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Memories of the 28th Century

Facts Versus Myths

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Facts Versus Myths

Once again today, I encountered someone who was unwilling to accept facts as facts and opined that facts were opinions, and that their "facts" were opinions. This is the kind of thinking that states as fact that someone turned water into wine, or some other absurdity was actually done. Such things also show up in politics, and I expect that ignorance of history together with a desire that certain things are the bases for culture lead people to decide to have a reality that defies facts. The matter that set this off today was the old chestnut about Jeffrey giving smallpox contaminated blankets to Indians. That story seems to have first appeared in one of Francis Parkmanís books more than a half century after his death and more than a century after the alleged crime.

It is entirely possible that Amherst might have made such a donation, if he could have, but the Germ Theory of Disease (Zymotic Theory) was only partly formed in his lifetime, and the instruments to determine whether a given dose was even viable didnít exist. Amherst was not a fan of the Indians, because they regularly violated the standards of honor that he followed, and he did mention that it might be nice if someone spread smallpox among them, but he made that suggestion to Col. Bouquet, who had not had smallpox and wanted that condition to continue. Nothing came of Amherst's suggestion, and nothing came of an attempt that was made by Trent. Please read this excellent article about that before you defame Jeffrey Amherst again (if you are inclined to do that).

Smallpox is not what I wanted to write about. The relevant matter is the preference that many people have for stories that uphold their myths, rather than for learning the facts. That attitude is extremely prevalent among religious people, but it applies to political ideology, economic opinions, sexual politics, and so on. Unfortunately, the preference for myths that support oneís opinions also shows up in the scientific community. Because it is so widespread, I suspect that it is part of the way that humans learn things, especially things that they find necessary for their lives.

People are subject to many unsubstantiated myths, and people seem to like to believe things without any evidence, and people in marketing love that. Just twenty-five years ago marketers introduced the hydration myth and it has been a huge success for companies that sell bottled water, and medical authorities pointing out the falsity of that myth have had no effect on its popularity. There are many other examples, and many of them stem from researchers forgetting that their mathematical models are not scientific answers; they are only descriptions (see linked article). This problem is most apparent in the climate studies. The researchers have become so wrapped up in their research that they use modelled data, rather than the original data. Data based on what their model says it is true because fits the model better, but it isn't science.

It is common for scientific experimenters to produce irreproducible results, and all too often it is because the researcher believed the theory more than he or she believed the facts. And that is in a field where the raw material usually is freshly collected data. When we try to determine what happened in history it becomes much more difficult, because the data was collected far in the past, and there often is no way to confirm data. That keeps national myths alive and well, but it does not make the facts clear, and decisions now are sometimes based on things that happened hundreds of years ago.

While science, politics, religion, and other fields provide many examples of opinions that are expressed as if they were facts, the biggest share of such lies are in marketing. From hydration to smart phones to automobile safety to cigarette filters to whatever fast food places are pushing marketers donít know how to present a product without lying. Theyíve even lied about things that didnít need lies. Then there are the health food claims, but that a huge can of worms.

One realm that I often forget about is medical quackery. There are people who seriously believe that various medical ideas are legitimate. It is difficult to discount anything completely, because the placebo effect is sometimes more effective than science based medicine, but homeopathic medicine has been shown not to work, and there is no reason to think that crystals can heal.

Then there's the matter of vaccines. Vaccines work, and they cause very few side effects. It is reasonable for them to be mandatory for school children, and anyone travelling o some countries would be a fool to skimp on vaccinations, but there are logical questions about some minor diseases. Consider the annual Flu vaccine; those are effective less than a third of the time, and the immunity is effective for less than a year. If one catches the Flu the regular way, then the immunity is lifelong. If people with other problems get the flu shot, it makes sense, but for most people it does not make sense.

Updated 12-14-2018 at 08:41 PM by PeterL



  1. Zuidadewenti's Avatar
    Here I will share an academic work Saving Humanity on humansí survival and development written by the anthropologist Hu Jiaqi. Details can be seen in the following report.