Thursday, 23 May 2013

There is a letter in

this morning's paper in which the writer claims that "if a study has been accepted by a prestigious peer reviewed journal then that study is scientifically valid". 
Clearly the writer of the letter has not read Ben Goldacre or Imogen Evans on the topic - or a number of other authors. Perhaps they know very little about statistics. I don't know.
It would seem from the rest of the letter that the study the writer quotes supports his point of view on a certain topic. For him it also appears that is an end to the matter. Just one study is sufficient to support his belief and, from the strength of his language, it would seem unlikely that he is going to change his mind on the topic he is so passionate about.
It is a bit like the anti-vaccination campaigners. Much of their strength has relied on one now discredited paper. I do not need to say more about that.
It is hard to keep an open mind when you feel passionately about something. Not so long ago someone accosted me and gave me a very public dressing down because they disagreed with something they thought I had said. It was something I know they feel so strongly about I would never discuss the issue with them. There would be no point in trying to change their mind. It simply is not going to happen. In that particular case I finally managed to get a word in and point out that I was not the author of the article. The response was, "Well, it's still what you think!"
Actually it is not what I think about that issue at all but nothing is going to change their mind. 
I think I can guess what will now happen because of the letter I have just quoted above. People will read it and say, "Oooh, there is a "scientific study" on that issue and it is in a "scientific journal" and other scientists have said it is right so it must be right." 
They will stop thinking right there. It will not altogether be their fault. They have not been taught critical thinking. Emotions can get in the way of critical thinking too. As a friend of mine says, "Smart people can believe dumb things."
Is it dumb not to believe the validity of those "prestigious peer reviewed papers" in the wildest and wackiest social science topics? 


Philip C James said...

Aah! 'Social Sciences.' Enuff said. If you can't split an atom with it, it ain't Proper Science... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, when I believed in fairy tales, I thought scientific papers were more believable than those fairy tales. Now I think I might go back to believing the fairy tales instead.