Thursday, January 11, 2007

Doggerel #53: "We Need More Time to Research!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

In fields like parapsychology, woos often try to render themselves immune to criticism by claiming that they need more time to build up the evidence. Granted, new fields of science can always use more research time, but that's seldom relevant to the conversations where this doggerel shows up:

First, it usually involves a fallacy known as "argument to the future": basing your position on evidence that will allegedly show up. Usually woo fields are criticized for having no evidence at all. The far more reasonable response is skepticism and maybe a few discussions on what kind of experiments to do.

Second, it often ignores the fact that very little legitimate research being done in woo fields. Parapsychology did have some legitimate aspects once, such as Zener cards, with 5 distinct, objective outcomes to be measured. They have been largely abandoned, however, for experiments that often rely on subjective interpretations of the results when the cards didn't produce any positive outcomes.

Third, woo fields seldom define terms in a meaningful fashion. How do you measure the strength of an aura, the CSI of an object, or the wavelength of a healthy chi? You also have to have make the demarcation between success and failure before you get the result of an experiment. As long as a field can maintain its ambiguity, it can disguise failures.

An additional abuse that often crops up on forums and the like: A woo promises to get to work on research, claiming limited time to deal with that sort of thing, and yet keeps posting contentless entries.

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5 comments:

Annalisa Ventola said...

Hehe, I've got all the time I need. I just wish I had a bigger budget.

I think that there are some legitimate things still happening in the field of parapsychology. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of bunk. Few people have the time to try to tease these things apart, but I try to do so at my blog.

Infophile said...

The only legitimate activities I know of in parapsychology are the fair experiments that reveal yet another phenomenon is bunk. Is there something else I'm missing?

Mongrel said...

I've seen this one used a lot in conjuction with the "We can't afford extensive testing like 'Teh Big Pharma!'"

Anonymous said...

"Second, it often ignores the fact that very little legitimate research being done in woo fields."

If very little legitimate research is being done in woo fields, does this not support the contention that more research is needed?

Bronze Dog said...

Not really: If you've got an idea that's only being supported by illegitimate "research," I don't see much point in dumping money into it. In such a case, we should just call for the woos to be honest in their research.

One place they could stop: The JREF. Winning the million would prove that their field exists, for one thing.