Wednesday, December 28, 2011

junk science and arson

People seem so shocked that people have trouble accepting science, say in climate change, but its amazing how much professional practice is based on folklore. This interesting npr story notes that arson investigation was based entirely on folk lore and the use of science is only a decade or two old. The story notes many past cases where people were found guilty based on folklore, that would be vindicated today. But this is not isolated. I have noted before that even in medicine, the use of "evidence-based medicine" (i.e. science) is relatively new and still not entirely uncontroversial. And even in economics, where typically empirics is king, but in areas where data does not exist (e.g. in large important macroeconomic counterfactual questions), we fall back on instinct and folk wisdom, which can often be right but has also been devastatingly wrong.

The larger and more important point is how much pseudo-science pervades everything we do, even for important policy questions like what food to eat, or what to do about the environment, and the pseudo-science is pervasive. the media likes to paint it as a republican thing but everyone uses pseudo-science when it suits their interests. A recent npr story highlighted how obama has largely continued the bush era policies on political editing of "scientific documents" despite all his campaign rhetoric. Even scientists use pseudo-science all the time when it suits them.
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