Friday, June 15, 2007

Doggerel #102: "The Government!"

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

One of the things that always annoys me is when woos bring the government into scientific discussions. It's always the genetic fallacy in one of two ways: Either the government always lies, and thus anything they say is wrong, or the government is always right, so we should accept anything it says. What's worse is that both mentalities often treat governments as if they were monolithic entities, instead of countless conflicting interests that somehow get things accomplished (on occasion).

First, those who don't trust the government: These are usually the wacky conspiracy theorists, ufologists, and some loose cannon alties. Because we happen to agree with the government that they're crazy, they assume that we just trusted the government's say-so, rather than the science that's been done: It doesn't matter who makes the argument, so long as the evidence and logic is sound. Additionally, many of these conspiracy nuts seem to think that the world ends in an eternal waterfall once you cross the US border: They don't take into account that there are other scientists in other countries who can't be controlled or silenced by the US, unless you want to buy into the administrative nightmare of a world government that monitors absolutely everything. Even if vested interests can interfere with the evidence, the rest of the good science out there would counter it. This particularly sticks in the craw of anti-vaxxers who cry 'thimerosal' despite the lack of change from Europe's earlier removal of it.

Put simply, the government recruits a lot of people who do science. Even if they try to later silence them, the results get published, and can be replicated, critiqued, disputed, and so forth, just like with non-government scientists. Skeptics don't give government-employed scientists any special treatment, which is exactly how it should be.

Next, those who blindly trust the government: I've largely seen this with psychics and 'accepted' alties like acupuncturists, therapeutic touch specialists, and homeopaths: Because the government funds something, there must be some truth to it. Sorry. Doesn't work. The government is usually run by idiots who will fund just about anything. What matters is the science: Do the experiments prove the existence of remote viewing? No. We're still waiting for a single successful remote viewer to pass the Randi Challenge. We're still waiting for meaningful clinical trials for acupuncture, TT, and homeopathy. All we have right now are failures and marginal results. It doesn't matter if some senator devotes some pork to his pet woo. Politicians are not arbiters of truth: They're just people who won popularity contests. Leave the science to the scientists, who will work things out through the scientific method, which means no special treatment for government employees.

A particularly annoying instance of excessive government trust is claims of patent, as if it was proof of effectiveness. Along the same lines are various 'FDA approved' supplements and herbal concoctions when the FDA is largely toothless on those fronts: Last I checked, 'FDA approved' for supplements means 'not poison'. Not exactly a ringing endorsement when quackery drives for deregulation and lower standards tend to pull out any teeth the FDA might otherwise have. Either way, show us the science, not the rubber stamp.

Bad science is bad science and good science is good science. Being a part of a giant institution doesn't change that.


Bob said...

" special treatment for government employees."

You shouldn't say such naughty things about us on teh internets. Remember: We know where you live.

But seriously, I'm still waiting for some woo to look at my profile and try to discredit me because I work for the guv'ment. I'm surprised some UFO nut hasn't done so already.

Don said...

A couple weeks ago, I found that you can't win. My "job" according to my profile is "professional layabout," partially as a joke and partially to avoid saying that I work for the local county government. Turns out some cryptozoologists took issue with that and ad hominemed me for my choice of job description. Apparently professional layabouts are not allowed to have opinions about Bigfoot.

Infophile said...

I have my own set of issues, technically working for the oil industry. All I actually do for them is some programming, so that's all I put up there. Otherwise, I'm sure I'd get tons of flak for being a shill.