Why Criticizing Science as “Biased” Gets Us Nowhere; An Example with Fox News

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Hi all,

I am always fascinated to hear claims that particular scientific studies are, “biased”. While it is true that there is a lot of unscientific and fradulant findings being published all the time, we need to understand that scientists are people, who hold values and have opinions just as we do. What makes a good scientist is being able to create an objective platform from which empirical research can be conducted. A scientist, or any good thinker for that matter, needs to be able to disconnect their work from their values, beliefs, and attitudes. That being said, it is unreasonable to expect someone to go into science if they have no interest in what their are studying. However, it seems that is what we sometimes expect.

In a recent Fox News article, contributor Kelley Beaucar Vlahos discusses criticism (including her own) of some of the scientific studies that influenced New York State’s recent ban of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Vlahos accuses the scientists of being “biased” and having ties to the “anti-fracking movement”. This report was peer reviewed, a process that is used to maintain scientific integrity. As reported, the peer reviewers did not know the authors. Furthermore, as a scientist myself (well, studying to be one), I can tell you that the peer review process is often blind, meaning that the authors have no idea who is reviewing their paper and the reviewers do not know whose paper it is at the time of review. The article, however, claims that the authors as well as reviewers were biased, as they are opposed to hydraulic fracturing. What it does not discuss, is why they are opposed. Does their opposition stem from some of their findings as well as other peer reviewed science? Someone is not just simply born a “fractivist”. Scientific studies need to be assessed by their methodology, not the personal characteristics of the scientist. There is no doubt that our attitudes and values affect how we filter information, which can certainly influence how we view findings, but part of being a good scientist is being aware of this.

Finally, the article claims that the scientists did not disclose their political views, etc. in the paper. While it is a standard to disclose conflicts re: financing, stake in ownership, etc., in science, it is not standard to have to disclose political views. For example, do I need to say that I am a “environmentalist, vegetarian…etc.” anytime I write something? Furthermore, if the way to eliminate bias is just to have “pro-fracking” scientists have their own study and then “anti-fracking” scientists have their study, why even have science? That would just be politics.

Dismissing peer-reviewing science as “biased” is totalitarian. It is an attempt to look past important findings that we may not like, which is exactly what Vlahos and Fox News are doing in this instance. We definitely need to understanding the context of scientific studies and it, but there is no purely “objective” study, at the very least there are values implicit in how we measure things. Although minimal, science needs some human input or else there would be no studies; but discarding studies as “biased” that go against your agenda, as opposed to challenging yourself, doesn’t do us any good.

Happy Hermiting, folks.

Image: http://www.stcplanning.org/index.asp?pageId=153

NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg