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Why citing a study does not end an argument

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From Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell at Quillette:

“Actually Studies Show…”

Chances are you’ve found yourself in a heated conversation among a group of friends, family, or colleagues when someone throws down the gauntlet: “Actually, studies show…” Some nod in silent agreement, others check their text messages, and finally someone changes the subject.

It’s hard to know what to say when people cite scientific studies to prove their point. Sometimes we know the study and its relative merits. But most of the time we just don’t know enough to confirm or refute the statement that the study is supposed to support. We are floating in a sea of information, and all we can do is flounder around for the nearest buoy to support a view that’s vaguely related to the conversation.More.

One could go further: When all studies show the same thing, something is probably wrong. The world is full of anomalies even though, by definition, anomalies are uncommon. But when none of them is captured, the research database is probably defective.

Note: Jonny Anomaly is not a pseudonym.

Also, re Brian Boutwell: Human evolution: “Race” to the bottom?

Parenting doesn’t matter after all.

Hi, Crime Gene, meet Epigenetics

That said, their survey of reasons why “studies show”should not end a discussion is well worth the read.

See also: Science journalist fed up with “nutrition science”

My standard response is either, "They do? Which ones?" Or I will say, "No they don't." The former is for cases when there is some possibility, however remote, that the interlocutor may have an actual study in mind. I'd say that ninety percent of the time they don't have a study to cite, or the studies they come up with don't say what they say they say, or the studies have been debunked. The latter is for cases when I suspect that, for whatever reason, the person from among my "group of friends, family, or colleagues" is trying to blow smoke up my nether region. And also for cases when I know of studies to the contrary that I have bookmarked or can easily look up. I'd say that two-thirds of the time -- when I state bluntly, "No they don't" -- the claimant, indeed, has got nothin'. jstanley01
"It’s hard to know what to say when people cite scientific studies to prove their point." How about: "Show me the study. Did they publish their data, software, and analytical tools? Have their results been reproduced by independent researchers? Who funded the study?" That took me all of 1 minute to pose that response. This is not rocket science. Charles
The problem is common in History, where many standard sources have been overturned by modern research. On the other hand, Shakespeare aficionados had practically agreed that there was no historical evidence to support the description of Richard III as a cripple, with a hunch back and a withered arm. But only a few years ago, archeologists unearthed what is surely Richard's grave. And the skeleton therein had a malformed spine and a crippled arm. So, does one go with the latest claims? Or stick with the "established truth"? vmahuna

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