Thursday, January 12, 2012

‘Healthy’ red wine data is bogus - Science, science and #scientism

An AP story has the details:
A University of Connecticut researcher known for his work on the benefits of red wine to heart health falsified his data in more than 100 instances, and nearly a dozen scientific journals are being warned of the potential problems after publishing his studies in recent years, officials said Wednesday.

UConn officials said their internal review found 145 instances over seven years in which Dr. Dipak Das fabricated and falsified data, and the U.S. Office of Research Integrity has launched an independent investigation of his work.
There’s no indication of the motive, but the university just turned down nearly $1 million in federal grants related to the fake research.

Meanwhile, at least one resveratrol seller is scurrying to distance itself from these findings.

It's not surprising.

First, even legitimate medical claims have a much lower margin of error for false positives, or p-value, than do natural sciences research. 5 percen vs. 0.01 percent is huge indeed.

But, that's secondary to the huge nature of the fraud, and the second half of the header for this post.

Scientism is obvious to those who know about.

For those who don't, it's a bit of hyperrationalism that says almost everything in your, my and Horatio's universe is understandable by scientific investigation. Some Gnu Atheists engage in it, notably Sam Harris. Some "professional skeptics" at least skirt its edges.

Other "professional skeptics," along with some scientists, don't go that far but are bad enough.

For them, Science with a capital-S is put forth instead of science.

I use the capital-S Science for a Platonic Idea of science, if you will. The professional skeptics and some scientists claim that science is not only the best endeavor of the human mind, but that it's on a plane all by itself. In situations such as the above, though, they're stuck. Was Das never a scientist? Or, rather, a Scientist? Like a lapsed Christian, was he once a Scientist, only to become a heretic?

And here, though Science doesn't have exactly the same take on scientific research as does scientism, the end result ... idealizing science some way, and even as a quasi-belief system, is the same.

The reality? Science is no less a human endeavor and no more one, as far as ethics of its practitioners, than any other. Beyond the laughable but mild problems of Gnu-style atheists, we've seen Nazi and Japanese medical experimentation, Soviet Lamarckianism at the hands of Lysenko and much more.

The idea of rational, ethical, human behavior is one we hope for in fields outside of science, anyway. We shouldn't expect science to do better at it than we do other fields.

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