Sunday, June 8, 2014

Catching Up - A Disjointed Post

No one will be more surprised than I am that I haven't posted anything since Thursday night.  I think that, excepting a few periods of travel, it's the longest I've gone without posting since I started this blog.  Not that I think there are hordes of readers waiting with bated breath for me to return, just that I feel like I'm supposed to return!

Aside from some family matters that I don't think are proper to discuss, at least for now, the time since my last post was largely spent working on the new shop.  We had blinds to mount on three windows and the double doors.  We had to wait for the construction guys to finish working inside, caulking and painting, and then I went to hang blinds.  I don't know about you folks, but hanging blinds never goes as smoothly and effortlessly as it should.   We bought blinds online specifying the kind that mount outside the window box, since I knew the walls had a 1x4 running a few inches on both sides across the top and bottom so there would be wood to screw the mounts into.  Due to unexpected nails, no two blinds have the same placement and spacing of the mounts!  Each set of blinds ended up being mounted a few times.

But the worst were these.  We have hurricane rated doors, with windows made of impact glass that survives the 2x4 shot at 150 mph (also effective against smash and grab), but they didn't have blinds inside for privacy.  The blinds are made by the company that makes the doors, so they should be the easy choice, right?  Ha ha!  Despite the video that makes installation appear to be a 30 second job (I swear it was all CGI), this was the worst job we had to do.  The two blinds took about six hours to mount and wrecked me, both physically, aggravating the mostly-healed tendinitis I got last Saturday, and causing me no end of frustration.

The construction is down to just a couple of finish jobs and may be done this week.  I'm mostly moved into the space, but need to spend some time building some shelves.  My working vacation for the last two weeks is ending today, so moving the reloading stuff will have to wait until next weekend when I can spend a little more time getting the area laid out. 

Possibly the longest thing I've written in the last few days was a comment over at Bayou Renaissance Man, to a piece on How to Quack-Proof Yourself. The topic of junk science is something I've written many pieces on and care deeply about.  This particular alleyway in the topic is very important, and the linked author, Dr. Amy Tuteur, approaches the argument with authority.  She gets a lot of it right, IMO of course, but drifts too far down the "physicians are scientists and we know what's good for you" road for my comfort.  In a year that we've been told the advice on consumption of saturated fat in the diet is meaningless (pay portal - more readable summary here) when it comes to preventing heart disease, and that there really is nothing mysteriously good for you about red wine (resveratrol), her comments on a few of these topics don't sit well with me.  Let's face it, the official pronouncements on what we should eat change regularly.

Here's the part that tweaked me.  Quoting the source:
A pervasive theme in quackery is the notion of the brilliant heretic. Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy. The conceit rests on the notion that revolutionary scientific ideas are dreamed up by mavericks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive data collection.
Like plate tectonics?  Like the big bang theory vs. the steady state models?  Both of these well-established scientific theories were brought up by "brilliant heretics" and didn't get accepted despite the "massive data collection" she talks about.  Back in 2011, Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for a topic he was drummed out of his research group over, quasi crystals.  Yet another  brilliant heretic who was ignored and punished widely despite his "massive data collection".  She's going against perhaps the most quoted book in science, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.    Kuhn observes that science is relatively static; new ideas are accepted in infrequent revolutions when old ways of envisioning and approaching problems fall to new ones.  This happens largely because the old scientists who hold those views die off.  

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson, she makes the mistake of saying since science is self-correcting and is right in the long run, it's always right. In general, science is always wrong; if it was always right, it wouldn't need to be self-correcting.  Something would be proven, then put on the shelf while new things were conquered.  If this is true at all, it's only true in math.  Science is correct only in a few, simple areas that are well known and that no longer need research. 

In reality you get things like the recent paper where a well-funded lab tried to replicate published, peer-reviewed cancer research and found only about a quarter of 67 papers could be verified. My favorite quote:
"I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning." 
Which reminds me that one of the most downloaded academic papers in history is John Ioannidis' Why Most Published Research is Wrong.

Gary Taubes, one of my favorite science writers, and a guy who has won many awards at it, says, "And here’s the challenge to both the scientist working in the field and the lay observer following along: how do we tell the difference between the one in a million times, say, that an outsider comes along and gets it right, and the other 999,999 quack-driven attempts? The numbers alone tell us that the best idea is always to bet against the outsider, that we’re always best served by ignoring him or her and getting back to science as usual (what Kuhn called “normal science”). The odds are enormously in our favor if we do so. But, still, when a paradigm is shifted, it’s going to be an outsider who does it,..."

And that's the rub.  If a self-proclaimed brilliant heretic, or someone proclaimed as such by other people says they have proof their advancement in science or medicine chances are they're not right.  But keep your ears open for lots of heretics saying the same thing.  The data that dietary saturated fat has essentially nothing to do with heart disease has been talked about regularly by many, many researchers for as long as the lowfat mantra was being preached, but there's a long time lag between the point where lots of heretics start saying something and the time the older researchers die off. 
(I wanted a picture of an old scientist, and Bing gave me actor Christopher Lloyd as Doc from "Back to the Future".  Somehow, that works for me.)


  1. I was waiting with baited breath - damn near passed out!
    Christopher Lloyd fits!

  2. A PROPERLY performed scientific experiment will allow for an outsider to repeat the action and receive the same outcome as the discoverer. If the outcome is wrong something went wrong somewhere in the PROCESS. If the procedure is followed properly and the outcome is as expected then I Kan Has Science....otherwise it's just an experiment.

    The problem is people have too much vested in the OUTCOME....not the process. This leads to cheating, subjectivism and corners being cut.

    People want to excoriate science when what in reality it's just plain old hooman beans doing what they do.....cheating.

  3. Before you build shelves, consider wire rack shelving from a restaurant supply house. Certainly pricier than wall brackets and boards, but the wire shelves don't hold dust, can be set to any spacing in 1 inch increments, are available in multiple shelf depths and widths, can be up to 84 inches tall, and can be had with casters to allow moving them. Each shelf is rated at 350 lbs, and it's a simple matter to add a piece of fitted 1/4 plywood to a particular shelf if there are small parts that would fall through (or use plastic bins).

  4. Much agreement about wire rack shelves on wheels, it's durable enough to be permanent. Sam's has cheap copies, ten years ago they were good value, haven't checked lately. Strong enough to roll around loaded, even the Sam's stuff. The real restaurant brand Metro shelves seemed twice as strong against bending, you can climb on it loaded, the cheap copies you have to be careful. Price shop Metro hard, it's expensive. Assemble with a rubber mallet. What it doesn't do is keep the dust off, but thrift store lateral files work for that.

  5. A brilliant heretic won't make a claim that is unfalsifiable. A quack will.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Quacks cannot produce extraordinary evidence.

    I think that is the point of the article.

  6. Yeah, I know Metro shelves. Really good stuff.

    I've seen those wire rack shelves at Sam's and almost got some. What I was looking for was some shelves to go right on, or right above, the desktop.

    There will probably be one or two of those rolling shelves in there, but I have a place for the benchtop shelves too.

  7. Have you noticed just how far out of disfavor has fallen the scientific method, replaced by consensus and peer review?

    I do note that the emporer's clothes were peer reviewed, and rejected by a heretic.


  8. "At any given moment, of N scientists in a given field, N-1 are wrong. Therefore, for practical purposes (say, in administrator's terms), all scientists are always wrong." -- "Tanner's Paradox," by Bob Leman, in his story "Conversational Mode"

  9. FYI, my local restaurant supply house has wall mounted wire rack shelves.

    RE: the Sam's Club/Home Depot/Lowe's/Costco/Amazon versions: usually the support posts on those are two piece and screw together in the middle. Those posts are not as strong as one piece posts, which will become evident at about year 4 of rolling them around, plus they may be a different diameter and wall thickness, preventing attachment of standard Metro-style casters.

  10. It's not so much that scientists (and for that matter people in any discipline) can be wrong. And in fact many times they are right. But the really important thing is to have common sense and a good BS detector so you will be ahead of the herd. Every theory, every meme, every social or political movement offers both a problem and an opportunity. You can benefit from knowing when someone is wrong or when someone is right. Even if the benefit is simply not falling for a false theory it is worth something to you.

  11. Dig all of the stuff here, but...

    especially the bbq and smoking.

    and keep up with the shop series, that was just getting good.