A Few Observations On The Pandemic

I just spent several hours on the phone with people from our church. Checking in with folks and trying to Pastor them remotely. I was able to listen to them talk about themselves, their families and friends and their work. A few observations.

  1. I am so thankful I get to be a spectator in seeing how God’s grace sustains people through trials and lead them to selfless service. Faith and hope in Jesus are deeply practical.
  2. Even if serious measures have been called for, shutting down non-emergency healthcare is causing a real suffering and a separate disaster for many people and the healthcare system.
  3. One of the biggest elements of suffering is lack of face to face human contact. This is real. Digital fellowship is not as good as live friendship.
  4. One of the biggest groups that has been adversely, and unequally hurt are small business owners. For many, all of the financial “help” is non existent, to little, or too late. People don’t want handouts, they want to work. Many elements of the essential/nonessential distinctions are arbitrary, not rooted in science, and inconsistent. I hope the courts will settle some of this, and I hope that folks will remember this during future elections. But my ultimate hope is in the care and justice of God.

Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin

I believe that the Covid outbreak is serious. It’s not just the flu and I am really sad at all the folks that are dying.  We must be taking action. But the seriousness of the problem doesn’t lend support to whatever drastic action our leaders must be taking. What if we are being asked to do a bunch of stuff that is unproven? What if what we are doing actually makes little to no difference in the outcome? That is what this doctor suggests in his NY Times editorial.  What if what we are doing causes more harm in terms of health and human suffering than it prevents?  We don’t have to look to hard in the history of medicine to see examples of this.

Sweden is not doing the same thing as the US. Read the article below for more details. Are they doing the right thing? Time will tell.  So far they are not worse off than other countries.  Yet almost all the news articles that come up on a google search involve hand-wringing accusations.

I think it will be important to have some places to compare the outcomes. What if Sweden and the handful of American States that have not issued severe lock downs have similar outcomes as the places that chose the nuclear option?  We (globally and in the US) are doing things to address this situation that we have NEVER been done in human history. I think this article in National Review expresses some things well:

“This is, in fact, the first time we have quarantined healthy people rather than quarantining the sick and vulnerable. As Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The Spectator (U.K.) last week: “The theory of lockdown, after all, is pretty niche, deeply illiberal — and, until now, untested. It’s not Sweden that’s conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone else.

”We’ve posed these simple questions to many highly trained infectious-disease doctors, epidemiologists, mathematical disease-modelers, and other smart, educated professionals. It turns out that, while you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a person of theft and throw them in jail, you don’t need any actual evidence (much less proof) to put millions of people into a highly invasive and burdensome lockdown with no end in sight and nothing to prevent the lockdown from being reimposed at the whim of public-health officials. Is this rational?” (emphasis mine)

Source: Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin | National Review

You Should Worry About Scientists-Frauds, Hoaxes, Nonsense, and Bias in Scientific Papers

This essay takes a few words to discuss the problem of false reports in peer-reviewed academic journals. Evidently, there are a number of problems with publishing scientific “facts” these days. There is the garden variety error. Then there is the fraud. After this is the Hoax, in which clever pranksters make fools of the system.  Evidently there are more than a few PhDs that are eager to confirm their bias about the emperor’s clothes. Last is the nonsense paper. Keep reading.

Remember, science is NOT what scientists say. And because of this you should always be skeptical. And we are learning that we have to be skeptical even when groups of scientists insist on things. And sadly, the scientific community has no one to blame for themselves for this mess. Thankfully there are some whistle-blowers in the ranks.

This article is entertaining and frightening at the same time. Someone actually published an article on the feminizing of melting glaciers…

The authors mention how the progressive-left bias of scientific community, especially social scientists, makes them easy prey for claims that fit their pre-conceived view of the world. Of course that danger doesn’t only affect the left, it just so happens that they have a majority, and they are the ones insisting that their beliefs are facts.

Note well how he ends the article:

“Social science is especially hard-hit these days; one psychologist described it as “riddled with flaky research and questionable theories.” There is a surprisingly broad consensus about the cause—that is, everyone from Michael Shermer to Uncommon Descent agrees on it—namely, that the field’s overwhelmingly progressive-left bias makes it an easy mark for both hoaxes and frauds.

“It also makes it an easy target for a third category of problem paper that is neither a hoax nor a fraud exactly: the nonsense paper that may well be believed by its authors. Examples of these include the widely cited “positivity ratio” in psychology, which was assessed as “entirely unfounded” in 2013, and the recent, apparently serious attempt to “feminize” melting glaciers.

“This sort of thing should come as no surprise. Monochromatic bias exposes a community to greater risk because few of its members even notice a hoax, fraud, or nonsense thesis that passes their bias filter. Usually, the person to whom it doesn’t sound right has different commitments and life experiences, and he or she is the one motivated to investigate.

“Ironically, many defenders of the status quo in recent years have claimed to be “scared to death of the anti-science lobby.” Their worries are misplaced. It’s actually science that is coming to get them. Soon.” (emphasis added)

Source: The Hoax on Us by Denyse O’Leary

What Science Can Tell Us About Bad Science

Scientists and scientific claims are too often regarded as unquestionable.  Yet, few things are manipulated as often as scientific data points.  I feel like I am more aware of scientists making confident claims in nonscientific areas (like politics, morality, etc).  Is it happening more often? I don’t know, it could just be me. But I do know that scientific failures are under more scrutiny that in the past.  Because of all this,  I am fascinated when scientific researchers point out what is behind the curtain in Oz. Here is yet more information confirming what we would rather not believe: scientists are frequently wrong and sometimes intentionally so. 

“By one estimate, from 2001 to 2010, the annual rate of retractions by academic journals increased by a factor of 11 (adjusting for increases in published literature, and excluding articles by repeat offenders)…”

“Retractions are born of many mothers,” write Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the co-founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which has logged thousands of retractions in the past five years. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 2,047 retractions of biomedical and life-sciences articles and found that just 21.3 percent stemmed from straightforward error, while 67.4 percent resulted from misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4 percent) and plagiarism (9.8 percent) .

“Surveys of scientists have tried to gauge the extent of undiscovered misconduct. According to a 2009 meta-analysis of these surveys, about 2 percent of scientists admitted to having fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once, and as many as a third confessed “a variety of other questionable research practices including ‘dropping data points based on a gut feeling,’ and ‘changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source’ ” [4].As for why these practices are so prevalent, many scientists blame increased competition for academic jobs and research funding, combined with a “publish or perish” culture.” (Emphasis added)

Yikes, this is scary. This kind of attention has the potential to be good for science in the long run. Hopefully it will bring some much needed humility.  It should definitely put to death the false notion of objectivity. Science is always a handmaiden to the allegiances of the scientist.  

Source: What Science Can Tell Us About Bad Science – The Atlantic

Duty to Die: Author Says Too Few People in Oregon are Requesting Assisted Suicide

being mortal

How about this for piling on.

Here are my brief thoughts about someone else’s article. That article is kind of a review of a book review.  More like a response. And I just happened to finish that book, and I really enjoyed it. The book is called, “On Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande the Harvard trained surgeon who has produced a number of good books in the last decade. I have read them all 🙂

Anyway, Gawande’s book is about aging and dying and how the healthcare system has not done a very good job in actually helping people live better lives during the last phase of their journey. He spends a few pages talking about assisted suicide, and I would disagree with what he says (he thinks it is OK under some circumstances). But regardless of your position, he makes what I think is a compelling point. In America, and other countries, we are making huge strides in palliative care and hospice services.  And contrary to popular conception, those treatment modalities are not about helping people die as much as to live as well as they can during those difficult days.  People with painful and  incurable diseases are choosing to live out their days with family and finding more dignity than they knew was possible. And it is worth mentioning that how we live when we are dying is an important part of the human journey. How the story ends is truly important.

But it seems that in the Netherlands, the availability of assisted suicide has become the quick fix that has railroaded more promising alternatives. Rather than developing health care systems that can help people live full lives to the end, they have opted instead for something more sinister in the name of “dignity.”  Here is a quote from Gawande’s book, ”

 “I fear what happens when we expand the terrain of medical practice to include actively assisting people with speeding their death. I am less worried about abuse of these powers than I am about dependence on them.”

“The implication is that we might begin to substitute assisted dying for palliative care and hospice. He points to the experience in the Netherlands, where he says the fact that “one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure.”

The author of the article at LifeNews.com, Wesley Smith J.D. makes a point that is even more disturbing. Marcia Angell, an author who is an advocate for assisted suicide, has been quoted as saying, “I am concerned that too few people are requesting it. It seems to me that more would do it. The purpose of a law is to be used not to sit there on the books.”

Is this debate about presenting options that people want, or imposing your choice on others?

Source: Duty to Die: Author Says Too Few People in Oregon are Requesting Assisted Suicide | LifeNews.com

Ancient Trees: Woman Spends 14 Years Photographing World’s Oldest Trees

An amazing photo essay all about old trees. Makes me want to buy her book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time

Beth Moon, a photographer based in San Francisco, has been searching for the world’s oldest trees for the past 14 years. She has traveled all around the globe to capture the most magnificent trees that grow in remote locations and look as old as the world itself.

Source: Ancient Trees: Woman Spends 14 Years Photographing World’s Oldest Trees | Bored Panda

If We Are Unaware of Human Suffering, Does It Exist? Thoughts on Chronic Pain

My sister posted this article on Facebook recently. She suffers from chronic pain and has had trouble getting a diagnosis. This article by psychologist/ neuroendocrinologist Chandler Marrs discusses pain in terms of a philosophical principle. We don’t need to be in the forest to believe that trees fall when we are not there, and that they make noise even when no one is around to hear them.  She says that we tend to think that “awareness predicates existence,” when that is clearly not true. If we close our eyes, the world doesn’t cease to exist.

The big idea in this article involves depending on our ability to “measure” pain objectively as prerequisite to its existence. Does pain only truly exist only when the clinician can objectively perceive it? Is it possible that there are some disease states for which we do not yet have adequate tools to be able to measure it? The fact that millions of people complain of pain where clinicians cannot identify the causes should make us consider the limits of our knowledge and tools. 

Why is this important? In my experience as a healthcare provider, if someone higher in the chain of command ran all the available tests and couldn’t identify a known cause for the pain, then often the conclusion was not favorable. We thought that the patient was seeking drugs, or that they had some kind of mental imbalance. The polite term may have been “somatoform disorder.”  They were often lumped into that big diagnostic basket of “fibromyalgia,” which basically meant “you have pain and we can’t find a reason for it.”  This label could easily function as a flag to dismiss the reality of the patient’s claims.

Marrs also discusses how our perception is affected by our humility and our humanity.  Our compassion is based on our ability to believe that another person is truly suffering.  A lack of empathy can result in an inability to perceive someone else’s problems.

If we put these two factors together we may find that our insensitivity prevents us from believing someone’s  complaint, and concluding that it is not real.  And since there are real “malingerers” and drug seekers out there, we can easily put people into that category when they don’t fit. The result is tragic.

She writes:

“In the case of modern medicine, if the suffering is invisible to current diagnostic tests and intractable to medical therapeutics, it is not real. Indeed, whether cognitively or reflexively, every time a physician dismisses a patient’s complaint or prescribes an anti-depressant for pain, he denies the existence and veracity of their suffering. He denies the tree in the forest, because he does not see or hear it himself in the context necessary to recognize it – e.g. by currently available diagnostic technologies and taxonomies. Here, medical technology, and the physicians who wield the technology, assume an infallibility that precludes the existence of realities beyond their sight lines, beyond their control.”

Source: If We Are Unaware of Human Suffering, Does It Exist? – Hormones Matter

An Unexpected Way To Learn From Our Failures

learning from Failure

Common sense tells us that we should learn from our mistakes.  Well, as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common.”

Some of the best learning available comes from failure.  This learning can be intellectual- like trying and failing to solve a math problem.  Or this learning can be moral- realizing that revenge and bitterness is self destructive, it eats away at your own soul.

In order to really learn from our mistakes we need to be deliberate.  We need to spend time thinking about why we failed.  The kernel of folly is to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Every time we complete a project, achieve a milestone, or fall on our faces we have a chance to become our own teachers. The opportunity is especially rich when we fail.  A lot can be learned in the post-mortem examination of disappointment. About life. About ourselves.

Nothing shocking about that.

But there is another amazing opportunity that is lurking in our failures. And that is the idea of serendipity.  Serendipity is an accidental discovery. It is a happy accident. It is the pleasant surprise of looking for one thing, and finding something else, often something entirely different yet wonderful.  And many of the most amazing advances in human knowledge and culture have been made “by accident.”  And this is more common than you might think. Penicillin, microwaves, Velcro, Teflon, vulcanized rubber, Coca-Cola, radioactivity, the Post-it note, and Viagra were all the result of “accidental discoveries.”  In reality the list is much longer.

According to Steven Johnson in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” one of the key elements in taking advantage of serendipity is paying attention. Evidently small versions of these accidental discoveries are all around us, but we may miss them if we don’t recognize them.  And we won’t recognize them if we don’t slow down and pay attention.  This involves taking the time to think about what is happening and why.

Here is another reason to be willing to fail and to learn from your failures. You might learn how to do better next time. Or you might discover something else altogether. Something that could change the world forever.

Science Headlines in the News are Frequently Wrong, & Scientists Are A Big Part Of the Problem

Bad Science Reporting

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting – Pacific Standard.

This article from highlights the problem of errors in the way the media reports scientific discoveries.  Reporters are often a part of the problem, but a report from Cardiff University claims that official university press releases, approved by the scientists and their departments are most often the source of errors and exaggerations. Everyone loves to blame the media, but put down your pitchfork, in this case the media may not be to blame. The article reports:

“But a recent study [from the British Medical Journal] suggests that journalists aren’t the weakest link. The source of misrepresentations and exaggerations in science news stories is often much closer to the scientists themselves: press releases put out by researchers’ own institutions. Surveying hundreds of news stories and press releases about medical research, a group of scientists at Cardiff University found that most exaggerations and misrepresentations of science in print news “did not occur de novo in the media but was already present in the text of the press releases produced by academics and their establishments.” (emphasis mine)

There are likely a number of contributing factors. But the authors suggest that one source of the problem may be linked to inflated egos wearing lab coats. Scientists speak and write differently when talking to their educated peers than when they are speaking to the public.  They know that their peers will call them out when they overstate their research.  So official reports in scientific journals are subdued and highly qualified.  On the other hand, they are much more likely to exaggerate their claims when speaking to the uninformed public.

This doesn’t surprise me. I have long felt that the scientific community loves to be seen as the guardians of knowledge and progress.  This is another good reason to be suspect of sensational scientific research, especially when reported in the mainstream media.  These claims are never made apart from the temptations and motivations that corrupt politicians and marketers.

 

The Evidence and The Conclusions. Anthropologist Found to Be Falsifying Evidence for 30 Years

Evidence & Conclusions

I recently saw this article about Professor Reiner Protsch. He taught at a German university for the last 30 years.  And it turns out that his status as an expert in dating various anthropological finds is not only suspect, he has been shown to be a complete fraud. Indeed many of his “facts” were manufactured.

According to Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who discovered the hoax, “Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.”

Wow.

It seems that in spite of “peer review” the scientific community is really vulnerable to people manufacturing “evidence” to fill in the gaps for conclusions they have already made.  This is true even when their experts don’t even know how to run a carbon dating machine.  And it can go on for decades. The key is that the lies have to fit in with what the scientific community wants to believe. If your lies are inside the box they probably won’t be questioned. In fact it was only when a huge amount of money was at stake that someone started doing some fact checking.  Others have been challenging the “sacred cow” of peer review as being unreliable.

After I stopped laughing (because I have met more than my share of arrogant, table-pounding scientists), I realized that this is actually a sad situation for everyone.  It is horrible when the truth is handled this way.   It should lead the rest of us to  be skeptical of what we are told, even by the “experts.”  And while peer review is important, and the concept is admirable, we can’t even assume that 30 years of peer review in the “hard sciences” is fool proof.  Many well intended scientists like to speak as if their pronouncements are beyond questioning, that they are the only source of pure knowledge.  I would like to think that this will chasten the scientific community into a place of greater humility, but I am not holding my breath.

This is the conversation that came to mind when I read the article:

Skeptic: Do you believe in evolution?
Evolutionist: Not really. It is a fact. I believe in evolution the same way I believe in gravity.  Anyone that even questions evolution is clearly a blind religious zealot with no regard for the facts.
Skeptic: Why do you say it is a “fact?”
Evolutionist: Besides the obvious reality that the vast majority of scientists believe it, there is all the evidence. It is incontrovertible. Let me give you some examples….
Skeptic: So since you believe in evolution because of the evidence, if the evidence changed, or it was found to be incorrect or falsified, then obviously you would change your position that evolution is a fact.
Evolutionist: Well… not exactly. I might change what I believe about how evolution happened, but not THAT it happened.  It is undeniable that all living creatures descended from common ancestors.
Skeptic: Why do you say that it is “undeniable that all living creatures descended from common ancestors” by evolution?
Evolutionist: Because of the evidence.
Skeptic: So if you learned that the much of evidence that lead you to believe that “all living creatures descended from common ancestors” turned out to be totally incorrect, or worse an intentional lie, you would still believe it anyway? You wouldn’t be willing to rethink your conclusion? You would just rearrange some of the details? Is there any finding that would urge you to rethink your position?
Evolutionist: Why do you hate science?