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Mimishu1995's avatar

How could science be manipulated?

Asked by Mimishu1995 (16247points) 2 days ago

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer of science. I have a lot of science books lying around my rooms.

But there seems to be a time in history when bad people tried to use science to manipulate the public. I remember at one point tobacco companies hired scientists to come up with “results” that claimed tobacco had no harmful effect to the body. There are also similar incidents throughout history.

So my question is, how could anyone manipulate research results, if science is the truth? Did those scientists make up random statistics and just slap their names on it?

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18 Answers

Pinguidchance's avatar

Science: incredible and inedible.

Zaku's avatar

It’s done all the time by corporations. They (or puppet organizations) pay scientists to produce research that “shows no evidence of anything bad” (and ignores evidence that might show something bad) for their activities. They pick the studies, thinking, and results they want. Also, they make it clearly known that it is going to go very badly for scientists who publish any study suggesting that their industry activities are bad in any way, through intimidation and blackmail and lawsuits and laws written and/or paid for by corporate wealth, of whatever sorts they strategize they can get away with.

And they get away with massive amounts of it.

Scientific research is generally difficult, time consuming, messy, and subject to interpretation. This creates many opportunities not just for mistakes but for bias confirmation, even intentional bias confirmation backed by big bucks.

Even when corruption is not going on, research tends to result in many odd results, errors, and conclusions. Properly framing questions and designing, conducting and interpreting studies tends to be hard and fraught with errors even for well-intended career scientists… even for entire fields of such scientists peer-reviewing each other over decades.

It is very hard. It’s the opposite of Batman or Spock glancing at data and drawing correct unavoidable conclusions and summarizing them clearly, fairly and accurately. Even Spock exaggerated results when needed to deceive people for tactical reasons.

See also:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Lie_with_Statistics

http://www.markmonmonier.com/how_to_lie_with_maps_14880.htm

https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/235472-how-the-sugar-industry-bought-out-scientists-for-decades-and-how-to-stop-it-from-happening-again

https://www.cornucopia.org/2017/04/science-bought-paid/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science

https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/lawrence-solomon-scientists-are-often-bought

https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/sugar-industry-bought-off-scientists-skewed-dietary-guidelines-for-decades/

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2003/apr/21/usnews.food <—on blackmail

There’s are nearly infinite articles and examples.

seawulf575's avatar

Scientific method allows for “throwing out” data that is statistically inaccurate. And that is where the problem comes. It isn’t the actual testing done, it is the interpretation of the data. And generally, with humans, that data will ultimately reflect what the group paying for it want it to reflect. You used the tobacco companies as an example. They took the testing results and threw out the data they didn’t like. Another game that can be played is setting up a slanted test to start with. Start by setting up a test that is designed to give the results you want.
And all this is where the controversy behind Climate Change gets so muddied. The initial IPCC tests that were set up (by the UN) had a number of scientists decide what data to gather and then reviewed it. The initial report they wrote came up with the conclusions you would expect…there was a wide variety of interpretation of results from the various scientists. Some felt there was global warming, others didn’t, some felt there might be but the cause was indeterminate, others felt mankind was the key. Given a set of results and a set of scientists, you can interpret the data in a number of ways, data used may vary based on each scientist’s determination of relevance, so these results were expected. However, here is where science also gets manipulated. When these results were given to the governing council of this test, the report was rewritten, throwing out the conclusions that didn’t match what they wanted. Suddenly there was man-made Global Warming threatening the world. Again…that’s not to say it was wrong (though later evidence showed it was which is why it suddenly changed to Climate Change) because that was one of the determinations that was reached. However, it was not the only determination reached and in fact was not even the majority determination. So the scientific method was further diluted by non-scientists selectively choosing what data (conclusions) they wanted to work with.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is a case where a psychologist was found to have faked the data. I remember reading about Cyril Burt’s twins studies in my Psych 101 class, before the data was found to be invalid.

canidmajor's avatar

”Science”, per se, is a concept, a methodology. Scientists are humans with all of the flaws and problems attendant therein. Too often, especially in conversations on sites like this, scientists are practically deified. Hopefully, most scientists are pretty honest people, with pure motives. But these are also people with mortgages, kids, reputations to maintain (if someone knows about a mistake you made a decade ago, you are vulnerable to extortion, your credibility could be called into question, your ability to earn a living could be compromised) and various issues.

”Science” doesn’t get manipulated, fallible humans interpret stuff differently from other fallible humans, for a variety of reasons.

LostInParadise's avatar

One thing that should be kept in mind is that science is self-correcting. If experimental results are published which are invalid, either intentionally or not, other scientists will eventually catch the error when they find that they can’t reproduce the results. A good example is cold fusion (skip down to the section on reproducibility).

LostInParadise's avatar

@seawulf575 , Those guys at NASA are just a bunch of fraudsters. Ever since they faked the moon landing, you just can’t trust them about anything.

seawulf575's avatar

@LostInParadise and it is attitudes like yours that allows bogus science to exist and prosper. You never question anything if someone tells you it is so.

canidmajor's avatar

Hahaha, @seawulf575 is calling NASA research “bogus science”! Maybe he has a Breitbart OpEd piece that is irrefutable in its opposition to that!

JLeslie's avatar

The study can be set up poorly to begin with. It might be called scientific, but objective scientists will see the problems with the study. It might be presented as science, but it really doesn’t rise to the standard.

Another way is to ignore part of the data collected.

Whoever is doing the research might have the goal of proving their hypothesis, rather than simply seeing where the science goes. Money is a big motivator for bias. Another motivator is wanting acknowledgement in your field. Sometimes bias is in the researc set up without mal intentions. Sometimes the scientist doesn’t realize the mistakes in the study set up.

seawulf575's avatar

@canidmajor If you look at that report, it is based heavily on IPCC reports which have brought about a lot of controversy. Not that I would have expected you to question anything the “experts” tell you. Tell you what, here’s another one. Sunscreen. The medical community and the other “experts” will tell you to use plenty of sunscreen when you go out into the sun. They will tell you this is to prevent skin cancer. But if you compare historical trends of skin cancer and historical tends of sunscreen sales, you find the plot is almost identical. If sunscreen were actually doing what they tell you, as sunscreen sales go up, skin cancer would go down. And there’s a reason the trends look identical. It comes down to what causes cancer, what we call skin cancer for determining incidence, and how sunscreen supposedly works. Effectively, most sunscreens do absolutely nothing to block UVA radiation which is the radiation that causes melanoma…the only skin cancer that is considered “skin cancer”. Basel cell and Squasel cell carcinomas aren’t considered. They are caused by UVB radiation which most sunscreens block. UVB is also the radiation that give you a sunburn. Some sunscreens claim to have ingredients that block both UVA and UVB radiation but here’s the kicker…there is very little regulation for how much of the UVA blocking ingredient is needed to claim it has that ingredient. They could put 1 drop into 100 gallons and claim that ingredient is in there. So you slather on the sunscreen and go hang out at the beach. Your sunscreen is blocking the UVB rays so you don’t burn. Burning is natures way of telling you to get out of the sun. But you are blocking that so you stay out in the sun even longer, soaking up the UVA rays. Not surprisingly, incidents of melanoma increase. It’s a marketing campaign and there are lots of people getting rich not just off the sales of sunscreen, but also off the treatment of skin cancer. There are some sunscreens that will effectively block UVA and UVB, but mainly those are the ones that have a zinc oxide base and are very expensive. But you never really hear anyone pushing those. So the marketing campaign isn’t really lying…using sunscreen can help you avoid skin cancer…but they don’t tell you the whole story. You actually have to question and look things up to find the real story and to really create the right dialogue. But you have to be willing to question the “experts”.

canidmajor's avatar

Oh, just stop. You start your rebuttals with flame-bait and insults, you don’t actually refute these arguments with links, thus, you have no credibility.

I’m out.

Response moderated (Personal Attack)
MrGrimm888's avatar

Sunscreen is a very poor example, if you’re trying to get any scientific research. There are a vast amount of variables that would contribute to cancer rates.
For instance, sunscreen is not measured, nor applied in any quantifiable amount. It is not applied evenly by some, and over applied by others. So. You can’t verify that most users of sunscreen even used it as directed. And there are way to many variables in the amount of radiation people are exposed to, due to the Sun (think time of year, altitude, cloud cover etc.)

Studies involving 500 people who used sunscreen, could have wildly different results. Not like using an appropriate mg/pound dosage of a drug on 500 people who are trying the medicine for a similar condition.

Lots of people in recent decades have gotten skin cancer on their forearms, and hands. My understanding is that the consensus is that this is a direct result of people having those areas exposed to the Sun while in automobiles. Truck drivers get it on their left arms a lot, in countries where they drive in the left side of the vehicle.

If you count natural Sun aid, like Aloe, or even mud, then sunscreen predates automobiles by thousands of years, with only about 50 years or so of having a tenuous grasp of how populations whose exposure to the Sun is affected by driving automobiles.

Scientific researchers often stay away from results rendered from such chaotic, random tests.

Science prefers as much control over an experiment as is possible. Even then, it is open to scrutiny by others. And, of course, the results must be able to be reproduced by others.

If one researches Terraforming, then you have the information required to prove that global warming is worsened by greenhouse gas emissions. The science is over, and accepted by (last I heard ) over 95% of climate scientists. Such a high rate of agreement is as close to 100% as you will find in any scientific research…

Patty_Melt's avatar

Scientific tests can go wrong one way or another. They keep the messy results and discard everything else.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Aside from corporate manipulation you also have political/gov’t manipulation. The most famous is the false consensus in Russia that favored inheritance of acquired characteristics over Mendelian genetics. The extent that they went with this is mind blowing and it was all politically motivated. I still remember reading about it 20 years ago in my historical geology textbook. I photo copied the page and had it hanging in my old lab for years. Too many people read the typical summary writen by a journalist and published by the news media about science and not the actual science. Of course there is political spin.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Another thing I saw while in grad school was just the sheer amount of garbage papers. Publish or persish was a real thing so the quantity of the material has increased but the quality of most of it is just down in the dirt. It’s just not hard for someone to cherry pick through and find a “study” that supports their agenda. I think this is happening a lot. People with out a high level hard science education or are many years removed from it are probably fooled by these spinsters too. Facts will eventually win out but probably not before the damage is done in most cases.

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