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Shermer on Confirmation Bias

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Michael Shermer has a piece on confirmation bias in the current SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (go here). He writes:

. . . In science we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required in experiments, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the experimental conditions during the data-collection phase. Results are vetted at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research must be replicated in other laboratories unaffiliated with the original researcher. Disconfirmatory evidence, as well as contradictory interpretations of the data, must be included in the paper. Colleagues are rewarded for being skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

We need similar controls for the confirmation bias in the arenas of law, business and politics. Judges and lawyers should call one another on the practice of mining data selectively to bolster an argument and warn juries about the confirmation bias. CEOs should assess critically the enthusiastic recommendations of their VPs and demand to see contradictory evidence and alternative evaluations of the same plan. Politicians need a stronger peer-review system that goes beyond the churlish opprobrium of the campaign trail, and I would love to see a political debate in which the candidates were required to make the opposite case.

Question: Do the safeguards against confirmation bias that Shermer claims obtain in science work when it comes to evolutionary theory?

Shermer is simply displaying the wishful thinking that comes part-in-parcel with methodological naturalism. He'd like to believe there is some means of "idiot proofing" scientific inquiry, so he argues that there are checks in place that keep science along the naturalistic, atheistic straight-and-narrow. But "facts" are never facts in and of themselves. All facts are open to interpretation and thus fall prey to human error. This is why I often argue that whether or not God exists, there had BETTER be one. Human fallibility will forever bar us from reaching higher levels of evolutionary existence. Likewise, there are limits to what scientific inquiry is able to make known to us, precisely because of our basic inability to look upon facts as facts and come to any real agreement about them. terrylmirll
"Colleagues are rewarded for being skeptical" huh? Is that what has happened to Michael Behe, he's been rewarded? to rephrase an old adage, with rewards like that, who needs punishment? "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." In this case, I suppose NDE doesn't even qualify for being ordinary, because it apparently doesn't require ANY evidence. jacktone
"... In science we have built-in self-correcting machinery. ... Disconfirmatory evidence, as well as contradictory interpretations of the data, must be included in the paper. Colleagues are rewarded for being skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." In other words Darwinism doesn't qualify. And then the good professor would ask of politics what Darwin can't deliver? Rude
Speaking of Scientific American the peanut gallery at ATBC is raising some questions about why I've variously mentioned reading it for 20, 30, and 40 years. Here is clarification. The earliest I recall regularly reading SciAm was in the 7th grade. The school library subscribed to it and I spent a lot of my time at school in the library. That would make it at least 36 years ago that I started reading it every month. I've no doubt rounded that up to 40 years or down to 30 years just because I like round numbers and it doesn't really matter that much. From age 18 to 23 I might not have read it every month as I wasn't in a library much except when required for college assignments and bought it off the newstands. Shortly after I married (at age 24) I began subscribing to it. That was over 20 years ago and I've no doubt mentioned that I've been a subscriber for 20 or 25 years. I missed a few months of it last year in protest over John Rennie's crusade against ID. For the first time in decades I let my subscription lapse and promised to never subscribe to it again. So I told my wife it would make a nice Valentine gift and now she subscribes to it for me so I can have my cake and eat it too. After all, I didn't promise to stop reading it, I only promised to stop subscribing to it. So there. DaveScot
Oh, wait. This is a trick question, isn't it Dr. D? There is no disconfirmatory evidence or contradictory interpretations of the data regarding evolutionary theory (i.e., NDE) that qualify as Real Scienceâ„¢. j
"Disconfirmatory evidence, as well as contradictory interpretations of the data, must be included in the paper." Perhaps Shermer could supply a list of exemplary papers regarding evolutionary theory? j
Confirmation bias is definitely a double-edge sword. Everyone has them. The best way to avoid it is to actually engage those you disagree with. geoffrobinson
I've been reading Shermer as long as he's been writing for SciAm. He's developed some confirmation biases of his own recently. He and editor-in-chief John Rennie are on an unreasoned crusade against ID. To use an old expression, you'd think their mommas had been terrorized by creationists when they were pregnant with them so they now have an instinctual fear. And I'm more of a libertarian that Shermer ever will be. No self-respecting libertarian would ever resort to suing a public school board over mandating the brief mention of intelligent design during the teaching of evolution. If a Libertarian finds that offensive what he wants is a voucher so he can choose a school more to his liking without sacrificing the benefit of publically funded education. Church and state are already more than adequately separated. What we need in the United States is separation of school and state. The political liberal left fears this of course because the current system of public education is a socialist system and vouchers change it into a free market system. I invite Michael Shermer to read more about what real libertarians think about public education here. DaveScot
The bias isn't in the "facts" of science. The "facts" are the subject of peer review and double-blind experimentation. The pervasive bias is in the interpretation of the facts. For example: Here is the first sentence of a report from LiveScience: "Not Picky: Animal Makes Skeleton From This or That By Sara Goudarzi, LiveScience Staff Writer posted: 07 July 2006, 08:34 am ET Corals can alter their skeleton to match the changing chemistry of seawater, making them the only known animals to achieve such a feat, according to a new study." Fact: Coral skeleton varies with chemistry of seawater. Interpretation: This is an "achievement" of the Coral themselves rather than a function of externally rendered design. If mention of "externally rendered design" seems biased, then so does the view that the ability to adapt is an "achievement" of the coral. glennj
Another question: Do any of the standards, checks and regulations which Shermer details have any meaning or significance whatsoever at the end of the day, since we are just molecules in motion? I say, screw it all and just do whatever feels good. ...if we are operating under Shermer's world view. Scott

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