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Science, pseudo-science & junk science - recognizing the difference  RSS feed

 
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I was starting a reply in another thread but as I typed, I realized I was meandering off topic of the forums discussion and decided to start a new thread here in the cider press so those who want to comment, can do so most candidly. I chose the ethics and philosophy forum as I think it's the ethics of science that I'm trying to discuss. If staff decides the ulcer factory is a better home, by all means please move this.

Science, and putting faith in science was mentioned briefly, and it got be thinking how it seems a lot of science nowadays has been polluted, giving us pseudo-science and junk science, and unfortunately it doesn't appear to be anything new. It comes from individual scientists who publish papers which are biased just to further their own careers, to scientists that are funded and guided, if you will, to find the results the funder of the program wants to be true using misconstrued factual data, to scientists that accept bribes to deliberately mislead the population with published lies to benefit the backers of industry that paid the bribes.

I grew up being taught that science is real and you can trust it, because science takes data, does tests or experiments, and if the results from those tests or experiments can be repeated, then it’s true. What happened to our science? It seems like greed has tightened its iron grip on some of those who we were taught to believe in, or even trust.

I feel like the older I get, the more I have to keep my guard up and doubt & question everything, which I feel is a pessimistic way to live, and I don’t really like it as I’ve always been an optimist.
 
pollinator
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Hi James. I think it's only the scientific method that can be trusted, not individual studies that may be unscientific.

We need to be wary of the profit motive, as you've pointed out, and research the science that we choose to use to make our decisions. If it has been payed for by someone who benefits from the findings, that earns more than a little skepticism in my books.

I think it's also laziness on the part of the science consumer that's to blame. Remember that it's one published study, rather quickly refuted, that caused vaccinations to become an allegedly controversial practice. Yet everyone to whom that report spoke, either because of their distrust of science or because they don't like being told what to do by the government in getting their children vaccinated, grabbed a hold of the idea and ran with it, and automatically, everyone who corrected the junk science that the study was based on was suddenly a part of the conspiracy started when Ancient peoples in the east used powdered cowpox scabs to protect people from the scourge of small pox.

People want to believe what they want to believe. They don't want to change, themselves or their outlooks or anything. That would make them wrong, and the only thing worse than that would be to be dead and wrong.

One of my favourite operas, L'Elisir d'Amore, features a snake-oil salesman character named Doctor Dulcamara who sells the protagonist a love potion that turns out to be a bottle of port with a fancy label on it. This is not a new happening. It's just easier to find supportive "evidence" and corroboration of spurious reasoning with the internet.

What I think we need is to be more intellectually discriminating; that is, we need to scrutinise the sources of our information, and discriminate between science that does its homework and scientistic rationalisation designed to sell an idea or product.

That, and we need more intellectual honesty. We need to stop being intellectually lazy, and cherry-picking from scientific ideas for the ones that best suit our personal outlooks, without regard for accuracy, precision, or bias. It wouldn't be so easy for the unscrupulous to cheat us if we did.

-CK
 
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The problem as I see it is that many papers are published and even without any intentional bias some will simply be wrong, now if you know the subject and have paid access to the relevant journals you can work it out yourself, but if it's in a different subject area good luck trying to understand a journal article. I'm not talking about the dumbed down articles that appear in mass media publications, but those that are published with only other people also specialised in the field expected to read them.
Now I know of people who have received funding for a piece of work and it has come up "wrong" so it simply isn't published, of course that pushes the balance of papers published on that topic one way or another, which then appears to create a consensus which perhaps doesn't exist in reality.
There is also a much larger problem with newspapers and the internet getting hold of an article the either do not understand, or knowingly misinterpret and saying something that wasn't actually stated in the article. Or if it was was mentioned as a "possibly, probably or maybe" Whereas the media make it a certainty.
 
pollinator
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Skandi Rogers wrote:The problem as I see it is that many papers are published and even without any intentional bias some will simply be wrong, now if you know the subject and have paid access to the relevant journals you can work it out yourself, but if it's in a different subject area good luck trying to understand a journal article. I'm not talking about the dumbed down articles that appear in mass media publications, but those that are published with only other people also specialised in the field expected to read them.
Now I know of people who have received funding for a piece of work and it has come up "wrong" so it simply isn't published, of course that pushes the balance of papers published on that topic one way or another, which then appears to create a consensus which perhaps doesn't exist in reality.
There is also a much larger problem with newspapers and the internet getting hold of an article the either do not understand, or knowingly misinterpret and saying something that wasn't actually stated in the article. Or if it was was mentioned as a "possibly, probably or maybe" Whereas the media make it a certainty.



Peer review in scientific journals is extremely important.  I know people that get their entire knowledge of science from either the mainstream media, or the pulpit.  I think it is a mistake in either case.  I don't believe the laboratory is a good place to seek spiritual guidance, and I don't think religion is the place to turn for scientific insight.  
 
Skandi Rogers
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Todd Parr wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:The problem as I see it is that many papers are published and even without any intentional bias some will simply be wrong, now if you know the subject and have paid access to the relevant journals you can work it out yourself, but if it's in a different subject area good luck trying to understand a journal article. I'm not talking about the dumbed down articles that appear in mass media publications, but those that are published with only other people also specialised in the field expected to read them.
Now I know of people who have received funding for a piece of work and it has come up "wrong" so it simply isn't published, of course that pushes the balance of papers published on that topic one way or another, which then appears to create a consensus which perhaps doesn't exist in reality.
There is also a much larger problem with newspapers and the internet getting hold of an article the either do not understand, or knowingly misinterpret and saying something that wasn't actually stated in the article. Or if it was was mentioned as a "possibly, probably or maybe" Whereas the media make it a certainty.



Peer review in scientific journals is extremely important.  I know people that get their entire knowledge of science from either the mainstream media, or the pulpit.  I think it is a mistake in either case.  I don't believe the laboratory is a good place to seek spiritual guidance, and I don't think religion is the place to turn for scientific insight.  


I don't know, quite a lot of praying goes on in the lab!
 
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James Freyr wrote:scientists that accept bribes to deliberately mislead the population with published lies to benefit the backers of industry that paid the bribes



Let's remember that the biggest and most lucrative industry in the world is that of government
 
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We certainly are in an era where it is almost impossible to know what is real. Bill used to make a big deal about how we could never truly measure anything in the natural world because we were constrained by the tools we used to measure and the time it took to do the measuring--the area of leaves on a tree for instance.  Each finer measuring tool exposed more area, and the area was constantly changing anyway as leaves grew and fell off.

So in the abstract we see that to be true, and yet we continue to try and apply drugs based on statistics that are marginal at best. Cholesterol drugs have about a 30%effect, and yet most doctors will still not recommend a vegan diet which is 90% effective.

We justify national policy decisions, legal decisions, make all sorts of pronouncements on individual cases based on very generalized rules that are derived from marginally predictive data of possibly unrelated populations, interpreted by flawed assumptions.

I think many of us remember how we had to make sure to have all the essential amino acids necessary in the same meal-- combining corn and beans for instance because the body could not store them from one meal to the next.  Turned out that was a single rat study done in the 1920's  revived by a magazine in the 50s and turned into "science" that ruled our nutrition experts until real science recently showed it did not apply to humans--as so many mouse and rat studies are now being found to be irrelevant. What "facts" do we carry around in our heads that have absolutely no predictive capability and yet prevent us from seeing connections between new data sets?

Even in the case of vaccines, the immunity of milkmaids in Europe to smallpox fathered the entire field of vaccinations in the West, and as referenced above, was even used before that in the East, yet it is quite a leap to go from a cowpox  inoculation , to an actual small pox inoculation. That isn't tradition but is actually relatively new, opening the door to unforeseen calamities.  I could get into the history that I "know" of vaccinations, but that would only support the notions already being expressed- one man's science is another man's pseudo science.


In the end, we all live or die by our assumptions (live by the sword, die by the sword?).  Perhaps the truest test of intelligence is to be able to see all the data, all possibilities and not have to make pronouncements about good or bad or become attached to a pet philosophy. Rather to let each new piece of data inspire an ongoing dialog on the workings of the universe.

I think in our Permaculture lives, we try stuff, observe the results, and adjust accordingly.
 
gardener
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Often, I come across something new that I haven't heard of before. Sometimes there are fantastic claims. I have no interest in learning about the claims from those who are already sold on the idea. I look to see who has come out against it. I'm interested in what quackwatch, the New England Journal of Medicine or Lancet might have to say. If any of them have given it is a serious run through the mud and stomping on, then I know not to waste my time. So basically I found a way to peer review things in a manner suitable to me. I don't have to concern myself with what exactly went on in every study, since I trust those three.
 
pollinator
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During ww2, the Brits invented radar and were intercepting German planes so effectively, and kept radar so top secret, that they had to give an explanation.

They said that eating a lot of carrots gave their lookouts excellent vision to see the planes.

It turned out that carrots were one of the few surplus foods in the war torn area.they got double benefit from the lie campaign. More people happily ate them

To this day, its still common knowledge (truthful?) that carrots are good for vision.

I may be wrong in which war it was invented (ww1 or ww2), but its interesting how this myth has lasted for decades.
 
Mother Tree
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wayne fajkus wrote:
They said that eating a lot of carrots gave their lookouts excellent vision to see the planes...

To this day, its still common knowledge (truthful?) that carrots are good for vision...

... its interesting how this myth has lasted for decades.



And yet there is more than a grain of truth in the belief that carrots are good for night vision.  They are rich in betacarotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, also known as retinol because it is found in the retina. A deficiency of retinol causes night-blindness, which can be cured by eating carrots.

Scientific American article - "Fact or Fiction?: Carrots Improve Your Vision"

We do have to be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater sometimes.
 
Steve Farmer
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Dale Hodgins wrote:So basically I found a way to peer review things in a manner suitable to me.



Good point. Conventional peer review in today's science journals consists of passing your work across the desk to your friend and colleague whose incentives are aligned with your own.

I've worked in engineering and computers. When we make stuff, someone else we don't know, often across the world, is paid to try to break it before it gets released, and continues trying to break it even after release. Aircraft manufacturers want their components to fail during testing, not during service. Software manufacturers want exploits and vulnerabilities found and reported, not ignored for fear of offending the boss.

In science, the best theories are tested by a failure to disprove them, rather than by a general nodding of heads round the table then a stamp of approval from the govt.
 
gardener
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I got fetched up in another thread somewhere trying to nicely articulate the distinction between pseudoscience (which is to say, nonsense) and alternative notions that science cannot easily reach (which are sometimes to be found in the permaculture toolkit).

Even if peer-reviewed studies were the be-all and end-all, there are many areas of permaculture too complicated to reduce to studies of this sort. The benefits of polyculture is a classic example, but whether some plants beneficially serve as dynamic accumulators of nutrients may be another.

For me, the gold standard remains the reproducible set of peer-reviewed studies. But I won’t dismiss any notion out of hand for lack of same if there’s some obvious reason why no such studies can exist AND if there is, at least, an articulable theory for why the notion works, that uses ordinary words in their plain meanings.

Where we jump over to psuedoscience (for me) is where the theory uses made up words (or uses existing word in new ways), often with a lot of obscurantism and jargon, to conceal/describe either an unknown mechanism of action or a completely implausible one that imputes magical/impossible attributes to things whose true properties/behaviors are well known.

I think a lot about these distinctions between genuine nonsense, interesting non-science alternative stuff that may be true/useful/vital, and the genuinely scientific TRUE to-the-best-of-our-knowledge. Here on Permies discussion about all three is welcome, but I personally have little patience for the nonsense. Still, the rules require me to “be nice” if only in the sense of averting my eyes and keeping my mouth shut, so getting the ID correct matters.

The genius — if genius it be — of welcoming the psuedoscience discussions here right along with the chewy alternative stuff and the “true science” is that the boundaries aren’t clear, despite my best efforts. By forcing someone like me to choke down my disparagements of “obvious nonsense” on a certain percentage of threads, not only is a lot of toxic argument avoided but there’s room for a few wild-ass out-of-left-field things that HAPPEN TO BE TRUE to bubble up into public view without being shouted down by the skeptics.   And that’s very much within the permies editorial mission, however much it makes me feel like I’m swallowing my soda straw on a particular day.
 
pollinator
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Seems to me that science can be myopic.  Specialists are looking at a tree but don't always see the forest.   there is a lot of agenda driven Science and statistics.  What is the corporation or lobby going for?  Science will prove it, either way; something to sell a product, fracking isn't bad, corn syrup is good for you, smoking is good for asthma,

Science is awesome but it is often practiced without accountability or any type of moral code.  

 
Dale Hodgins
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I definitely see lots of agenda-driven stuff, when it comes to marketing products. Whether it's chocolate, coffee or wine, there will be a study that shows the healthy, life extending potential.

There's also plenty of stuff out there, showing that eating a healthy diet, getting exercise and staying off drugs, has amazing health benefits. The problem is, these things are well enough known, that they don't generate media buzz, and since there's generally not one company that will benefit, we don't see the giant ad campaigns.
.............
Sometimes, I have the pleasure of removing obvious spam. It's usually advertising and it can be made incredibly easy when it's all in Chinese characters. Not a lot of guesswork there.
.......
There is other stuff that I see as spam, just because it seems equally worthless, it has nothing backing it up, and it's nothing new, just cut and pasted crap. Extraordinary claims that attribute magical properties to water, or other substances, comes to mind immediately. I suspect that most who posts about this stuff, do not stand to gain from it financially. They are the dupes of other people who do stand to make a buck from the gullible.
 
pollinator
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I suspect that most who posts about this stuff, do not stand to gain from it financially. They are the dupes of other people who do stand to make a buck from the gullible.



Dale, I think it is more simple even than that. People want to have something to believe in. Something bigger than themselves, that will outlast their lifespan. I have a family member involved in some of this (I am going to call it "alternative medicine" but competent scientists do exist in that field and probably are horrified by her "practice"). I don't think she is an evil person. I think she has a strong desire to leave this as a mark on the world. The prior post the OP was discussing I gave some individuals who I think have made that jump- it is an altogether natural instinct. I am sure I do the same.

Not everything is about money, sometimes the currency is psychological. She has as an acolyte someone who is beyond fabulously wealthy, but has only money as a legacy, and he is investing heavily in this "field". I think this is sad but quite understandable from a psychological perspective.

I try to process information through three steps:
1) the whiff test- "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is". I reject most things out of hand through type 1 thinking. I'm OK with that.
2) Occam's razor- the most likely explanation is generally simpler.
3) For things that don't seem to have a simple explanation or fix, I use the standard study rules- interventional is better than observational, better than retrospective.

The fun thing about regenerative agriculture is that it is so complex it can tolerate purple breathers and lab scientists, and hopefully will! Dan Boone I am with you, but there have been ideas I have looked into based on some pretty far-out arguments that I will at least let past the first stage of the filter, and that to me is pretty cool!
 
James Freyr
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TJ I like how you mentioned not everything is about money. While I do believe money is the driving force behind a majority of pseudo science, I think there are a few individuals who as scientists want nothing more than accolades; from receiving acceptance and approval from their peers to pursuing fame so their name is commonplace among the textbooks and classrooms of future scientists. Whether it be greed or fame, I think they both pollute terribly.
 
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Chris Kott wrote:I think it's only the scientific method that can be trusted, not individual studies that may be unscientific.


Yeah I agree. The scientific method is pretty much infallible. It's the people that make the mistakes.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman



I recommend these two episodes of the podcast "Adam Ruins Everything" :
Adam Ruins Everything Episode 38: Professor Brian Nosek On Science's Reproducibility Crisis and Opportunity
Adam Ruins Everything: Episode 5 Science Journalism with John Bohannon
 
pollinator
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I think a lot about these distinctions between genuine nonsense, interesting non-science alternative stuff that may be true/useful/vital, and the genuinely scientific TRUE to-the-best-of-our-knowledge. Here on Permies discussion about all three is welcome, but I personally have little patience for the nonsense. Still, the rules require me to “be nice” if only in the sense of averting my eyes and keeping my mouth shut, so getting the ID correct matters.

The genius — if genius it be — of welcoming the psuedoscience discussions here right along with the chewy alternative stuff and the “true science” is that the boundaries aren’t clear, despite my best efforts. By forcing someone like me to choke down my disparagements of “obvious nonsense” on a certain percentage of threads, not only is a lot of toxic argument avoided but there’s room for a few wild-ass out-of-left-field things that HAPPEN TO BE TRUE to bubble up into public view without being shouted down by the skeptics.   And that’s very much within the permies editorial mission, however much it makes me feel like I’m swallowing my soda straw on a particular day.



That is a great stance; I agree.
 
pollinator
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Dan Boone wrote:
Even if peer-reviewed studies were the be-all and end-all, there are many areas of permaculture too complicated to reduce to studies of this sort. The benefits of polyculture is a classic example, but whether some plants beneficially serve as dynamic accumulators of nutrients may be another...



This is an important point for me. The scientific method is good at testing hypotheses framed in specific ways, but cannot (at present) handle things above a certain level of complexity. This is why, for instance, it is extremely difficult to test TCM treatments: there are simply too many variables involved to readily permit reproducible, double-blind testing. Not everything is testable in those ways.

This is also why  I’ve come to value thinking about “alternative” approaches, and trying things that seem to make sense if one takes into account cost and risk. Homeopathy for a cold? Not my thing, but if it makes you feel better,  its cost and risk are low so I wouldn’t tell someone else what to do. Biodynamic approaches likewise: planting according to those schedules, for example, isn’t my thing, but if it works for you, well, why should I say don’t do it? The cost and the risk are so low I just don’t feel the need.

Along similar lines, though, despite the empirical evidence for dynamic accumulators being uncertain, they seem to work for some people and are generally low in (differential) cost and risk. And the theory makes sense to me. So I plant some things in the hope they’ll dynamically accumulate. Maybe the testing will catch up, or not, but I like them already.
 
James Freyr
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I like peer reviewed studies, and I think it’s the best way to scrutinize ones theory in trying to prove a hypothesis, however I think even these can sometimes go astray against the betterment of science. I’ll use Walter Freeman, M.D. as an example. He’s the guy that came up with the lobotomy. WTF were his peers thinking when Freeman came up with this idea of using a sharp rod like instrument to bust thru the nasal cavity and randomly poke at and stir up the frontal lobe of the brain. Thankfully other doctors/scientists who could think questioned this practice and eventually it fell to the wayside and is no longer practiced when they realized it does nothing but harm. Thankfully this is one example where people learn from past mistakes and don't let history repeat itself.
 
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This peer review thing reminds me of this article I read a few months back:
https://gizmodo.com/scientific-journals-publish-bogus-paper-about-midichlor-1797186738

I've noticed a trend in scientific publishing, which originated in the news media, where a paper is published with great fanfare, others publish their own research based on this work, and further derivatives ensue.

Then the original research is found to be wrong, or flat out fake. It's quietly pulled and yet the effect on the collective public is achieved. It doesn't matter if it's fake. People are left with the emotional memory of the breaking news. The limited exposure of the later withdrawl is never remembered, and the derivative works remain in the public domain.

Just the other day, the people involved with the fake research that told us all that micro plastics were a thing and they were killing the oceans, were criminally charged. Their research has been pulled, their scientific credentials have been stripped, and they were fired from their academic institutions. And yet new research is still being published that have a foundation in this work. And the public are almost universally unaware that the whole thing was made up. And in a few years nobody will remember the truth, just the emotion response they had when they learned that the oceans were dying thanks to fleece clothing.

It is how the public consciousness is controlled and manipulated. And these techniques are being employed in the scientific domain because there is a lot of money and ego at stake.
 
Chris Kott
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Hey Nick. Could you link to sources that detail how microplastics aren't a thing? I was unaware of this, and am somewhat skeptical.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Nick Kitchener wrote:

Just the other day, the people involved with the fake research that told us all that micro plastics were a thing and they were killing the oceans, were criminally charged. Their research has been pulled, their scientific credentials have been stripped, and they were fired from their academic institutions. And yet new research is still being published that have a foundation in this work.  



A story about the retraction:  https://www.nature.com/news/controversial-microplastics-study-to-be-retracted-1.21929

From my quick reading of the retraction, microplastics were tested for the effect on fish growth which the researchers claimed to be retarding the growth of the fish.  Seems like the work was shoddy for sure....and the fact that Science (the journal) approved it for publication is a concerning trend.  Based on the paper trail, the retraction and "black eye" to the researchers is, I feel, warranted.  However, in the realm of "hyperbole creep", I would say that the lines quoted above are a part of the problem as well.....fuzzy descriptions of what was being tested and what was found fraudulent.  Additionally, any new research that is being investigated without their own built in controls would be equally shoddy:  One needs to wait to see how those experiments were done and what is being claimed in the conclusions.
 
James Freyr
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Here's two articles about awareness of scientists and respected journals publishing garbage.

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/paging-dr-fraud-the-fake-publishers-that-are-ruining-science

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5487745/
 
Nick Kitchener
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Then there is the rather large set of assumptions that are presented as facts, and models that are developed to replicate reality and are presented as reality.

Here is a good example of an assumption which turns out to be wrong:
http://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-overturn-old-theory-spatial-summation-brain-cells
 
James Freyr
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I just finished reading the paper in the .gov link I posted above, and I found it really eye opening to the problems in the scientific community related to manipulated impact scores, fake peer reviews, rogue publishing and even authorship for sale. I found it quite disheartening what's going on in the world of science.
 
Matt Coston
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Angelika Maier wrote:if you a scientist who finds something which contradicts one of the 'big cows' you will not get it published.


Science is a continuous over-turning of previously held beliefs. Scientists get excited when they find contradictions.
 
Chris Kott
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Real science, as described, is beyond reproach. Those tainted by financial concerns aren't applicable.

I am not a huge fan of the mentality that because some science is tainted, it is all bunk. That's reductionist thinking in my opinion. It's essentially saying that there's no point in human intellectual pursuit.

I think the idea that permaculture is too complex for science or scientific experiment to apply is the result of an overly simplified scientific method. I think that assertion is defeatist and counterproductive. It argues for stressing method over understanding. An example in Biodynamics would be a Steiner approach being taken over a Pfeiffer approach.

If you understand how a system works, you can troubleshoot. You can identify what's not working and take steps to fix it, and then even test to see that what you've done has indeed made a difference. With a magical method approach, all you can really do is perform the whole ritual again.

-CK
 
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I like the scientific method.  One takes a situation, observes, change one variable, observe... repeat.  


Science, for me, is an awesome way to learn about the world.  I often use this method to try new things on my farm.  I want to see if a new technique will help grow things better.  I set up a control group and a group with the new method and see which one does better.  I often repeat this for several years.  I observe, I change one variable, I observe... repeat.

What I learned works on my farm, in this condition, in these weather patterns.  It does not mean that it will work for everyone.  But everyone can find out what works for them by doing similar experiments and observation.



Scientific "facts", on the other hand, are more difficult.

There are many examples in history of people arriving at "fact" and "truth" only to be proven wrong 10, 20, 100, or in the famous case of Aristotle's, 'all swans are white' truth, was proven wrong nearly 2000 years later.



There are many facts I've read in scientific studies that don't hold up in my own experience.  I've read in many places that cotton cannot reproduce where the day length is too long.  Too long like it is here, in summer.  And yet, I'm on year three of a successful harvest.  Studies have told me it's impossible.  


To me, that's what draws me most to permaculture.  

The first principle - Observe and Interact.  

This sounds a lot like my experiments.  

My experience is that scientific studies are often done in situations that are different than the one I live in.  To find out what works in my location, the best thing I can do is observe and interact.  Sure, I read scientific papers for fun, but I don't always assume that their conclusions are applicable to my situation.  
 
Todd Parr
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Chris, great post and I couldn't agree more. R ranson, a scientist whose name escapes me said something to the effect of "facts are everywhere, they just aren't that interesting". She was speaking of the importance of theories in science, in this case the theory of evolution, and the difference in the way scientists use the word as opposed to the masses.
 
John Weiland
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r ranson wrote:I like the scientific method.  One takes a situation, observes, change one variable, observe... repeat.  
...... To find out what works in my location, the best thing I can do is observe and interact.  Sure, I read scientific papers for fun, but I don't always assume that their conclusions are applicable to my situation.  



Agree.  I use a collective body of science as a *starting* point, not a blueprint.  Science is a tool and the best use of that tool occurs, I feel, when there is no agenda behind the discoveries made.  In this regard, as has been noted before, bad scientists and good lawyers are cut from the same cloth:  They both gather or present evidence supporting a pre-determined goal.  Some might argue that if, say, rocket mass heater core meltdown temperature tolerances are your predetermined goal, then this invalidates the argument because good science *could* address this issue.  But the best scientific approach in this case would be to test many different materials and report the results in an unbiased fashion.  The predetermined goal is to find *which* material is most suitable rather than trying to prove that product A is marginally (but statistically significantly) better than Product B.*  Moreover, such a study would include language that you adopted in your own post:  .....  X, Y, and Z happened during this time period, on my property using A, B, and C treatment parameters.  This last part, --reporting of the materials and methods,-- is a dying phenomenon.  Just pick up any of your favorite scientific journals and compare a few random papers published in the last 10 years versus about 1950 or earlier....for the SAME journal.  Pretty sorry state how lean the methodology is reported these days.  Good thing that organs like Permies.com exist as additional sources of information....AND testing!

*Edited to add, upon stirring the chili in thought, that this would not be a terrible use of the method if one testing compost mix A versus B.  The danger comes when you have a YUUUUGE pile of compost A that you want to use.....and that desire begins to influence your objectivity.
 
chip sanft
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r ranson wrote:I like the scientific method.  One takes a situation, observes, change one variable, observe... repeat.  
....
My experience is that scientific studies are often done in situations that are different than the one I live in.  To find out what works in my location, the best thing I can do is observe and interact.



I agree with this completely. The thing is, it's hard for me to change only one variable, unless controlling all the conditions in an indoor setting, where I can decide most of what will happen. Even then, though, there's variation.

When I look at a garden, for instance, I don't know how to change only one variable. Year to year, weather varies and rain quantity varies. Microbes are growing or dying or both, fungus growing and fading. Worms come and go. Seed varies. One year I do something and it's glorious; without knowingly changing anything, the next year is different. Even if I use seed I saved, some years the seed turns out better than others. That goes double if I buy seed. The variables seem innumerable. And that's staying on exactly the same piece of land, not trying to generalize across a larger area, with all the variation in soil and climate and microclimate that entails. (And it's setting aside the more purple aspects that I think I see: the quality of light shifting year to year, or the effect of the gardener's mood on the garden.)

This means that I don't think permaculture is testable the way that, say, a chemical reaction is. One can put chemicals A and B and C together and D will happen; on the other side of the world, if all works as it should, someone else can put chemicals A and B and C together and D will happen, too.

But permaculture is more complicated than that. I plant plant A and do B and add C and things slowly develop over time, unevenly even within the small space of my garden. Each year is different. And innumerable variables don't lend themselves to that testing.

So, like R Ranson, I observe and interact and go with what works for me, what makes sense to me, what seems to work in the conditions of my garden. I don't doubt that one can experimentally test aspects of permaculture. But the whole thing is, I think, too complicated for current methods to effectively measure.

This applies elsewhere, too. One textbook (literally) example is streptococcal bacteria, which a significant portion of the healthy human population can carry without any symptoms. But for others, sickness ensues. Things happen differently for different people and changing one variable is often harder than it might sound.
 
James Freyr
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I edited my first post to modify the title of this thread to include the words "recognizing the difference" as I felt "science, pseudo-science & junk science" may be a little vague. I wanted to change the title because that's what I think I'm trying to get at here.

I'm not a scientist and I'm not involved with or work within the scientific community. I really like science, and believe we need it. I've been misled by reading articles and information (not here on Permies, just referring to life in general) that was published as true, which is later detracted or I find information supporting otherwise. Sometimes as a layman, I find it difficult to distinguish fact from fake when I read about things. Also, I have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, and I have other things to do in my life than go digging, spending hours to find out if something I read is true or not. Do others here relate to my frustrations?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I agree with this completely. The thing is, it's hard for me to change only one variable, unless controlling all the conditions in an indoor setting, where I can decide most of what will happen. Even then, though, there's variation.



So true.

I'm not a scientist and I'm not involved with or work within the scientific community. I really like science, and believe we need it. I've been misled by reading articles and information (not here on Permies, just referring to life in general) that was published as true, which is later detracted or I find information supporting otherwise. Sometimes as a layman, I find it difficult to distinguish fact from fake when I read about things. Also, I have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, and I have other things to do in my life than go digging, spending hours to find out if something I read is true or not. Do others here relate to my frustrations?



I agree. Scientists are supposed to do this for us; sort out the junk, figure out what is really going on, and put it into layman's speak. But it seems we can never be sure about them either, so there is even more stuff to sift; contradictory studies, irrelevant studies posing as something relevant, accusations and recriminations, all in addition to the original tangle of observations, facts, and opinions.
 
raven ranson
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chip sanft wrote:

r ranson wrote:I like the scientific method.  One takes a situation, observes, change one variable, observe... repeat.  
....
My experience is that scientific studies are often done in situations that are different than the one I live in.  To find out what works in my location, the best thing I can do is observe and interact.



I agree with this completely. The thing is, it's hard for me to change only one variable, unless controlling all the conditions in an indoor setting, where I can decide most of what will happen. Even then, though, there's variation.



Absolutely.

What I can change is one variable in how I do things.  

Everything else, I try to limit the outside influence by trying it in different parts of the farm over several years.

For example, Mulch - which science tells us is fantastic - causes increased bug pressure, drought pressure in the summer because it reduces the amount of due that reaches the soil and too wet a soil in the winter.  At least, that's what it does on my farm, everywhere except in the herb garden where it works wonderfully well.  I've done this for almost 7 years now and I'm still working on this experiment.  Different plants, different drainage, different parts of the farm.  But the one variable I have control over is mulch - I have a control group with no mulch, I have one with mulch, sometimes I have several with different kinds of mulch.

Carol Deppe sets out some good methods for experimenting like this in a garden.  She stresses this is a great way for finding out what works for your location and your style of gardening.  I want to find out where she wrote these and read them again.
 
Chris Kott
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Hi James.

I am gratified that there are those here that acknowledge that there exists a difference between science and pseudo/junk science.

Chip, I completely agree with the assertion that science is complicated. I would say that if a scientific analysis or approach fails, it's because the science was overly simplified.

Permaculture is a design philosophy. Science can characterise its particulars and help explain why some techniques work in one context but not in another, and vice versa. It is completely possible to track so many variables in a scientific experiment that a computer is required. Computer modelling is used that can make weather and climate predictions, or forecast the movement of celestial bodies within our solar system for hundreds of years. To say that science can't analyse permaculture is, in my opinion, inaccurate at best.

I don't understand why reason is rejected in favour of ritualism, other than ritual is easier, and doesn't require one to engage intellectually with what one is doing.

My personal smell-test for commentary about science is to replace it the word science, which for some is a trigger word, with the word "reason." That usually clears up any issues of unreasonable bias.

-CK
 
Dale Hodgins
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In some cultures, science is rejected out of hand, because it challenges preconceived notions, particularly those of a religious nature. It attempts to explain some of the big questions of the universe. It also attempts to explain things of a biological nature. This used to be the realm of religion, and religious authorities, to tell people how the universe came about, and everything we needed to know about the Origin of Species.

There are many sub movements within permaculture that are of a quasi religious nature, where belief and faith are lauded as virtues. To me, Faith is making a virtue, of not thinking, and challenging everything, with no sacred cows protected in the process. So, I don't think that a general aversion to science is rational.

My mother rejects many scientific findings, immediately upon hearing them, because they don't match what her uneducated father told her, from the pulpit. My friend had his DNA done and it was determined that he is about 2% Neanderthal. She completely rejected the idea that this was even possible or that Neanderthals had ever existed. To her, they are simply malformed humans, or every artifact ever found concerning them, was planted by some fraud who sought to advance his career or to demolish her religion. The Marine Limestone at the top of Mount Everest, was created during the great flood. Every dinosaur bone ever found, is actually a whale bone, to her. Nothing on Earth is more than 6000 years old , therefore  all  methods of dating artifacts , must be fraudulent . It's hard to argue with that, so I usually don't bother.

One thing I hear brought up over and over, against science, is lack of consensus, as though that is a bad thing. Belief systems often have a great deal of consensus, whether it is by choice or coercion. Wars have been fought, in order to force consensus on touchy issues. So, if a person is raised in or immersed in a belief system, where all of the big questions have already been answered, science can threaten that.
 
James Freyr
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Hey Chris, thanks for your replies here, I think you give good insight.

Dale, my mother is the same way, and there's no getting through to her, and I also don't bother.
 
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