Sometimes it’s just easier to gravitate towards the information you’re more interested in finding.
EVERYBODY does it. Me too. You look for facts that support your preconceived position. You accept supporting facts without question and you examine contrary evidence with a fine toothed comb.
It's very human and really difficult to avoid.
original research made fairly modest claims
"Our data are consistent with the hypothesis and suggest it is possible that ..."
"WE'VE DISCOVERED ... "
I have frequently come across people who have ‘done their research’
Yeah I get that too.
But the alternative is to tell people to trust experts.
And the problem with that is that without knowledge you can't determine who you should trust. Should you trust Greenpeace? I mean they pretty much publicised the crises with whale populations and then protested long and hard to essentially stop whaling worldwide. Does that mean they are right about everything? If you operate simply on trust then the answer to that is yes - they were right once so you should trust them.
Personally I would much rather help people to get an understanding of things themselves so they can make a decision of their own rather than ask them to trust me*. And frankly outside my field of expertise you'd be a mug to simply trust me* and even in my field of expertise you should at least figure out if I actually have real expertise (google scholar is your friend).
* and yeah I sometimes fail to get that right.
Also: we have no option but to “trust the experts”
Yes and No
I am very much aware of the mountain of knowledge I've had to absorb to become an "expert" in my very narrow field. I know that mountain is just as high in every field. So no we can't all have that knowledge and we do need some trust.
But you don't have to be an expert to ask the basic questions. Was the data reproducible (or is this just one experiment in one narrow system)? Was the data peer-reviewed (or is this a press release or worse a pay-to-publish journal)? Do the authors acknowledge the rest of the field (or do they claim special insight)?
These are standard things that indicate bullshit. The really frustrating thing is the media should be asking all these things BEFORE they go to press. If our media modeled this kind of critical questioning then I think the public would get used to doing it as well.
Every scientist I know can cite examples of science news stories where the "evidence" was obviously questionable.
So yeah if you want an expert on fluorescent bugs you talk to Siouxsie but most times you don't need Siouxsie to recognise that the well and good section of Stuff is mostly unsupported bollocks.
From what I hear, one of the things that’s getting up some noses at Pharmac are the companies who don’t release all their study results, just the ones that make them look good…
Which is exactly the point Dr Goldacre is making.
Pretty much every scientist hates the way pharma (big and middle sized) play games with data. Same is true with almost every big industry - do you really believe the environmental impact numbers from Toyota or VW?
But we (the public) have all collectively decided that we are happy to allow free market capitalism to manage these industries. Which works well for some things but when it comes to health it looks increasingly dodgy.
But the alternative is to use public funds to discover, and more significantly, develop new medicines - then we can apply the rules we (society) want. Or we go head to head with pharma and demand they adhere to our rules about data - anyone want to guess how well that conversation is going to go.
But despite the gloom about data - things are starting to change - there are a lot more open source journals with open data. There are efforts to improve reproduciblity standards. And even in the Pharma industry there are noises that what was done before is not really acceptable any more. Things are getting a bit better.
All of that would be dramatically helped by an increase in the general population's understanding of scientific method ... if the public was more willing and able to be critical of claims maybe we could get past the paternalistic "trust me" and into the more inclusive "here's why we think it works, what do you all think?"
At which point they get round both by doing what they do now- funding patient advocacy groups to call for funding.
We're talking about me being King here so basically I'd just rule that treason and chop their heads off - I did mention me being king was a really bad idea.
Which is what we see when drug companies push for Pharmac funding by taking those cases to a willing media.
If I was king (a really bad idea) drug companies would be banned from making any media statement or advertising at all.
My fear is that too often one pretty, stricken figure gets the media attention so the easy political solution is to let 100 poor, elderly people freeze to death away from the media eye so that the politician can fund treatment for that one person.
That was the reason Pharmac was kept outside the political system. Up until the point that National decided to buy a voting group by selling a Pharmac decision down the river.
These decisions are one of the reasons I work on plants. I'm just not emotionally equipped to make those calls, even though you can argue that improving the food supply is important it just isn't that immediate.
It's also the reason I defend so strongly those people who are willing to sit in a committee and try and make those very calls. Yes they will get it wrong sometimes but shit that job is a tough one and anyone willing to take it on deserves respect for their effort.
You know those friends you have, that move away and it's like years between the times you see them, neither of you are the daily writing to each other types so you have no contact.
And then you are in the same town and you meet up for coffee and the conversations just pick up where you left off as if there was no gap in the friendship at all.
Your writing is like that. So don't sweat the gaps, do what you need to do and when you write again I will read it with just as much joy, no matter how long the gap between.
we do see that type of capture everywhere from policing to politics, but it’s still a bad thing
My experience with them has been different.
But either way the solution is to increase funding to allow them to operate independently and not to simply accuse them of being corrupt.