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Memories of the 28th Century

Thinking Scientifically

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Once again I am going to rant about how people believe hype in preference to science. Earlier today his problem came up in conversation. I donít remember exactly how we got around to discussing Cholesterol, but I mentioned the fact that even the NIH has admitted that the idea that serum cholesterol doesnít cause heart disease. This has been known with complete confidence for the last thirty years, or so, but it was only rarely put forth in consumer level literature, so most people believed the myth of high cholesterol caused heart disease.

The people to whom I expressed this piece of scientific information had trouble with it, because they believed the cholesterol myth. Apparently no one had shown them the actual facts before. It might be that I expect the ordinary run of humans to do more research and thinking than they are accustomed to. I seldom think about the fact that I test high enough on IQ to get into MENSA, but Iím smart enough that I donít waste money on the dues. Is it true that most people are incapable of reading up on and understanding what cholesterol is and how the human body uses it? That seems to be the case.

It would be easier for everyone, if every article written about any scientific topic were completely accurate and comprehensible to people of average intelligence. I have found that many, and maybe even most, scientific articles in the general press are not accurate, and they frequently do not make much sense. I canít tell for sure, because I do not have access to science writers on the staff of a newspaper, but, when I consider some of the articles that I have read over the years, it is clear that many of them donít know the basics of science, and they donít know how to write something so that the conclusion is clear from the evidence provided.

There probably are several reasons for this situation, and the reasons include lack of relevant education above all other reasons. It is possible for people who are not of high intelligence to learn science, but most teachers arenít very good at explaining things for everyone. Another important ingredient in understanding science is logical thinking, but people are not usually taught logic in school, so they have to pick it up on their own, if at all. Trying to understand science without understanding logic is like making concrete without cement; it canít be done.

Since I mentioned cholesterol, Iíll use that as an example. In the human (and other animal) body there is cholesterol in every cell. Those molecules are involved in allowing food, etc. to enter cells and for waste to be removed; cholesterol is the door for those things. That means that there is a whole lot of cholesterol in the body, and there has to be some loose to go to where cells are being built or repaired. In addition, cholesterol is a precursor to some important hormones and similar cells. Testosterone is the most notable hormone that is made from cholesterol, but it is important, and no cholesterol means no testosterone. Cholesterol is also used in transporting specialized chemicals through the bloodstream, and it has some minor uses. But I think the most people know enough about it now to understand that it is very, very important, and that it is normal for it to be floating around in the blood. Some people think of cholesterol as the stuff that forms arteriosclerosis, and it does, but not by itself. There are several (or maybe many) bacteria and viruses that collect cholesterol to surround them where they live in arteries. I don't like the image, but imagine some homeless bacteria setting up a hobo camp in your arteries and using what is available to build shanties; that's what arteriosclerosis is housing for homeless invaders. The plaques are formed regardless of how much cholesterol is available or why the cholesterol is in the blood. Viruses also use cholesterol for housing; there is one type of herpes that is noninfectious and causes no symptoms except for plaques. Those examples show that the plaques are not caused by cholesterol.

One grossly misunderstood scientific subject is what the climate scientists (what we used to call climatologists) have come out with regarding climate change. The scientists are bad enough, but what appears in the popular press is even worse. The scientists have cooked the data to make it look as if their assertions about CO2 causing global warming were actually possible, but the people who write scientific articles for the general press don't bother even looking at the basic science or the data. I have already written about CO2 enough times, but I recently noticed that the problem of climate scientists altering data has again become an issue. I wonít describe what was done; please read this article: Some of the scientists are asserting that altering the data to fit oneís desires is fine; it isnít. But a great many people defer to the opinions of experts, because those people are experts. That is poor, illogical, thinking. If one does not understand something, then one should study that and understand it. It doesnít take years to learn the basic principles behind a given science; it usually only takes a few hours or days. You might be putting more time into the matter than the scientist who claimed to have done the experiment. If you are intelligent and interested in learning about something that has become a political issue, then I encourage you to look at all of the science related to climate change; it is an interesting subject, but there is a lot to it, and little of the science is even mentioned in the general press. Learn what makes some gases greenhouse gases, while other gases are not. Then there is the frequency range in which a given greenhouse gas has effect. Learn about the relationship between climate and vegetation; thermometers have only existed for a few hundred years. We have to look at what grew where when to estimate temperatures in earlier times. For example, barley canít ripen in Greenland now, but it was grown there in the period from 1000 to sometime in the thirteenth century. What does that say about climate?

The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. If someone claims that something is true, because some alleged authority says it is true, then that person has engaged a fallacy of the red-herring variety. That indicates that that person has not argument in fact of logic, so, in effect, he changed the subject. If you are engaged in an argument and this happens, then you have won the argument, even though the other person might still make a few jabs. Journalists will often cut off an article before completing it due to space limits, but that is not an excuse for claiming that some person or organization speaks with authority. Don't just question authority; question whether alleged authorities are actually authoritative at all.
How-to fake science, it would be funny, if it werenít describing what has been done recently.

Updated 12-09-2015 at 02:05 PM by PeterL