"...the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us, and at the same time, a great openness to new ideas. Obviously, those two modes of thought are in some tension."
The Fine Art of Baloney Detection by Carl Sagan
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the "facts."
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from authority carry little weight — "authorities" have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps, a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among "multiple working hypotheses," has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours. It's only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course, there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
- If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
- Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
- Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
CASE IN POINT: The Baptist University Study
Walter White and Jessie showed more respect for science in Breaking Bad than the researchers from Baptist University in Hong Kong.
"[Level of PAHs] in e-cigarettes is at least one million times more than roadside air in Hong Kong," said Dr. Chung Shan-shan, an assistant professor in the university’s biology department.
Baloney Detection Kit by Michael ShermerWelcome to the first educational video that was presented by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science! In this short clip, Dr. Michael Shermer - who is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine - lays out these 10 important questions to ask when trying to discern the truth from the lies being broadcasted in the news and other mainstream media.
- How reliable is the source of the claim?
- Does the source make similar claims?
- Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
- Does this fit with the way the world works?
- Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
- Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
- Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
- Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
- Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
- Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
How Personal Beliefs Drive Anti-Vaping Claims
A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science
Both of these beautiful infographics are available for free from the Compound Chem website. The misbehaving scientists and doctors this week refocused the spotlight on 'bad science' and the different types of scientific misconduct among researchers. When these kinds of behavior are discovered, researchers are forced to retract their work from the scientific journal or university archives.
Unfortunately, most of the research done on vaping and e-cigarettes were commissioned by tobacco firms and anti-smoking advocates. It's not surprising for the results of those studies to fit the expectations of the people who paid for them.
The above image is spliced from a cool infographic made by creative folks at Clinical Psychology. A complete copy of this infographic has been published at Watts Up With That along with the links to the source of data. You may want to read this interesting blog post on scientific fraud.