Are you MIsusing the sciences to back up a claim?

As I wrote on my WordPress Blog page, I am using the sciences to back up my claims. I am not the only one and there are further blog formats that also use the sciences to back up their claims. The sciences I relate to scientific papers that are for example peer-reviewed. Now what’s the catch? Nowadays, I am certainly not the only one, you can open Google Scholar and then you type in what you are looking for and when you are lucky, which you likely are because we are saturated on the sciences, you find a scientific article that you are looking for – to confirm what you think and want to convey. Just to give you an example; Sex is awesome, oh suprise an older study confirms it is awesome. My obvservation is valid.

A former professor of mine referred to it as scientific “cherry-picking and I am delighted that she taught me about it, because indeed she is right. It is as easy these days to write a blog, possibly policy and investement suggestions and and cherry-pick the foundation for it as easy as it is not to. You could not do so and be honest, while following logical argumentation and analysing “its” meaning but hypothetically, the validity of your own argument is lost for further recognition, making what you write and what is to be read rather invalid, if not even stupid without scientific evidence. Instead we trust the sciences and how we read it, to then make a claim or to confirm the claim we try to make; “We should invest into bitcoin”, because in the future people will like it, according to this study and not carefully delibertion of it; its method and outcome and done for who by who and how. Logically and if we are being honest, it can also be not like that, because the future is too uncertain and more studies would have to be done etc. Some studies or the ability to publish is furthermore exclusive too, making the sciences limited to what I call a bit elitaire and exclusive towards different knowledge.

Now more about the sciences and how they are used, by who and why. You will find that a NGO X is making claims and then tends to use a study or at least parts of it to confirm their claim or to receive funding. In my field, known the field of sustainability something similiar can be found. “A” is sustainable minded and wants that people consume more sustainable and to do so needs money for purpose “B”. A will now look for an article on consumer studies and finds one (favored are studies by business consultencies and market research institutes) to confirm that 60% of consumers of a random sample group want to buy more sustainable. The study confirms what A was looking for, whilst ignoring wishful thinking which is that many people not actually want it and the fact that 40% don’t want to buy more sustainable etc. A yet receives some funding and the investment into for example sustainable apparel flops.

Now this goes further and further, making its way into the sciences itself, which is to research to confirm or to develop something that confirms the hypothesis, or what the client needs. This can happen if the research is steered towards a specific set of expected responses “How much do you like this?” instead of “How do you view this?” (Even if you ask how much do you like this, you make liking the main option). No? Ever been asked how much you dislike something that should be of liking and then rate it? My former professor (thank you at this point) referred to it as being the devils advocate. If you are an honest broker, you research and provide different options and the outcomes could be of choosing for the client. Ideally, you would be a pure scientist, making objective observation or picking objective studies by as much as possible (Pielke Jr, R. A., 2007). The latter tends to receive little funding because it can lead to non desired outcomes, obviously.

Now what is it that I want from you? Have a look at your resources and don’t use them, if you don’t want to and do if you want to. Why? Because its vicious and risks that investements and hopes are placed falsely. Have a look at studies that don’t confirm what you are looking for. It itches, but may give room for different spaces to thrive,for example new ideas, strategies, projects and policies and even not where they should not.

Recommended references:

Evans, A., Sleegers, W., & Mlakar, Ž. (2020). Individual differences in receptivity to scientific bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making15(3), 401.

Pai, M. (2020). How Prestige Journals Remain Elite, Exlusive And Exclusionary. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/madhukarpai/2020/11/30/how-prestige-journals-remain-elite-exclusive-and-exclusionary/?sh=5e90a3254d48

Pielke Jr, R. A. (2007). The honest broker: making sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge University Press.

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Thank you to my readers, and what is next

Thank you for everyone who has been subscribing to my blogs and of who I have received comments and e-mails. This blog has initially started very unsuccessfully with transportation in Cambodia, followed by how I travelled with my first cat and evolved as I began developing an interest for bamboo. The interest developed after interning at INBAR in China and then later on into more critical writing, when I realized that the moment we are supportive or advocating for one thing, we tend to disregard another, leaving a blind stop to ourselves and presenting others with such too. I am thanking my MSc thesis course on innovation because it was through “Social Practice Theory” and my comperative analysis of bamboo and timber that I realized bamboo isn’t the thing for everyone, but for specific markets and consumers. Apparently, many people want the wood, because it simply feels romantic, and that is so okay.

Now, why do I write this? My job as research associate in Sustainability Sciences has ended on December 2022. To date, I have dedicated many hours in my profession, education and free time towards “it”. It is sustainability and I came to realize that just like with bamboo, if you become too advocating for “it” you develop a blind spot for what it is not. I now came to like Hegels theory in which a thesis co-exists with an antithesis to form a new synthesis (mainly a new theory). Today it made me think of “if something is sustainable, something is not and if something is not sustainable, something is.” If mathemathics is not sustainable, the antithesis is that it is, so the question is what is sustainable mathematics? You may find it is sustainable depending on its use case and maybe not if it is taught with such irrelevance that it comes little to use. After all it is what we use to programm, even the wordpress I am using to write and publish my blogs with.

What does this mean for me and for you? I will no longer write about one thing or the other, one field or the other , be supportive or not supportive of one thing or the other, but instead I want to rather dive into its depth. “What does this actually mean that we talk and fair about? Does this make sense?”. In other means, I have no clue what I will be writing about in particular,but certainly what comes to mind and I hope you can continue to be part of it, or also not if that is what you want.

All the best and I thank you very much,

Ann-Cathrin

P.S. If public policy can be supportive of one thing, it can also mean it can be not. If more sustainable housing lead to displacement of people who can no longer afford it, then it also is not more sustainable housing. So what is sustainable housing? [I guess what comes next will be much like this] 😉

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[If you use cover image sources, always! cite them, thanks to my neighbour, because you can get fines if you don’t and following Hegel’s theory, also not. The guy on the cover image is Hegel. Heres a link towards his philosophy . ]