There’s a lot of nonsense written about research, most of it by those with an ideological objection to some set of facts, or a financial interest in denying them. Slater’s Whaleoil blog – which carries paid-for attacks on science (and lashes out blindly at “troughers”) – is one of the most obvious offenders in NZ.
Research, the scientific method, is the best tool we have for understanding the world. It isn’t a set of facts or dogma, it’s a process for evaluating hypotheses. Honest disagreement and changes in consensus are not evidence of flaws in the process, they are the process, it is “self repairing”.
Sadly however, there is material out there that dresses itself in the garb of research, but isn’t. It is paid for propaganda masquerading as science. A recent example has been in the news here in NZ:
Lion’s research suggesting booze has little relation to violence slammed by academics
Academics have slammed a report that weakens the link between alcohol and violence.
The report was funded by booze company Lion and took just seven weeks of research, suggesting alcohol has little to do with violent behaviour. “It’s a report that’s completely flawed and it shouldn’t be informing policy on alcohol,” Nicki Jackson from the University of Auckland said.
Dr Anne Fox, the author of the report, said in a statement “violent people were more likely to act violently in certain situations. But alcohol does not create violence in non-violent people”.
Violence is part of our society yes – as are the inhibitions that hold violence in check. This report’s lie by omission is that alcohol weakens those inhibitions.
An anonymous editorial in The Herald yesterday managed to get straight to the heart of the issue:
Academic research into public health problems has an uncanny way of confirming the concerns of its funder.
Similar examples on a global scale include the “research” purporting to show no harm from smoking tobacco, and of course the climate change denial industry. It’s tragic but it’s true, in evaluating supposed research we need to apply the almost universally useful maxim – “follow the money”.
Another footnote – my last post generated such a predictably facile misrepresentation by the right wing blogs (Slater / George) that I can’t wait to see what I’m going to be accused of this time!