boxing match

Study or Trial; Whatever You Want to Call It

boxing matchYou know that you’re dealing with a person suffering from science starvation when he says study or trial, whatever you want to call it.

It’s like a featherweight coming to a professional boxing match. You’ve thrown the match before the first punch. It’s like not knowing the difference between a hay maker and an upper cut.

Suspicious of Science

I had a discussion about science with a friend of mine. He is admittedly suspicious of science. He believes that all researchers are on the take. Yes, they have to publish to get grant money. Science, after all, isn’t cheap. Yet, he believes that puts them on the same level as used car salesmen. That’s like saying all women are bad drivers. It’s just as stereotypical—and wrong.

I suspect that his suspicion is intertwined with some deep-rooted ideology. That seems to be a common theme with the more contentious issues of our day. And it’s because of this relationship that discussions have descended into arguments. There are no winners in such debates.

Study versus Trial

The fact that he equated study and trial tells me that his position involves emotion rather than fact. They are by no means the same thing. They are not synonymous. As I tried to explain to my learned friend, a study can only draw correlations. It doesn’t determine causes. There are confounders that researchers can try to account for, but there may always be something.

A trial, on the other hand, controls for confounders. There is an adequate random sample of the population. They are randomly assigned into groups, control or treatment. It is only from trials that scientists can make causal statements. And as I also tried to explain, science cannot run trials on all the questions we may have because of ethics. You can’t run a trial on the effect of second-hand smoke on babies without drawing some backlash.

But my friend did not budge on that point. Science, in his eyes, is flawed. Never mind the fact that scientific papers undergo a peer-review. Never mind the fact that other scientists read papers regularly and will gladly point out flawed studies. Never mind the fact that the scientific community is its own check of fraudulent research. Everyone is on the take like one huge conspiracy in the scientific community. The suggestion is laughable to say the least.

Yes, my friend is a true agnostic—except when it comes to his own beliefs. He is one of those people who fly happily in the face of facts. Facts only fuel his fury however misplaced it is on the waves of ignorance. But he’s probably relishing the fact that he was right, while I too relish the fact that I know he was wrong. At least I know which one is indeed true. Chris DR
photo credit: Boxing cake via photopin (license)

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