Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Small Step in Defence of Evidence-Based Thinking

Whatever happened to critical thinking - reasoned, rational, evidence-based thought? That it's gone, or at least it's been suppressed, is plain for all to see.

Interesting report in today's Washington Post. A group of climate science types decided to expose the denialists for the scheming liars which they are.

We've spent the last decade, perhaps 15+ years, in a he said/she said rut. Research is done, statistics are produced and then the fun begins. One side says this proves X. The other side says, no, that's not right - look here, this proves Y. And, with that, there is no proof, merely a debate and we're all free to take sides.

Now these climate scientists have arranged what you might call an elaborate "blind taste test." They've taken the statistics that both sides are using and dress them up to appear as something else, something other than climate data. Then they take each side's arguments, adapt them accordingly to suit the non-climate scenario, and submit them to experts in non-climate fields.

During the test, the researchers featured such a statement, along with the corresponding climate data — but they changed the labels and wording, making it appear that they were displaying information about entirely unrelated topics, such as agricultural output or business profits. They then asked the expert participants to answer a series of questions about whether they thought the given statement confirmed or contradicted the accompanying data; whether the statement seemed misleading; and whether the statement was appropriate for use by policymakers or industries...

“Across two groups of experts and across six different scenarios, contrarian claims were judged to be misleading, inaccurate, and unsuitable for policy advice,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “Conversely, mainstream scientific interpretations were found to be accurate and suitable for policy advice overall.”

“It’s a huge effect,” [the University of Bristol's Stephan]Lewandowsky added. “They are about as far apart as anything I’ve seen.”

As an added test, the researchers asked the participants to predict what the masked data should look like in the future — and in general, the experts made predictions in line with what’s been projected by mainstream climate scientists.

“So no one thought the Arctic was going to recover — they thought it was going to continue melting, because that is what the data show,” Lewandowsky said.

Some are criticizing the study for its methodology but, ultimately, the criticisms don't really matter. The study would only be truly relevant in a society governed by evidence based, rational, reasoned, critical thought. That ship has sailed and it's well over the horizon.


Troy Thomas said...

John Oliver: "Is science bullshit? To which the answer is clearly no, but there is a lot of bullshit currently masquerading as science."

The Mound of Sound said...