Thursday, March 12, 2009

Science, you're doing it wrong

It's come to light that one of the biggest names in anesthetics, Dr. Scott S. Reuben, fabricated data on 21 of his over 70 papers in peer review. This is huge because of the impact of Dr. Reuben's work. It is also huge because every anti-science theocratic wackaloon is going to begin flying this as a banner for how science is "just a bunch of theories" and contaminated with contingency. In short, Dr. Reuben has hosed countless patients whose anesthesia was administered based on his work; he has hosed the scientific community by occupying a bank of resources that could have been more productively used elsewhere; and he has hosed people like me, who take the time out of their lives to defend science, and must now blog about it rather than getting that extra thirty minutes of sleep. Dr. Reuben should have his ankles bound to a cement block, doused with oil, set on fire, and then just before he burns to death be kicked into a lake to drown. Such is the penance for aggravating me (commenters be warned).

Seriously though, the scientific world is simply baffled about how this type of thing could have slipped past peer review. Many religious people will cite this as some form of vindication for how peer-review surely fails to jettison bad science, with their implication being that it has failed to jettison scientific ideas they do not like based on ideology rather than even a cursory understanding of the scientific method. They'll probably also type their truimphant nonsense on a computer that could not function except for what peer-review has produced on the function of electromagnetism. Tools.

So before the following argument goes flying (and I'm sure it will), let's take note of something very important. Science is sadly, not contingency-free. No method is. And when we hear the shrieks of "Ha! Science got it wrong!" it's important to note that science actually got it right. When error like this does arise in science, who gets the credit for correcting it? Faith? Of course not. The credit belongs to good science. Even now, scientists are in the process of correcting this error, and our policy on anesthesia will change to cohere with what we do have a right to claim knowledge of. Remember, the world around you is a symphony spun by the fruits of science. It is not faith that has given us plentiful food, clean water, reliable medical treatment, computers, and so on, but rather the same processes that have caught Dr. Reuben (albeit, inexplicably much later than usual) and will abandon him to shunned obscurity henceforth.

The fact that peer review and the scientific process catches frauds and corrects errors is not a testament to the frailty of science, but rather to a strength that can only be acquired by such a scrutinizing process of self-improvement. It is what science has so right that religion has so wrong. And now we're about to get hit by a wave of stupidity, insisting that because scientists were slow to catch this fraud that the yarn about talking snakes and magical gardens somehow explains anything or has provided a single iota of human knowledge - which shows about how reliable their reasoning is. The truth is that science has the ability to admit that its talking snakes were mistakes. Good luck getting the same concession from a clergyman.

And now, a quote from my father in response to a religious person exclaiming that there's power in prayer (turns out, there's not):

"I'll pray for you" is a phrase some Christians use in order to make themselves feel smugly superior by doing nothing at all, especially when they are unable to defend their position through truth, reason, or logic. It is nothing but a form of one-upsmanship, usually heard as a last desperate shot when their arguments are lying in tatters around their feet along with all caps and lots of exclamation points.

Beautiful. I can tell I'm going to be using this one in abundance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If only people weren't so scientifically ignorant. Even the former president. In a recent interview with Dr. Gupta on CNN, he said repeatedly that embryos were not fertilized. Bill Clinton doesn't have a clue what he is talking about. And Gupta, who surely knows better, didn't bother to correct him.