How to Generate Scientific Controversy

Some years ago, I heard Bob Park give a talk about pseudoscience, using “How to get rich and famous abusing your science knowledge” as a framing device. He ran through the deceptions involved in a bunch of high-profile “science” based scams and scares– homeopathy, free energy, power lines causing cancer, etc.

Over at Live Granades, there’s a four-step guide to creating a scientific controversy that gives you something close to Park’s template:

1. Pick something that is regarded as true by the vast majority of scientists in the field and claim that it causes something bad.

2. Demand that scientists prove a negative by showing that the good thing doesn’t actually have bad results.

(You’ll have to click through for the other two steps and an example.)

Really, all that’s missing is an explanation of how to monetize this. But really, that’s the easy part– once you’ve generated controversy, you can easily turn that into cash. The tricky part is overcoming your conscience and sense of shame…

Comments

  1. #1 Stephen
    November 11, 2009

    Ah yes the missing piece is the Underpants Gnome strategy-

    Step 1: Steal underpants
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Profit.

  2. #2 JohnV
    November 11, 2009

    If someone is looking for a microbiologist with which to partner up with to abuse our scientific credentials on the path to ill-gotten riches, I’m available.

  3. #3 Dennis
    November 11, 2009

    My guess is that the big money is in saying that evolution or global warming don’t exist. It shouldn’t really matter what field, just as long as you can claim to be a scientist.

  4. #4 Prolix
    November 11, 2009

    Enough of the vague accusations. Exactly who is getting paid for saying things that are manifestly untrue? And who is paying them? There’s no shortage of people expressing opinions on all issues. But I don’t see this as the road to riches.

  5. #5 Dana Ullman
    November 12, 2009

    It is amazing how many seemingly smart people are so un-informed and misinformed about homeopathic medicine and its body of basic science research and controlled clinical trials. Skeptics seem to think that closing both of their eyes represents a good double-blind method.

    The newest study is a NMR study:
    http://www.homeopathyeurope.org/downloads/Demangeat_JML_2009.pdf

    Here are some others…
    WB Jonas, TJ Kaptchuk, K Linde, A Critical Overview of Homeopathy, Annals in Internal Medicine, March 4, 2003:138:393-399. Although this is not a meta-analysis, it is still a very good review of the clinical literature in homeopathy.

    J. Jacobs, WB Jonas, M Jimenez-Perez, D Crothers, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Metaanalysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34. This metaanalysis of 242 children showed a highly significant result in the duration of childhood diarrhea (P=0.008).

    J. Kleijnen, P. Knipschild, G. ter Riet, “Clinical Trials of Homoeopathy,” British Medical Journal, February 9, 1991, 302:316-323. This is the best objective meta-analysis of clinical research prior to 1991. This meta-analysis reviewed 107 studies, 81 of which showed efficacy of homeopathic medicines. Of the best 22 studies, 15 showed efficacy.

    J. Barnes, K.L. Resch, E. Ernst, “Homeopathy for Post-Operative Ileus: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 1997, 25: 628-633. (This meta-analysis found statistical significance, p<.05, in favor of homeopathy for the time to first flatus for patients with post-operative ileus.)

    Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analysed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015. Rutten ALB, Stolper CF, The 2005 meta-analysis of homeopathy: the importance of post-publication data. Homeopathy. October 2008, doi:10.1016/j.homp.2008.09/008

    Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, Endler, C, Muchitsch, I, Schuster, E, Kaye, A. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941. A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with parallel assignment was performed to assess the influence of sublingually administered Kali bichromate (potassium dichromate) 30C on critically ill patients with a history of tobacco use and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) In this study, 50 patients received either Kali bichromicum 30C globules (group 1) or placebo (group 2). The amount of tracheal secretions was reduced significantly in group 1 (p < 0.0001). Extubation (the removal of obstructive mucus from the lung with a tube) could be performed significantly earlier in group 1 (p < 0.0001). Similarly, length of stay was significantly shorter in group 1 (4.20 +/- 1.61 days vs 7.68 +/- 3.60 days, p < 0.0001 [mean +/- SD]). This data suggest that potentized (diluted and vigorously shaken) Kali bichromicum may help to decrease the amount of stringy tracheal secretions in COPD patients.

    I could easily go on…

  6. #6 NJ
    November 12, 2009

    I could easily go on…

    I’m sure you could. And on and on and on and on…credible woo types can outlast the Energizer Bunny.

    Chad is a physicist, so its unlikely that he can critically evaluate medical papers. But it’s a virtual certainty that if you take your song and dance over to Orac’s place, he and his readership will demonstrate that you are misreading, misquoting and/or misrepresenting any results from serious science.

    Now, if you want to discuss the nature of the vibrational modes of water molecules, I’m sure our gracious host can explain. I don’t expect you will become enlightened, however.

  7. #7 Glen Thomas
    November 12, 2009

    @Dana: It is amazing how many seemingly smart people are so un-informed and misinformed about homeopathic medicine and its body of basic science research and controlled clinical trials…

    Looking at your links,
    No.1 is not a study of homeopathic treatments.
    No.2 is just a review.
    Couldn’t find a copy of No.3.
    No.4 concludes “At the moment the evidence of clinical trials is positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because most trials are of low methodological quality and because of the unknown role of publication bias.”
    No.5 shows that if you select three weak trials that failed to meet significance requirements you can make a significant result out of thin air, as long as you don’t pick those with wholly negative results.
    No.6 finishes with “However, several caveats preclude a definitive judgment.”
    No.7 shows some interesting results from real treatments, but was small (only 25 patients in the treatment group) and only a fraction of the specified endpoints showed significant improvements with the homeopathic remedy. More work needed.

    “I could easily go on..” I think you’ll have to if these are the best of the research.

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