When real stories don’t turn out the way we want.

I always read lots of news stories, esp. about science, but now with this blog I also read stories with a mind toward writing a post. That does pose a problem though. As I’m reading the story I’m already thinking how it could fit my post idea, so when the story drifts off in a completely different direction what do I do? (If I were FauxNews or the Repugs I’d just lie about the ending, but I try not to do that).

Anyway this story caught my attention: Babies ‘Moral Compass’ Called Into Question By New Research. Now forget the babies, the part of the story is the issue of how science works. Already I’ve been looking at other stories about the increasing difficulty (and what to do about) it of reproducing results. See, reproducing results is very important. The original study may be wrong (like the famous cold fusion). So that’s why science has the publication process, with enough information, that others may repeat the experiment and either confirm or deny the initial results. Without this kind of auditing of the results the initial study could have lots of errors or even lies.

So this news article is addressing exactly this. An initial study was done showing babies have a moral compass. Now the experimental technique to do this has to be ingenious since how do we get any clue how babies think. But the second study believed that the way the experiment was run was wrong (some toys doing stuff and then the babies choose their favorite toy as a way to measure their moral framework); the babies were merely entertained by one of the toys and frightened of the other so the one they chose had nothing to do with moral compass.

But here’s where the story drifted off the direction I wanted to go with this post (initial results are wrong but get corrected by the process), but also a direction that again shows the process. Naturally the original researchers disputed the new results and they explained how the second study was flawed, plus claimed additional studies to justify their conclusions. Note this process, debate based on evidence where enough disclosure and examination can validate the process. Researchers have more at stake than just pure quest for knowledge so naturally they’re quite competitive, sometimes maybe even as much as presidential candidates. BUT, they have to play by rules since the purpose of the debate is to actually get to the truth, not just win support from uninformed bystanders (aka voters).

I think this is what is so misleading about science today, doubts created by the denialists with their greedy interests. Most people think it is just like political or religious debate, all opinion, no facts, no process for resolving disagreements (sometimes taking decades as the age of the universe debate required). And most of all the science process is based on evidence. If you can’t settle some issue, then time to get more evidence rather than just screaming at each other some more. Eventually a result is obtained, not by voting, but by evidence.

Some questions are harder than others to answer (like knowing what is going on in a baby’s brain, that’s a toughie). Some questions take longer to resolve and sometimes requires substantial cost. But the process can plow its way through to a conclusion and it has done so in so many areas already. And once the conclusion is reached a bunch of idiot politicians (really it’s hard to believe people are this stupid, but I’m constantly amazed) can’t reject it just because they don’t like it; it stands until new evidence (not the same old disproven arguments are trotted out over and over)

It’s unfortunate that so many have closed minds. We have a process to arrive at truth. We have a completely different process that arrives at no verifiable conclusion. The uneducated conflate the too since they really don’t understand the science process. So we argue endlessly about things were there are not two sides, not a controversy, but one position is true and the other is false, period.

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About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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6 Responses to When real stories don’t turn out the way we want.

  1. Doug says:

    Good point about how science must have debate and validation. I think it is much easier when a child can talk. They see a crying baby and say, “The baby is sad. Give the baby a toy (or cookie)…” The empathy studies of older children are much easier to evaluate. I think a “moral code” is much too arbitrary. However, “empathy” — projecting one’s self into another — or imagining how another might feel is more provable.

    • dmill96 says:

      Yes I thought that was pretty dubious experiment but at the same time it is hard to get any information about development at very young age. The research on the impact of social media, my more common discussion topic, is often equally mushy, even though done people who can speak, so I tend to pay some attention to articles, even if dubious, that at least try to reveal some of what happens during development.

  2. Did you happen to catch on “Freshly Pressed” this person’s blog? http://koshersamurai.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/i-knew-it-babies-are-morally-bankrupt/
    Hummm….I’m not terribly fond of his viewpoint. Too bad WordPress.com won’t “Freshly Press” your post to convey an opposing viewpoint on the same topic. Later, D.

    • Or at least another viewpoint from a scientific mind rather than one mind blurting out a title like this: “I Knew It! Babies are Morally Bankrupt!!” Good god…it’s a popularity contest out there, isn’t it? That’s all I have.

    • dmill96 says:

      I did see that. I try to look a Fresh Pressed every day and frankly I was a little surprised they didn’t dig a little deeper. AFAIK the story ran multiple places, sometimes with the rebuttal, but the topic attracted more attention than debating testing methodology. It will be the same with social media. I’m interested in seeing real research there because I actually think there may be some significant issues, but getting good research to actually reveal anything is going to be rare.

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