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RS29 - Q&A Live!

Release date: February 27, 2011

In a continuation of episode 28, Massimo and Julia sit down for a Q&A session in front of a live audience at the Jefferson Market Library in New York City. The audience's questions include whether economics and evolutionary psychology are really science, what's the deal with the placebo effect, the influence of corporate money on scientific research, and how can some scientists publish legitimate research and still believe in pseudo-science. Also, vegetarianism: is it about science, ethics, or both?

Reader Comments (8)

If the animals feel pain, then slaughter them quickly and painlessly. It's not like we eat them alive, which is how they would be eaten in nature. They'd fear for their lives in nature more than in a factory farm, where all they know is they're fed well, they're taken to a room, and that's it.

February 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I'm really curious about the study where a change in brain chemicals turns skeptics into believers such that they see objects in fuzzy shapes. Could I get a researcher's name on that?

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

@Max -- the question of animals' capacity for suffering is, I think, much more relevant to how we treat them during their lives than it is to how we kill them. That's what I was trying to emphasize during this episode.
A quick and painless slaughter is great of course, but if we've made the animals suffer for months or years prior to the slaughter, then the question of pain during slaughter is relatively minor by comparison.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef

In reply to Julia's comment that the science of those scientists having a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance are not to be trusted, ALL brains are DESIGNED to compartmentalize. Thus, we must find other ways to differentiate good science from bad science. I think MP has clarified in this podcast most of the ways that this end might be achieved.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClara B. Jones

@Clara -- Brains are designed suboptimally in plenty of ways. Not only do they naturally compartmentalize, they also naturally discredit information that contradicts something they want to believe, and they're naturally subject to all sorts of biases that yield false beliefs and skewed conclusions. But just because, as you say, "all" brains are designed this way doesn't mean these biases can't be overcome to some degree, with effort. And my point was that the more someone is able to overcome those biases, the more credibility I give to his claims.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef

Julia said:

And my point was that the more someone is able to overcome those biases, the more credibility I give to his claims."

Julia, agreed. We know that that person has, to the best of her ability, pursued the truth. To me, this is the essence of the demarcation problem. Pseudo-science occurs when the person committing it refuses to address, admit, or compensate for his own biases.This includes the bias of not compensating for one's own biases. ;-)

BTW, I really like these Q&A sessions. Good job on being able to provide thoughtful and coherent responses on questions you weren't able to prepare for (as far as I know). Also, whenever you and Massimo disagree, you're always right. I just thought you'd like to know.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

Like Clara, I have a comment on Julia's position of preference for those who don't compartmentalize at all. One area where I think human beings value stability and consistency despite evidence is in ethical behavior, and in particular personal loyalty. Successful interpersonal relationships require, I think, a certain degree of tolerance for each other's flaws and faults, and placing trust in people where it's probably not fully deserved.

More broadly, I think that logic and rationality are collections of tools that are themselves not perfect, and it is rare to find situations where there aren't some kinds of tradeoffs between positions either because of factual uncertainty or value differences.

Personally, I think I place more trust in people who recognize these sorts of tradeoffs and the limitations of their knowledge (and the degree to which they themselves compartmentalize) than those who purport to be rationalists following the evidence wherever it leads but see everything in black and white and fail to recognize their own biases and limitations, or the merit in the positions of others.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Lippard
Economics is not a science. Economics has tremendous importance to our society, and also has lots of math, but we should regard economics as a humanity, not as a science.

FDA approval of any new drug or device should require publication of all research, especially the negative results.
February 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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