Thursday, March 21, 2013


"A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth." 
-- G. Goebbles

“Yep son, we have met the enemy and he is us!” ~ Pogo

Science is fairly simple and straight-forward, at least that is what I am told. One has a hypothesis and based on that axiom, one designs an experiment to prove or disprove the assumption. If proven, one verifies the experiments for posterity and voila a new concept is born. Well, and that is a deep well of doubt, it isn’t really like that anymore. It used to be once upon a time, when thoughts originated in the living flesh and knotted circuits while the heads were bent around the burning midnight oil to understand and reason.

Mastering the art of science is pretty straightforward.
  1. Develop a Hypothesis
  2. Research the background facts
  3. Develop a Methodology for Experimentation
  4. Experiment
  5. Review and Document the Results
  6. Repeat for verification
  7. Validation through other’s experimentation.

Right, so what is Pseudoscience?
  1. Have a premise
  2. Gather Big or Small Data from Warehouse or Data Marts
  3. Manipulate the data and the model
  4. Achieve Result
  5. Publish result
  6. Get Promoted.

But no more! Now we live in a sea of information derived from the digital warehouses of biggish data, where manipulation of one sequence leads to a new concept, enough to hang your hat on and plow towards the professorship or sell the least effective object or might I say, the least functional drug as a new concept. Hurtful, blatant, pure blasphemy, ignorance, Idiocy some would hurl such invectives, because they can and are wont to, if these words slice into their arguments.

" will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on." 
-- Winston S. Churchill

The pseudo in Pseudoscience is the Falsifiability of Karl Popper or Robert Merton’s Detachment, Universality and Skepticism. What these gentlemen were alluding to was deriding the “norms” through violation of the basic tenet of science, validation. There is a growing if not dominant force that has captured the belief of laity and even some scientists that whatever is portrayed as science has got to be true. “Stuff,” like Astrology, Witchcraft, Pyramidology, Neurolinguistic programming, Reflexology, Reiki, Naturopathy, Graphology, Paranormal plant perception are all “disciplines” that use obscurantist language to purport theories without basis. None of these would survive the fine edge of Occam’s Razor.

Okay, most like-minded people will easily agree with that premise, but now the hard part, and there is a hard part coming, there is a growing volume of discourse that enables a different kind of rigor.

What is different about this rigor is that it states and touts willingly that it has a very rigid one, but when you dig deep, you find there is nothing. It boasts about various mathematical models and probabilities, but when you look at reason, you find gaping holes of indiscretions, exploiting the Confidence Intervals and building Forest Plots to hide the burnt out trees within. Let me take you through the prism of today’s scientific rigor. We are mired in the Observational Pseudoscience. Most data is being compiled through data harvested via varying inputs obtained from irrelevant streams. This data is being warehoused and then put through the “wood-chipper” to get to the chips and bits. From those chips and bits, depending on one’s selective nuance, a premise is arrived at and the computer spits out a series of data. These data are then paraded into a mathematical modeling through the grinders of Probability functions, at times even using the Baysean Rules, to then arrive at a finality. If the final answer fits the original premise, it is heralded as the latest version of the medical/scientific gospel. If it does not, then two avenues remain, one, to use different mathematical models and rules or, two, to use more graphs and plots to "shoehorn" in the bias. The third version of discounting and trashing the entire exercise as futile, is never entertained, because time has been spent. Further more, although some good can come out of this search by outlining the negative in it, but No! that cannot be, for we live in an optimistic society and everything must be a positive endeavor.

The fuel that fuels this drive is the non-science of epidemiology. Now Epidemiology has a good part to play to enrich society by unearthing information from large population clusters about certain disease manifestations, probable associations with other etiological possibilities and even highlight the potentialities of water-borne, tick-borne, air-borne illnesses after basic science has revealed such as causal inference. But today, there is no rigor of basic science, once the numbers have been collated, tables and graphs have been populated and the forest-plots have been drawn, there is little left to do for these new “scientists” but to claim their fame. In some cases the ticks never bore the disease, and the water never was contaminated and the air was not the vector for the illness. Ah but those are such trivialities, that they can be discarded for the overall beauty, artistry and conclusion derived at by the authors.

"I love fools' experiments, I am always making them." 
-- Charles Darwin

I came across a college graduate who had finished his four years in Arts decided to go into Public Health. He finished his degree in MPH (Master of Public Health) and upon graduation he comfortably found a position within a public healthcare firm. Life was good for him, he continued to climb the ladder of success as he added his name to the large roster of co-authorship in various and sundry articles written in various journals. In fact he got so famous that he became the head of a large agency. His word became gospel. He made various arbitrary statements and using irrelevant and obscurantist language that he had compiled in his repertoire continued to master the art of forceful expression. Everyone looked to him for answers to questions that never had any underlying reason. The charade went on and on and then one day the entire façade of the pseudoscience fell on him. He had traveled too far on the path of no return. He had made the fatal error of tackling basic science in his hubris. Uh no, you never use the dictionary of pseudoscience or junk science to lay a finger on verifiable, validated and true basic science.

"When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself." 
-- Mark Twain

You see, Basic science is tedious work, which requires diligence, hard work, a constant battle of wits, and a real search for the truth. Pseudoscience skims over the vast seas and flies in ether of scattered streams of data, collecting information to force-implant an ideology of thought. It is never verifiable and almost never repeated and if it is, it never arrives at similar conclusions. Case in point would be the nebulous virtues of Blood-Lettings, Amputations for Vitamin B12 deficiencies, High carbohydrate Diet, Smoking as a treatment for bronchitis, Cholesterol and Heart disease, Vitamin D, Coffee Enemas and a whole host of other holistic-nuanced feel-good approaches.

"I know a lot of people without brains who do an awful lot of talking." 
--The Scarecrow -From the Wizard of Oz

With fiscal uncertainties we are falling into the trap of such pseudoscience, where once early diagnoses lead to more cures, now early diagnoses leads to harm with purported “lead-time-bias.” Where once early stage disease-capture was tantamount to survival, now it is considered an expensive and greed riddled proposition without value. The funny thing is, that many intelligent folk are feeding on these paradigmatic, acquired so-called “virtues” and regurgitating them as gospel.

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived, and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." 
-- John F. Kennedy

So what is the answer? It is quite simple, if you have followed the train of thought here. An observational, epidemiological study done using ODD-Ratios and with all the beauty of graphs, plots and tables, can still ONLY suggest correlation at best and must be confirmed with basic science to arrive at causality. This, basic scientific rigor then must be validated and verified before the concept becomes the hard evidence of the day. Otherwise, I fear medicine and science are doomed to a “he-said, she-said” shouting match of idiocy! 

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true." 
--Carl Sagan

There will be a cohort who will chortle, "He is a lunatic, satan, how dare he question us, Who is he, He has no understanding of the universe..." I accept that they will be angry and that  makes me happy!

Just a thought…

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