In my post here, “The Parallax View of Thrill Seekers,” I cast light on the prejudice of scientists to intepret experimental and observational data to infer causal relationships where none are indicated. Today I read one of the few highly-visible examples of both that propensity, and its polar opposite.
In an article in Science Daily, a recent study at McGill University, in Montreal, biologists found some very interesting evidence regarding the role played by antioxidants in the aging process. Specifically, they found that there was actually a decrease in degradation of some tissue when oxidants were suppressed. This is exactly the opposite of the popular–and officially validated–position to which millions of people have become devoted over the last few decades.
It is not my purpose here to settle the debate about the efficacy of theories about antioxidants and aging, though that could be an interesting and worthwhile debate. My purpose is to again point out–as I have in this blog–that there is profound and invisible prejudice in the scientific community, and among the vast majority of lay people, to jump to conclusions as to the proper interpretation of data, scientific or otherwise. Nowhere is the more true than in the area of assigning causal relationships to mere correlations.
Correlations simply state that two variables seem to change their values in tandem. It does not imply, let along affirm, that there is any causal connection whatsoever between them. Yet people who, for reasons of their own, want a causal relationship to be present, feel no compunction about assigning that causality erroneously.
This is, in my view, a blatant breach of intellectual integrity, and an affront to all who sincerely seek the truth of things, rather than salting the mines of science as a way of grinding our own axes as a means to furthering our own agendas.
I am on the lookout for other examples of this type of pseudo-science, and will report it here as available. If you have an opinion, an example, or a wish to see light shown in a particular direction, leave a comment below.