E-letter: Bogus results, real consequences


About two weeks ago, a very disturbing (to me) report moved on the New York Times. According to the story, a study by a bunch of psychologists showed that the results of the psychological studies they reviewed showed 60 percent of those studies could not be replicated.

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

As you likely know, the scientific method demands that studies can be replicated. If they cannot, they are not science. This is a barn-burner revelation on its own, but it leads to two equally devastating points.

First, I apologize that I have told this story before, but I’ll make it quick.

About 25 years ago, I met a woman who had been a hard-luck case for years, including problems with drugs, alcohol and had been a prostitute. However, she had decided to change her life, and on that day was within three weeks of receiving her Ph.D. in psychology.

On my side of the agenda, I wanted to know why she had chosen psychology, so I asked. She replied that she wanted power.

Stunned, I asked why, if she wanted power, didn’t she go into police work, the military, law, teaching or some other field more known for its ability to manipulate power.

She said I had it all wrong. She said if you want a promotion in the military or police, you have to go through a psychologist. If you want custody of a child, you have to go through a psychologist. If you want to work with children, you have to go through a psychologist.

Then she said she had been under the power of men all her life, and now it was time for pay-backs. Twenty-five years on, reciting her words still sends a chill down my back. So forgive me if I hold the science of psychology in low regard. The wisdom of the ages tells us we cannot know what evil lurks in the hearts of men (as in mankind) – a fact now in evidence by the most revered professors of psychology conveying a degree upon a woman bent on vengeance. I assume if they could have seen inside her skull, they would have withheld the degree. On the other hand, they likely would have justifiably feared a lawsuit.

Second, we have used these pages before to report the hijacking of science by commercial interests. Scarcely a day goes by when we don’t get some kind of report that says, “according to studies….” whatever. We reported a while back that a university researcher had falsified the results of a study on the benefits of wine and had pocketed a windfall for his report.

I believe the corruption of science is inevitable, if, in fact, it was ever clean. If you read Goethe’s Faust or the antics of Elizabethan Dr. (sic) John Dee, you will see there is reason to doubt.

In today’s scientific milieux, the mantra for academics is “publish or perish.” That is, you must come up with a convincing argument that you have a worthwhile idea. If you can show that to your peers, you can get hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to do a study. Then, if you are successful in getting your peers to approve the publication of the study in a “peer-reviewed journal,” you are eligible to request a new grant.

Of course, your “peers” also want hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions), so they are careful not to shine a light too brightly on science’s little foibles – like not being able to replicate studies or using science to abuse men and children. After all, if the peers hold the nutbars accountable, somebody might get bored and start reviewing the peers. So they let minor errors pass. This is why we have studies on trying to keep Canadian pigs warm in winter in a cold barn by shooting them with microwaves to heat them from the inside.

And no, I am not joking.

If you look at the phenomenon of Political Correctness, you will see it evolves from this hideous marriage of pseudo science and hidden agendae.

Of course, the fuel that fires these idiocies is hidden in your tax contributions, and your acquiescence to the need for “science.” And let’s throw in your fear of retaliation from all the ex-prostitutes seeking vengeance.

Society is suffering. Do we need science? No doubt. But we need accountability.

So…. It’s election season in Canada. For the next few weeks, you get a say. Why not ask your MP what he or she thinks of non-replicable, agenda-driven pseudo science grinding away at our economy, our laws and our social fabric.

If his or her answer sounds suspiciously like, “I don’t like it either, but we can afford it,” ask for the response in writing and send it to me. I would be happy to ask for a clarification, “on the record.”

Once again, Wood Industry is teaming up with Xylexpo, Acimall and the Italian Trade Commission to provide two industry winners with a free trip to Italy next spring for the industry’s Italian trade show, Xylexpo. The prizes will be awarded at Mississauga, Ont.’s WMS show in November. You do not need to be present to win. Enter athttp://www.machinesitalia.org/event/win-trip-xylexpo-2016.

This September marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Wood Industry magazine. And what a 10 years it’s been. In September of 2005, we could not foresee the devastating events surrounding the U.S. housing crash. Now, even though international stock markets are convulsing, we can take faint comfort in the fact that the whole U. S. stock phantasm is just a figment of Obama’s social engineering, and the only industries getting smashed are those based on free money and greed. Housing in the U.S. and Canada are at record highs. More on that, later.

Meanwhile, Wood Industry is prepared to walk with the industry into the next decade with our signature research, reporting and reviews; our profiles, predictions and postings.

As time passes by, I find that each decade is better, not worse, than the last, and in that spirit all of us at Wood Industry look forward to making the next 10 even more fun, and with luck, fewer bumps.

  • In my view the problem is that we are happy to use the term “science” for the ologies that have a chance to graduate to the level of science someday. In the future. Maybe. But in reality aren’t yet there.

    Like ologies that are already sciences, these (soft, social…, choose your adjective) “sciences” try to model the patterns they see in the real world, by using abstract patterns from mathematics. There is a divine quote from (mathematician/statistician) George Box discussing the limitation of this process. (Technically it is true even of “hard” sciences, but it’s easily a thousand times more true of economics and such like)

    “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

    The point is that with finitely many data points (each one only of finite accuracy) we actually can’t know the correct mathematical model to use, ever. (Stephen Hawking put it something like this “If we ever do have such knowledge, it would have to be totally different in kind, from any knowledge we currently possess.”)

    The thorny problem is that in physics, if there are conflicting theories (for example Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are incompatible,) physicists are fairly quickly able to come to an awareness of which model will work better (be more useful) in which context. Economists and other social scientists aren’t able to tell when to use which model, and they don’t seem to have noticed that.

    The result is that the level of success needed for predictions to be considered valid, is remarkably low! That makes it really tough to find fakers. (There are a few even in physics or chemistry, but compared to other ologies, it seems to be very little.) The solution (not that it will happen) is to acknowledge that these fields are not yet mature enough to be properly called “sciences.”

  • Your “Bogus Results” article/commentary is littered with more fallacious logic and twisted facts than I can count.
    Why not leave to the science to the scientists and the keep your political opinions out of trade papers.
    This is extremely offensive to anyone capable of critical thinking.

    • Hi, Brenda,

      Thanks for the quick and heart-felt reply. The purpose of our commentaries and these back-up pages is to provide exactly what you have added: an unrestricted back-and-forth about current issues in our industry.

      I am not trying to put you in a corner or trap you, but I am interested in some examples of the fallacious logic and twisted facts to which you refer. If I had a specific example, I would be able to reply.

      On your more general request that we leave science to the scientists and keep political opinions out of trade papers, that is something we try to avoid.

      If you look at the run-of-the-mill “trade magazines” today, you will see they all look, talk and act about the same. This is the consequence of having the media controlled by conglomerates with no editorial or logical-thinking background. It is our opinion that politics causes the trades more problems than anything, that the silent magazines are the authors of the industries’ discontent and that a magazine has a duty to discuss issues of importance.

      If you look at the “science” of global warming, for just one example, you will see there is no science at all. It’s all papers based on computer models, and computer models are not science. Engineering, maybe, but not science. And those models have been manipulated. Here is one link that illuminates that fact: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11395516/The-fiddling-with-temperature-data-is-the-biggest-science-scandal-ever.html.

      Assuming just for the sake of argument that the story about warming is accurate, we need to look at what effect the fabricated conclusions have had. And, as we know, global warming “science” has affected laws, regulations, standards, costs, availability and even labour.

      Therefore, I may have been wrong in one or more of the facts or opinions to which you allude, but it is MUCH better that we drag those errors out and discuss them than for me to sit sullenly behind a computer screen barrier and refuse to acknowledge your objections.

      It is my deeply held conviction that every industry, including humble wood manufacturing, has a duty and a right to analyze facts, dispute opinions, debate issues and affect their own lives. Toward that end, I hope you will respond.