment or study author engagement, and especially if it consists of merely a survey of abstracts, utile absentia error or does not combine longitudinal or controlled trial studies of the same analytical species, is the most dangerous and misinforming version of scientific study. Most meta-studies are simply interpretive systematic reviews and opinion articles, being spun as high confidence meta-study.

“The large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, or conflicted.” – John Ioannidis, Stanford University

4.  Data science/scientist

Science involves the use of noisy data, which must be denatured into information. Moreover, it then must be transmuted and framed into intelligence schema – but that does not mean that those who handle data, are therefore scientists, nor that they are necessarily ‘doing science’ by the mere act of processing/storing data. The ability to convert data into intelligence, and avoid univariate fallacy or error, is an uncommon skill.

“‘Data Science’ is a misnomer. Science, in general, is a set of methods for learning about the world. Specific sciences are the application of these methods to particular areas of study. Data is a collection of facts. Data, in general, is not the subject of study. Data about something in particular, such as physical phenomena or the human mind, provide the content of study. To call oneself a “data scientist” makes no sense. One cannot study data in general. One can only study data about something in particular.” – Stephen Few, Visual Business Intelligence: There is No Science of Data

5.  Science seeks reliable information

Science seeks probative information, and then seeks to establish means to improve the reliability of incremental conjecture based upon that probative information. The seeking of only reliable information, and trying to force such information to then be probative, constitutes a procedural fallacy called streetlight effect. It will serve most often to result in the very answers we expected before even looking.

“A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, ‘this is where the light is’.” – Wikipedia, Streelight effect

6.  Myth of the excited scientists

The common misconception that, upon discovering groundbreaking evidence or unprecedented observations inside a ‘fringe’ subject, amazed and unbiased scientists would immediately draw close with interest and thereafter dedicate their lives to the study of that subject.

“So when I turn to the rest of the evidence, ghosts and all, I cannot carry with me the irreversibly negative bias of the ‘rigorously scientific’ mind, with its presumption as to what the true order of nature ought to be.” – Psychologist William James, Scientific American: Brilliant Scientists Are Open-Minded about Paranormal Stuff, So Why Not You?

7.  Bigger science is better science

The misconception that adding more data to a study, more study teams or more studies to a meta-study, will therefore increase the accuracy, salience or verity of that study. In fact, Yule-Simpson effect and univariate error indicate that the complete opposite is often true. A signal risks false positive or false negative if the study sample/set is too small of course. However, in similar philosophy, designing the study set to be too all-encompassing, too early in the process of prosecuting a null hypothesis, is a guaranteed method of ensuring false negative and Type II error – but still appearing all sciencey in the process. 

“Recall that the more information you get, the more disproportionately higher the ratio of noise to signal. Say, a little bit of information, 50% noise; a lot, 99.9% noise.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

“Small research groups tend to beat large collaborations when it comes to producing innovative projects and breakthrough discoveries.” – The Scientist, Bigger Is Not Always Better for Team Science

8.  The conclusions of science are the propriety of scientists

The misconception that only scientists are qualified to understand, discuss or socially disposition a privation of science, and that the conclusions of scientists cannot be over-ruled by the public at large, at-risk stakeholders, nor their elected representatives. Science does not possess a method which substantiates it as a form of government.

“Fewer than 20% of those surveyed believe scientists are transparent about potential conflicts of interest with industry all or most of the time. The public is also skeptical that scientists regularly admit their mistakes.” – Cary Funk, Pew Research

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F Kennedy

9.  Science hinges upon the burden of proof

The vast majority of science ‘proving things correct’ hinges upon incremental Bayesian probability and induction. These forms of inference in no way constitute the same level of proof which deduction or falsification can offer, at best indicating that an idea is likely or very possibly likely. While deductive proof is nice, and a desired goal – it is seldom attained. Therefore it is misleading to claim or imply that science is based solely upon such a concept, or to burden outsiders with such a Herculean ‘proof’ task before they can be considered to be doing ‘science’.

“…Popper provides that a scientist creatively develops a theory which may be falsified by testing the theory against evidence or known facts. Popper’s theory presents an asymmetry in that evidence can prove a theory wrong, by establishing facts that are inconsistent with the theory. In contrast, evidence cannot prove a theory correct because other evidence, yet to be discovered, may exist that is inconsistent with the theory.” – Wikipedia, Scientific evidence

“Proof is for maths and alcohol, not science.” – Common proverb

10.  Our current scientific body of knowledge originated from science itself

The vast majority of our knowledge does not originate from formal university, corporate nor government labs. Our knowledge is derived from specialty laymen, ancient practitioners, garage tinkerers, contract employees, three forms of hypothesis sponsors and hobbyists. Science simply takes possession of their discovery and work, after the fact.

“Statistics show half of all inventions happen by accident.” – David Nield, Science Alert

“Prostitutes were thriving even before there was prostitution theory.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Real World Risk Institute Fall 2019

The Ethical Skeptic, “Ten Common Misconceptions About Science”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 29 Sep 2018; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-8iK

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Tommy Schopenhauer

This may be an old article, but it is a very important one. A great one, in fact …

Every “SCIENCE!”-screaming troglodyte should be confronted with these clear and concise clarifications. Too much stupid “science” gibberish muddles through by being ill-considered hogwash that is never challenged in the simple yet fundamental ways that it deserves!