December 1st, 2004

airbrushed, thoughtful

Bad science on any side

Something that annoys me is bad science. Okay, perhaps "annoy" is not strong enough of a word. "Is prone to sending me into a blind rage" might be closer, if slightly overstated.

I'm not actually gunning at the new Dover, Pennsylvania law requiring that creationism be taught and evolution be noted as a theory and not a fact, although it certainly angers me; it's just been flogged to death my enough other bloggers that I'm not going to waste the keystrokes on it while I wait for the lines at the lunch areas on this campus to decrease. No, what I'm going to be pissed off about is the immediate discrediting of any statement made by a company in favor of its product.

This was spawned by a news story of one group observing an inrease in esophogeal cancer apparently correlating with an increase in soft drink consumption. Soft drink companies replied that the study is full of shit and no causation can be drawn- the numbers come from a fivefold increase in cancer and a fourfold increase in soft drink consumption over the last thirty years, not any actual experimentation.

And this criticism is entirely correct. The "study" is utterly meaningless for exactly that reason. CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION, DAMMIT. The soft drink manufacturers observed that there are a hell of a lot of things that changed an equal amount in thirty years, not just beverage consumption, so why aren't any of them getting the accusation?

A fair question indeed. Perhaps it's artificial sweeteners in general? New varieties of industrial aerosol toxins hanging in the air? Computer mind-control rays? Who knows? I can tell you that the scientists who held this study and then published their results that they should have KNOWN were full of shit most certainly don't know.

I guess what pisses me off the most is that these scientists are, in the discussion area associated with the news story, being hailed as geniuses thwarted by the soft drink companies, who are obviously just lying through their teeth to protect their business. No, it's real, honest, sincere bad science that they've spotted, and they're more than right to object- and they're getting drilled into the ground for it. After all, apparently a company attempting to defend its product can never be right.

Bad science can be on any side of any line- sometimes it's the corporation that's right. I wish more people would start thinking more about the claim than the source of the claim for a change.
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    annoyed annoyed