I wasn’t going to write a blog post until after our Christmas Special on the 18th of December (hint hint!) but I was trawling through the BBC website and got quite irritated by something that I’ve seen all media outlets do before, but something that I think the BBC especially should try to avoid.
Apparently, self-classification as a scientist brings with it some kind of assumption that you know stuff. Despite the fact I’m about as credentialed as Dr Nick from the Simpsons (“Hi everybody!” “Hi Dr. Nick!”) and do as much cutting edge science on a daily basis as Dr Dino and convicted tax fraud, Kent Hovind, people expect you to have a knowledge about stuff beyond the ken of the ‘lay person’, whoever he is.
It’s not that I know things, or even that I do science (in the meaningful sense) on a regular basis. The distinction is that, even as someone who works on the fringes of science and research, it’s about attitude, an attitude towards learning and reading about new things beyond the headlines and sound bites, into the underlying principles. Then, and only then, can an opinion be formed safely.
This isn’t an attitude reserved for scientists though, before I suffer from delusions of grandeur. Anyone who cares about being rational and skeptical could (and should) examine the evidence for any position and at least make an attempt to rationalise their viewpoint before speaking out. On issues like badger culling, GMO’s, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia; there’s evidence to be read beyond the emotional appeal of fluffy animals, innocent babies and the dubious commercial practices of multi-national biochemical industries.
One issue lately that has become loaded with emotion instead of evidence, in the popular press anyway, is that of fracking. I’m a chemist, and not a very good one at that, not a geologist, so my understanding is limited. However, as a rationalist and skeptic, I felt obligated to read up on the mechanics behind it before formulating an opnion and I felt it only right to share that. Disagree if you want, but please do so after considering the evidence.
“Fluoride to again be added to west Cumbria’s water supply” says the headline on the website of the News and Star (09/09/13) bringing to the fore the issue both the specific issue of water fluoridation and the wider issue of widespread public medication. I’m not going to go into the issue of putting additives into our food or water supply for our own good because that’s an ethical issue and not the point I’m trying to make. What I want to discuss here is the science behind fluoridation, why it’s a good idea and why the anti-fluoridation brigade has it wrong and what they’re really opposed to and why.
Hello again from your friendly skeptical scientist, attempting to enrich and enliven people’s lives by spreading the knowledge of Science™ and contributing to everyone’s Facts To Amaze People Down The Pub list.
Today I’m going to discuss placebos and the common misconceptions people have about them and how they’re so often abused, even by rational and scientifically minded people. There’s a subtle difference between a true placebo and a simple control, and this is my attempt to explain it.