Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘The Science’

“The Science” changed twice in a week

Posted by M. C. on August 4, 2022

You remember when the health establishment warned us not to eat eggs, which in fact are some of the best things you can eat.

You remember when they urged us to consume 11 servings of grains per day. (It’s now six to eight, but that awful food pyramid is still largely unchanged.)

Now you’ll say: Woods, nobody’s perfect. Science is an ever-evolving search for the truth. Give them time, and they’ll get it right.

If that’s what we were dealing with, that would be one thing. As more research is done and more information comes to light, it’s to be expected that we’ll adjust our views. I get that.

But apart from how unreasonably long it seems to take for a faulty health conclusion to be reversed, and how dogmatically the health establishment insists on things it couldn’t possibly have known with the requisite degree of certainty (since, after all, they later turn out to be false), something more seems to be at work.

As with other parts of academia, health research gets skewed by funding sources, and by a pro-consensus bias that makes it difficult to impossible for dissident paradigms to get published, funded, or even acknowledged at all.

Work in support of the existing consensus, meanwhile, is not scrutinized as thoroughly as it should be.

Recent case in point: the past 16 years of Alzheimer’s research may have been directed down a dead end, thanks to the uncritical acceptance of crucial papers by Sylvain Lesné.

Neuroscientist Matthew Schrag recently pointed out multiple examples of faulty data in Lesné’s papers; they are cases of “shockingly blatant” image tampering, according to Donna Wilcock, an Alzheimer’s expert at the University of Kentucky. 

Lesné’s research supported the dominant so-called amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s, and Schrag, speaking to Science magazine, amplified one of the points I just made here: supporters of the reigning hypothesis were much too uncritical of research that supported their view, and were not the noble exemplars of pure “science,” unaffected by anything other than strict reliance on the data, that we read about in fairy tales.

Then, too, we’re now learning that the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression, upon which many people based their therapeutic regimens, may turn out to have been b.s. all along.

Covid research is a fiasco unto itself. Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya says that having Anthony Fauci as “de facto head of covid policy and also in charge of billions of dollars for government grants to scientists is also a conflict of interest.”

My point is this:

“Public health” officials give lousy health advice.

Lots of economists nowadays give lousy economic advice.

Most historians teach their political agenda rather than history.

One “expert” class after another has to be viewed with skepticism, to put it mildly.

How are we supposed to navigate a world in which ideologues are trying to colonize our children’s minds, official “health” recommendations are sometimes downright moronic (remember Michelle Obama’s school lunches, drawn out of the nutritional consensus of 1977?), economists gaslight you about inflation and the Federal Reserve, and the list just goes on and on?

Not to mention, these people aren’t exactly sitting there quietly publishing studies.
These are the people who came for your job, who destroyed the value of your money, who are coming for your cheap energy, who are making food harder to produce – these people, in other words, don’t just write articles. They take action.
We can’t just write articles, either.
Time for our side to take action.

Our doors close tomorrow:
Tom Woods

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Unmasked | Porcupine Musings

Posted by M. C. on September 22, 2020

One of the problems with models is their perception by the public as infallible fonts of knowledge. The media reinforces this narrative by credulously reporting model-based claims without any scrutiny. They never consider questioning the underlying assumptions built into the models. Models are easily manipulated. They are malleable and versatile instruments. In the hands of a virtuoso they can play any tune. They are tools of science, but they are not science themselves.

“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”

New England Journal of Medicine, 2020; 382:363

These days everyone imagines himself or herself to be a scientist. Scolds, who labor under the delusion that reading the New York Times is equivalent to holding a doctorate, unceasingly inflict on us finger-wagging lectures about how we need to “listen to the science” when it comes to masks. Apparently “masks work” because “The Science™” says so. Newsflash: these media figures and self-styled authorities aren’t (largely) scientists and know not of what they speak. As a scientist myself I feel compelled to set the record straight on what is, and is not, science. For those degreed scientists out there parroting the mask propaganda: for shame, you should know better. Cherry picking, selection bias, anecdotal data, and dubious models have no place in the arsenal of scientific inquiry. 

What is the claim built on?

Here’s the problem with “the science” about masks: the media cited studies are built on a foundation of sand. They are based on computer models1, anecdotal stories2, theoretical mechanistic (non-biological) analysis, or hypothetical contra factual scenarios.1 In short, if the conclusion of a study rests on “this would have happened” then that is not science. Science does not compare contra factual or hypothetical scenarios. It analyzes concrete, reproducible, controlled conditions (that are broad enough to be statistically valid).  In every single story where there has been a reference made to evidence that “masks work” and I have drilled down through the 42 layers of links to get at the actual research document, it turns out the study is, surprise, based on a contra factual model, anecdote, or purely mechanistic study. Every. Single. Time. How do models support the claims? They make a “post-diction” for an alternate universe where masks were not deployed. Then they compare those values to the real world and wouldn’t you know, the numbers are lower when masks are used. The non-scientist with little time to drill down to the source will credulously accept what is read. Why shouldn’t they? An “authority” was cited and we’ve been trained from childhood to be predisposed toward trusting those perceived to be “in charge”. This is why whenever one questions the mask narrative the response is invariably “so and so said they work.” This is nothing more than the common logical fallacy known as an appeal to authority. Such a response deflects the inquiry, it does not answer it. When you encounter an appeal to authority your BS meter should max out. We should take every news story with a grain of salt and seek answers to the artfully omitted questions. Everyone has an agenda, even me. My agenda is to set the record straight and not allow the noble scientific profession to be prostituted in service of state propaganda. I encourage the reader to question and consider my assertions and to verify my claims by the references provided.

Question the models

One of the problems with models is their perception by the public as infallible fonts of knowledge. The media reinforces this narrative by credulously reporting model-based claims without any scrutiny. They never consider questioning the underlying assumptions built into the models. Models are easily manipulated. They are malleable and versatile instruments. In the hands of a virtuoso they can play any tune. They are tools of science, but they are not science themselves. Science is not SimCity. Science is doing real work in the real world to gather real data. Once one has collected data, then one may develop a model – based on that data – to make predictions about the future. Those predictions are then tested (i.e. the prediction is falsifiable). It is impossible to check a post-diction for a contra factual universe. The impossibility of such verification precludes falsifiability of the claim and in doing so removes it from the realm of science toward “what-if” fantasy. 

Evidence against the claim?

The reader might now be wondering, “well where is the evidence against masks?” Sorry, that’s not how science works. Those making the novel claim carry the onus to support it. You have to prove your claim; I do not have to disprove it. A claim cannot be said to be true because there does not yet exist evidence disproving it. This is the same as the foundation of our legal system; innocent until proven guilty. Guilt is a novel positive claim and must be proven. Were this also not the standard in science, then one could claim ghosts exist because no one has definitively proven they do not exist. With that said, because the “masks work” claim is a scientific one it is therefore subject to falsifiability. If it is true, then we should see fewer real world infections when use vs. non-use scenarios are compared.. Is that what we see? Unfortunately, no. There are a number of studies in the literature from the pre-Covid era regarding real world mask effectiveness at limiting contagions. In short none of them demonstrated any statistically significant diminishment in real world viral spread. 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

Correlation not Causation

The lack of substantive empirical data in real world environments has shifted the focus toward teasing out a positive correlation between mask use and case loads by reviewing case counts across cities, states, and countries over time. One may certainly cherry pick a country, state or time frame where mask use is high and case rates are low. But for every one of those you can find several more that counter it.12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19 The scientific method demands one looks at all the data, not just the data that confirms the preconceived conclusion (selection bias). When all localities are analyzed, the aggregate results demonstrate zero correlation between masks and case counts. Zero. However, even this is a bad metric for both sides. There are simply way too many variables at play to claim this one thing (masks) had an effect or did not relative to other competing influences. However it certainly doesn’t help the “masks work” camp that the vast majority of such comparisons show no correlation or a negative correlation (i.e. better outcomes in low mask use localities). Correlation does not prove causation; but, it is impossible to have causation without correlation.

At what cost?

Compelled mask wearing (along with all the other various restrictions on normal life) is morally equivalent to the banning of alcohol, drugs, and firearms: a handful might be irresponsible so all must suffer the remedy in order to protect a vanishingly small minority. This mode of thinking, sacrificing the many in favor of a few, does not come without costs. The reflexive objection here is that the benefits could be substantial while the costs should be minimal. Perhaps in March that approach might have been sound given the ignorance surrounding what we were dealing with. But here we are months later and it has become clear who is at risk and who is not. It has become clear that widespread mask use does not correlate well with reduced cases. 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19   It has become clear that asymptomatic spread is a negligible risk vector.20 Countries such as Canada, Australia, and even Sweden have much lower mask compliance but with equal or lower case loads and deaths per capita than the US.21 If the effect was substantially beneficial we would not expect this outcome. A benefit too small to be measured must be weighed against a cost that is measurable. The longer people suffer under these mandates the costs come into greater focus. Interacting with a sea of faceless zombies is disrupting normal social cues, interactions, and at some level social cohesion itself. A smile can brighten ones day. Sadly, those are cancelled for now. This is stressful to the human psyche in a way that is not easily accountable. Theoretically solitary confinement shouldn’t be mentally taxing – and yet perplexingly it is among the harshest of punishments. Social interaction matters. Likewise on the individual level there are increasing reports of inflamed skin conditions and fungal infections from prolonged mask use.22 Further, fatigue and “brain fog” are elevated by long-term excess CO2 inhalation.23 No, masks do not decrease oxygen intake, but they do increase COintake  – even the pro-mask camp admits that – although they try to hand wave it away by disclaiming that such high levels of COare “tolerable” or pose no “serious” health risk. But, just because something is tolerable or not serious does not mean it is ideal either. No air conditioning on a 95 °F day is “tolerable” too but I doubt many would enjoy it long term. Would you forgo air conditioning forever if you were told it would save 10 lives? I suspect few would willingly partake in that offer. We are allowing the scolds to rhetorically guilt us into a corner where non-compliance with their arbitrary dictates is equated with sociopathic behavior merely because it is claimed a life could be saved. That is a dangerous precedent. It opens the door to justifying any demand upon one’s behavior if one meekly submits. 

What should be done

A more effective strategy would be to shift from indiscriminate universal mandates and toward targeted and individualized interventions. Resources are limited and should be focused and not scattered about. For example, N95 masks do largely protect the wearer. Unless regulations are impeding production, there is no reason supplies should be constrained anymore. If there are regulations, then remove them.  If you are concerned about exposure to yourself, wear a properly fitted N95 mask. This would be self-regulating in direct proportion to its effectiveness. If cases went up, then more people would opt to don masks, which would then drive the cases back down. Because the proportion of society at elevated risk (mostly those above age 70 with health conditions) is a minority there should be no issue in supply of such masks. Additionally, there is some limited mechanistic evidence that surgical (not cloth) masks may be useful in limiting droplets and aerosols in ill patients (although the viral load found was barely measurable even without the mask).24,25 This may be useful in a health care or home setting. Restricting such mask use to those at risk (N95) or actively sick (surgical) has the added benefit of signaling to everyone around them that they are to be avoided. Targeted social distancing would be vastly superior to a universal mandate. Fatigue over this standard among the clearly healthy leads to lapses in maintaining it. Let those at low to no risk foster herd immunity while staying distanced from those who are sick or at risk. We all have a role to play. It is counterproductive to force all to play the exact same role. Allow the healthy to be exposed (natural vaccination) to build herd immunity while focusing protective resources on those actually at serious risk.

Individualized measures based on a person’s risk profile are how this country and the rest of the world handled such decennial pandemics up until now. The strategy this year: lockdowns, social distancing, universal mask mandates – these are the unprecedented policies that should be scrutinized with a skeptical, critical, science based, analysis. 


Gregory Morin  @gregtmorin

B.S., Chemistry, Emory University

M.S., Chemistry, Emory University

Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Notre Dame

List of Citations

Be seeing you

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

There is no such thing as The Science – spiked

Posted by M. C. on May 1, 2020

To go back to Blunkett’s points, it really does seem that the over-70s are at greater risk from Covid-19 than younger people. That doesn’t mean it necessarily makes sense to keep them under house arrest and separated from their families indefinitely. That’s a judgement that involves questions of physical and mental health, autonomy, pleasure and much more.

Science is not some grand tome we can consult to get the ‘right’ answer.

Rob Lyons

According to David Blunkett, a former senior cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s governments, attempts to have a blanket lockdown on the over-70s are discriminatory. He believes that the current ‘shielding’ rules are too crude and need to be more nuanced. Whatever the merits of his ideas, his comments on the scientific advice that the government is receiving are interesting.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One on 28 April, Blunkett argued that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has a problem. Drawing on Matthew Syed’s book, Rebel Ideas, he said that ‘major mistakes in the recent past have been made by people of similar ilk, similar ideas, similar background, similar thinking being considered the only experts that you could draw down on. And I’d like RAGE – a Recovery Advisory Group – that had a very much broader swathe of advice and expertise to draw down on.’

The dangers of listening to a small pool of experts with orthodox thinking was also pointed to by a former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King. Reacting to reports that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, may have pushed SAGE to back the current lockdown, King told Bloomberg: ‘There is a herd instinct in all of us – we call it groupthink. It is possible that a group is influenced by a particularly influential person.’

Other leading scientific figures have criticised the idea that the government’s policies are based on science. Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian: ‘As a scientist, I hope I never again hear the phrase “based on the best science and evidence” spoken by a politician. This phrase has become basically meaningless and used to explain anything and everything.’

The same article quotes Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh: ‘I do think scientific advice is driven far too much by epidemiology – and I’m an epidemiologist. What we’re not talking about in the same formal, quantitative way are the economic costs, the social costs, the psychological costs of being under lockdown. I understand that the government is being advised by economists, psychiatrists and others, but we’re not seeing what that science is telling them. I find that very puzzling.’

All these comments and more point to one of the most striking aspects of the Covid-19 crisis. For many years now, politicians – largely bereft of any wider purpose or philosophical principle – have claimed that they are pursuing ‘evidence-based policy’ and being ‘led by The Science’. In reality, science is a process of trying to draw together tentative conclusions driven by experiment and observation. Claiming authority from The Science – as if there were a grand tome you could simply open up to find the correct answer – is just wrong.

As Professor Brian Cox told Andrew Marr this week: ‘There’s no such thing as The Science, which is a key lesson. If you hear a politician say “we’re following The Science”, then what that means is they don’t really understand what science is. There isn’t such a thing as The Science. Science is a mindset.’

With widely publicised disagreements about everything from computer models to the use of face masks, it is clear that we need to move beyond the idea that we can rely on scientists coming to a cosy consensus. Science works – at its best – through the accumulation of evidence, an openness to new theories, and a willingness to challenge and be challenged.

It’s great that these principles are being restated. Funnily enough, though, this wasn’t the reaction we saw over Michael Gove’s much-half-quoted comment during the EU referendum – that the public has ‘had enough of experts’. (In fact, he said: ‘I think the people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying they know what is best, and getting it consistently wrong.’) The trouble with politicians, we were told by Remain-supporting types, is that they don’t listen to the cool, rational views of experts nearly enough. Now that it seems that experts might be blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, the expertise cheerleaders are reversing out of that position, pronto.

Actually, the public never gave up on experts. We’re only too happy to find out about the latest scientific understanding of the virus, how soon we might have a treatment or a vaccine, and so on. What some have taken issue with is the politicisation of expertise. An unholy alliance of politicians and a selected band of experts, whose views suit the current needs of government, have often in recent years told us what ‘The Science says’ and urged critics to just shut up – over issues from passive smoking to climate change. To disagree with the experts was, and is, to be a ‘denier’, and should lead to the perpetrator’s expulsion from public life and even private career.

Even giving a platform to a critical voice is beyond the pale. For example, when the former chancellor of the exchequer and climate-change sceptic, Nigel Lawson, appeared on Radio 4’s Today back in 2017, it was Cox who tweeted: ‘Irresponsible and highly misleading to give the impression that there is a meaningful debate about the science.’ Cox certainly seemed to believe that there is a thing called The Science three years ago.

We need to get beyond a simple black-and-white view of science and expertise. The question is not whether we should believe experts, but how we understand expertise. Each and every claim needs to be treated with scepticism (not cynicism) and we need to be clear about the limits of each claim.

To go back to Blunkett’s points, it really does seem that the over-70s are at greater risk from Covid-19 than younger people. That doesn’t mean it necessarily makes sense to keep them under house arrest and separated from their families indefinitely. That’s a judgement that involves questions of physical and mental health, autonomy, pleasure and much more.

Carbon dioxide may be heating our planet. But the wilder claims about an overheating planet and eco-geddon need to be understood in the context of, for example, the assumptions made by computer models – some of which are actually very overheated themselves. Moreover, even if we are heading for a much warmer world, abandoning fossil fuels for a ‘Net Zero’ future seems to many people (including me) very likely to cause much more harm than global warming. These are matters for public debate. They should not be closed down because of The Science.

In the midst of a health crisis, hopefully we are now developing a proper and very healthy scepticism towards experts.

Be seeing you

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »