Friday, March 04, 2011

Junk Science rules the world

This blog themes on junk science which all too frequently underpins prohibitionist drug policies but the Bad Science site of Ben Goldacre, Guardian journalist, shows that the rot is much more widespread.

In short, it seems much of our society and many common beliefs are based on bullshit.

Goldacre did a roundup of the bullshit he detected in 2010 titled 'The year in nonsense' and it's frightening.

What the bullshitters seems to know is the exact point beyond which the average person will cease enquiring into the truth of a matter, so we see untrammelled nonsense being spread by credulous, lazy media while the swift rebuttals, often on blogs, go almost unnoticed except by enthusiasts.

It's all helped along by the deep irrationality of the human mind. It seems that if we learn something that refutes a prejudice it only deepens the prejudice; that if a crime has multiple victims we think it's less serious; and that what women musicians wear affects listeners' assessments of their skill.

One scam I knew about but never quantified is the tabloid journalist's technique of  correcting a rubbish story with some essential information in the 19th paragraph. Most readers, it seems, lose interest at about para 8 or 9 so the outright lie in the headline is accepted.

BTW for designers and layout freaks, there is some good info in that last link about how people read a page, including the fascinating info that when perusing a full length photo of a male, men's eyes will go to the penis area more often than women's. I wonder if they controlled for gayness in their sample? But I'm too time-poor to track down the original paper, so I'll just believe it!

This is paragraph 8 already, so I'll stop.

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