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Science Reporting Misses

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Here are three articles which report potentially interesting findings but where either the article's author or the creators of the report in question get things wrong:

Why You Should Trust Your Instincts

This article attributes to "instinct" what is actually rapid processing of conscious learning which has been "programmed" into the subconscious.

Children Have Sense of Fairness by Age of Seven

This article describes a "sense of fairness," as well as all of human cooperation, as altruism rather than the free exchange of values to mutual benefit.

Secrets of Immortality Could Be Tantalisingly Close

This article merely has a title that misrepresents the scientists' position, which is that we don't know enough yet to know whether or not aging can be "conquered." I included this mostly because it's relevant to a recent thread here.

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Secrets of Immortality Could Be Tantalisingly Close

This article merely has a title that misrepresents the scientists' position, which is that we don't know enough yet to know whether or not aging can be "conquered." I included this mostly because it's relevant to a recent thread here.

The Secrets of Immortality have been Tantalizingly Close since Ponce de Leon scoured Florida for the Fountain of Youth. He didn't find it. He died of old age, but he got a hold of some really great real estate. I have been reading for the last 40 some odd years that the Defeat of Aging is just ten years in the future. If I received a hundred dollars for each non-fulfillment of that promise, I would be a Rich Old Guy just about now.

Eternal Youth and controlled nuclear fusion energy have been promised to us, speedily and in our (bimhayhrah b'yamaynu -- Alon will understand this). Neither has happened. Controlled nuclear fusion is still thirty years in the future as it has been in the past sixty years and almost certainly will be just down the road in a hundred years.

My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications. If it happens it will be too late for me, but I can hope my children and grandchildren can benefit from such a breakthrough.

Promises, promises.

Fati, fati non parole! (Deeds, deeds, not words!).

ruveyn

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My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications.

ruveyn

Although I do think that a study should be duplicatable I do not think it has to be verified by other people. The greatest thinkers of the past did not wait for other people to agree with them to keep moving forward. And I am glad that they did not do so.

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My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications.

ruveyn

Although I do think that a study should be duplicatable I do not think it has to be verified by other people. The greatest thinkers of the past did not wait for other people to agree with them to keep moving forward. And I am glad that they did not do so.

Be that as it may, scientific hypotheses -must- be tested (and hopefully) verified. The figure of merit of -any- scientific theory is that it make testable predictions and they should be verified by empirical means.

Verification by other people (i.e. independent investigators who have no emotional interest in the conclusion) is the major means by which any scientific theory is evaluated. Witness is required, not optional.

ruveyn

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My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications.

ruveyn

Although I do think that a study should be duplicatable I do not think it has to be verified by other people. The greatest thinkers of the past did not wait for other people to agree with them to keep moving forward. And I am glad that they did not do so.

Be that as it may, scientific hypotheses -must- be tested (and hopefully) verified. The figure of merit of -any- scientific theory is that it make testable predictions and they should be verified by empirical means.

Verification by other people (i.e. independent investigators who have no emotional interest in the conclusion) is the major means by which any scientific theory is evaluated. Witness is required, not optional.

ruveyn

I know what scientific merit requires. But, I will still come to my own conclusions whether or not others agree with my hypothesis and it's real effects.

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I know what scientific merit requires. But, I will still come to my own conclusions whether or not others agree with my hypothesis and it's real effects.

And what if you have made an error? Perhaps a subtle error? Perhaps an error of omission, where you forget to take some essential factor into consideration? The witness of independent investigators is extremely helpful in rooting out such errors.

ruveyn

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My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications.

ruveyn

Although I do think that a study should be duplicatable I do not think it has to be verified by other people. The greatest thinkers of the past did not wait for other people to agree with them to keep moving forward. And I am glad that they did not do so.

Be that as it may, scientific hypotheses -must- be tested (and hopefully) verified. The figure of merit of -any- scientific theory is that it make testable predictions and they should be verified by empirical means.

Verification by other people (i.e. independent investigators who have no emotional interest in the conclusion) is the major means by which any scientific theory is evaluated. Witness is required, not optional.

ruveyn

I disagree. When was the last time you or anyone verified Newton's theories through independent investigation? Or Einstein's, or Maxwell's, or Pasteur's, or Darwin's? A theory is evaluated by judging the evidence that supports it, both the causes and effects. One judges by the use of one's reason, previous scientific knowledge, and the evidence provided by the theorist in support of his theory. A theory is verified when it integrates and explains a wide range of observations that previously were not understood in light of any other theory.

What you are referring to, and that needs independent verification, is the statistical testing of data that is used to support a theory or, in industrial settings, to support claims by people who have a vested interest in a specific result. For example, if I claim that Drug X increases the survival rate of a particular population by 50%, and I am the manufacturer of that drug, such claims need to be verified by independent sources before one would start administering it to millions of people.

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For example, if I claim that Drug X increases the survival rate of a particular population by 50%, and I am the manufacturer of that drug, such claims need to be verified by independent sources before one would start administering it to millions of people.

Or millions of people need to verify the claims individually. Having additional sources of data (preferably independent of the initial source, of course) assists but doesn't obviate the need for individual judgment.

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I know what scientific merit requires. But, I will still come to my own conclusions whether or not others agree with my hypothesis and it's real effects.

And what if you have made an error? Perhaps a subtle error? Perhaps an error of omission, where you forget to take some essential factor into consideration? The witness of independent investigators is extremely helpful in rooting out such errors.

ruveyn

If I make an error, reality always brings it to my attention. If I am not achieveing my stated outcome according to my hypothesis then I will search out the error, make the needed changes to or discard my hypothesis, and I still do not need independent investigators for that. A person does not start out with a hypothesis they should start out with the gaining and integrating of the knowledge needed to create a hypothesis and then test the hypothesis.

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For example, if I claim that Drug X increases the survival rate of a particular population by 50%, and I am the manufacturer of that drug, such claims need to be verified by independent sources before one would start administering it to millions of people.

Or millions of people need to verify the claims individually. Having additional sources of data (preferably independent of the initial source, of course) assists but doesn't obviate the need for individual judgment.

What do you mean by "verify the claims individually"? Am I expected to raise millions of dollars to repeat the tests to verify the results before I take a drug that my doctor says will help me? How would you judge individually if a vaccine is safe for you if 99.999% of the people have no reaction, but 0.001% die from it? The only way that I know of is to take it and watch for a negative reaction.

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[Eternal Youth and controlled nuclear fusion energy have been promised to us, speedily and in our (bimhayhrah b'yamaynu -- Alon will understand this). Neither has happened. Controlled nuclear fusion is still thirty years in the future as it has been in the past sixty years and almost certainly will be just down the road in a hundred years.

As long as people wait for government agencies to do it, neither one will ever happen. Anybody who thinks that a socialist government struggling to figure out how to pay out social security to old people wants them to live even longer, is seriously nuts.

Fortunately, that isn't the only option. Also, you are not differentiating between mere claims of the past and the actual possibilities that now exist with current technology. One could scoff at desktop computers too, except that one can't because they exist, and they are many orders of magnitude more powerful than the most starry-eyed dreamers of 50 years ago could have imagined. There is also an *incredible* amount of knowledge that currently exists about the molecular biology of the cell (take a look at any current college level textbook on the subject), and while there are many facts yet to be discovered, the bigger problem is now integrating the information that already exists.

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As long as people wait for government agencies to do it, neither one will ever happen. Anybody who thinks that a socialist government struggling to figure out how to pay out social security to old people wants them to live even longer, is seriously nuts.

Fortunately, that isn't the only option. Also, you are not differentiating between mere claims of the past and the actual possibilities that now exist with current technology. One could scoff at desktop computers too, except that one can't because they exist, and they are many orders of magnitude more powerful than the most starry-eyed dreamers of 50 years ago could have imagined. There is also an *incredible* amount of knowledge that currently exists about the molecular biology of the cell (take a look at any current college level textbook on the subject), and while there are many facts yet to be discovered, the bigger problem is now integrating the information that already exists.

When positive results are in I will rejoice with you. So far, all I have heard are promises. I am interested in -results-.

Fati, fati, non parole (deeds, deeds, not words)

ruveyn

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My take on the matter is to believe it when it is shown and by several independent scientific verifications. If it happens it will be too late for me, but I can hope my children and grandchildren can benefit from such a breakthrough.
I'll believe it when I see the exact same people arguing about it for the next 150 years.

Or, as Woody Allen said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying."

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If I make an error, reality always brings it to my attention. If I am not achieveing my stated outcome according to my hypothesis then I will search out the error, make the needed changes to or discard my hypothesis, and I still do not need independent investigators for that. A person does not start out with a hypothesis they should start out with the gaining and integrating of the knowledge needed to create a hypothesis and then test the hypothesis.

In medical and biological research (or even in physics) it is possible for a researcher to develop a "blind spot". Implicit assumptions creep in unbidden. Which is why it is useful to have several sets of eyes which look a things differently.

The protocols of physical science are such, that unreplicated results are not given full weight. And verifications using different experimental apparatus from the original are given extra weight. Experimental science cannot be done reliably single handed. Witness and cross check verification is required for confidence in the results.

Example: Look a Pons and Fleischman who claimed to have produced "cold fusion" back in 1988. There was only one trouble. No one could replicate their results even using the apparatus as they described it in their research brief. Being charitable, one could say that less than top notch work was done. Being not so charitable one could say there was an attempted scam that was shot down.

The way science keeps the crap out is rigorous cross checking a multiple verification of results along with careful vetting of research papers. Respectable journals insist on careful vetting and refereeing.

ruveyn

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The way science keeps the crap out is rigorous cross checking a multiple verification of results along with careful vetting of research papers. Respectable journals insist on careful vetting and refereeing.

And who holds the "vetting" choice? It is not the person or group that is formulating a new idea. If the truely independently minded people waited for your so called respectable journals to agree with them we would not be where we are today. The problem with so called experts is that they are experts of things that have already been discovered. While you are waiting I will keep looking forward and do my own vetting.

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The way science keeps the crap out is rigorous cross checking a multiple verification of results along with careful vetting of research papers. Respectable journals insist on careful vetting and refereeing.

And who holds the "vetting" choice? It is not the person or group that is formulating a new idea. If the truely independently minded people waited for your so called respectable journals to agree with them we would not be where we are today. The problem with so called experts is that they are experts of things that have already been discovered. While you are waiting I will keep looking forward and do my own vetting.

You do your own vetting at some risk. How do you know you don't have a "blind spot"? Are you totally impervious to making errors. Getting results is a matter not only of looking but of asking the right questions. Are you 102 percent sure you have asked all the right question? Could you possibly have overlook something? The results one gets is as much a function of how one looks as the nature of the external reality. Getting a sanity check from competent co-workers can't hurt. If they verify your results you are more certain of being right and if they find an error, they have set you on the paths of righteousness. It is a win-win proposition.

The physical and biological sciences run on independent checks and corrections. One may be able to compose a theory single handed (Einstein for instance), but to verify a theory requires a co-operative effort. Einstein himself could not check that his prediction of light bending in a strong gravitational field, all by himself. It took an international effort headed by Arthur Eddington to get the initial experimental verification of Einstein's predictions. Until the verification was in hand, there were justifiably doubts about the prediction.

ruveyn

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Ruveyn, I think hesitation to move forward without verification from someone else is a larger risk than making a few mistakes. And I also already stated that reality is the best verification of one's hypothesis.

But, let us talk about your so called independent checks and unemotional reviews of anothers work. After Dr. Venter cooperated with Francis Collins in the announcing of the Human Genome, Dr. Collins along with other scientist threatned Science journal with a boycott if they published Dr. Venter's genome paper.

"The truce with our rivals did not, in fact, last long. The greatest prize was to publish the full details of what we had done, to reveal to our peers and our critics the human genome, which we had sequenced in all its glory. Most important of all, we wanted to show the world, after having taken the first detailed look at the human instruction book, our analysis of what it meant. All this had been planned for the prestigious journal Science.

But, of course, the animosity was by now so bitter and so deep that this was wishful thinking. Within weeks of the White House announcement the public effort was lobbying behind the scenes against the publication of our paper with a series of incendiary missives. One sent to Science declared: "You have lowered a proud journal to the level of a newspaper Sunday supplement, accepting paid advertisement in the guise of a scientific paper." An e-mail circulated among researchers calling on them to boycott Science. Once again the motivation was data release despite our efforts to make our data freely available to the scientific community." [J. Craig Venter, A Life Decoded My Genome: My Life (New York, Viking, 2007), p. 320]

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[Eternal Youth and controlled nuclear fusion energy have been promised to us, speedily and in our (bimhayhrah b'yamaynu -- Alon will understand this). Neither has happened. Controlled nuclear fusion is still thirty years in the future as it has been in the past sixty years and almost certainly will be just down the road in a hundred years.

As long as people wait for government agencies to do it, neither one will ever happen. Anybody who thinks that a socialist government struggling to figure out how to pay out social security to old people wants them to live even longer, is seriously nuts.

-------------

Soylent Green, anyone?

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I disagree. When was the last time you or anyone verified Newton's theories through independent investigation? Or Einstein's, or Maxwell's, or Pasteur's, or Darwin's?
Many times. In the case of Newton's Mechanics, they can and have been proven to hold true over and over in every physics class in high school and many colleges. That's a slam dunk. Einstein's predictions have been the subject of many independent verifications. The point is not an appeal to authority, or a consensus view of Truth, but just the testing of a hypothesis. Some of Einstein's predictions were not testable when first proposed; the precision of measurements at the time was inadequate.

The replication of a result in multiple labs is a useful standard within the Scientific Method, not because multiple independent results make a fact true, but because the process of replication clarifies the boundary conditions. The Miller-Urey experiment (the creation of the molecules of life) was repeated in many labs and different initial conditions resulted in different constituent molecules. Contamination was a problem in some cases, but it was easy to sort those out by comparison with those other restagins and the better understanding of experimental design that they brought out.

The idea of testing the hypothesis in different labs by different researchers can also lead to rejection of the hypothesis. Different researchers have different expertise and one result, for an example, of cortisol production due to stress of a bacterial colony, was artificially low because borate-containing glass was used. That used to be the more common form of glassware in the lab, due to strength, but borate is not always inert. So borate-free glassware is now used in experiments where it might react with the substrates being tested. Such findings may lead just to a correction of method, or to a deeper understanding of the nature of the entities involved. A competent biologist might not know of an interaction with an inorganic constituent of supposedly neutral containers, but a differently-trained biochemist might well catch the problem.

Another problem is exceptional cases being used as a reference standard, such as Gregor Mendel's sweet peas. It turns out that the particular variety he used is exceptionally clean in its dominance/recessive expression. Other examples used since have more co-dominance, multi-gene interaction and quatenary expression (epigenetics) to muddy the results. In fact, Mendel himself, apparently frustrated by the difficulty reproducing his original results with other plants actually fudged (faked) results in trying to repeat his predictions of phenotypic expression with those subjects. In this case, repetition is a check on the veracity of the claim. It turned out that Mendel was fundamentally right, but the picture was more complicated. There are cases that are essentially as straightforward as his pea plants, for example ABO blood types.

...

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Here are three articles which report potentially interesting findings but where either the article's author or the creators of the report in question get things wrong:

Why You Should Trust Your Instincts

This article attributes to "instinct" what is actually rapid processing of conscious learning which has been "programmed" into the subconscious.

"Instinct" always bothered me. My reaction was, "What am I - a dog?" Miss Rand's explanation happily cleared up my confusion - although it still irritates me (really grates on my nerves) to hear "instinct(s)" referred to. I hear it most often in movies. I wonder why I still irritably react when I hear the word/concept?

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Here are three articles which report potentially interesting findings but where either the article's author or the creators of the report in question get things wrong:

Why You Should Trust Your Instincts

This article attributes to "instinct" what is actually rapid processing of conscious learning which has been "programmed" into the subconscious.

"Instinct" always bothered me. My reaction was, "What am I - a dog?" Miss Rand's explanation happily cleared up my confusion - although it still irritates me (really grates on my nerves) to hear "instinct(s)" referred to. I hear it most often in movies. I wonder why I still irritably react when I hear the word/concept?

No, you are not a dog. You are a human (or a darn good simulator bot for a human correspondent). If you are a human rest assured most of your thinking takes place at a non-verbal and mostly subconscious level. There is more going on in your brain than you have words for.

Most likely you are a neuro-typical, that is a human whose grasp of social and interpersonal situations started largely at an implicit and non-verbal level. I know about that from a lack of that intuition. I am an Asperger type person, but highly functional. My grasp of the social was achieved through conscious effort, so I have an idea of what you neuro-typicals have going for you (you are fortunate). You knew, at the age of 4 or 5, more than I did and it took me forty years to pass for human. What was wired into your brain workings at an early age (call it instinct or not, as you please) I had to -literally construct- by conscious thought. And all that plus dyslexia. For years my cries for pleh went unanswered. It was though I were living on the Wrong Planet. (BTW www.wrongplanet.org is the online forum for autistic folk and Asperger folk).

Don't fight it. Rejoice in it. It takes a lame person like me to truly appreciate the grace of the natural beauty of the well coordinated person.

Old saying: I complained about my bunions until I met a man with no feet.

ruveyhn

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Ray's comments about the current state of scientific review I think deserve a proper response... but since I haven't seen one, this one (adapted from a note to Ray) will have to do :huh::

What Ray is talking about is the 'Peer Review' system, which used to be a way for a science journal to vett the many thousands of articles submitted and determine if they met the disciplined requirements of good science. When I was in the field (biology), this was a mostly helpful system and justly renowned scientists reviewed the materials and methods, the results and the conclusions, to make sure that what was being claimed was reasonably demonstrated. They didn't generally censor results just because they disagreed with them. If there was a problem with the study, you'd get a detailed response as to what that problem was, with suggestions, or they might publish the paper, but write a letter in response with the reasons for disagreement. There have always been the jerks, as in the French and British academies of the 19th Century and before, where the dogmatic might resist findings that would overturn the work that had made their own reputations or those on which they based their understanding of the world. But this system was working OK for a long time.

Since the '70's, I'd say, part of the "anti-intellectual revolution," it has become an agenda-driven means for pushing Global Warming and other dishonest but lucrative and idiologically Leftist dogmas. It has become a means for repression. The system is broken, because the criteria for review have become anything but objective.

So, to that extent, I agree with Ray. While the need for such review remains, the process has been hijacked. No different in nature or origin than the hijacking of our political system by Collectivists. It's a tough time for rational people.

But, fortunately, there are other avenues for publication of views. If the major publications, such as Nature and Science don't clean up their acts, they will simply be dismissed as an outlet by good scientists and will serve ultimately as the vehicle for their own extinction. At least I hope so. There are still many good people interested in scientific inquiry, despite the challenges.

And Ray's point about his own independent research is part of that, too. He's got his own laboratory, with an enlarging statistical sample of successful trials. If that continues, he may eventually be able to get the funding to transition from people, busy executives and the like, to Sprague-Dawley lab rats, which spend way too much time on treadmills, when they could simply do miniaturized resistance training once a week. I don't think rats pay as well, though. I've never seen one tip.

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I disagree. When was the last time you or anyone verified Newton's theories through independent investigation? Or Einstein's, or Maxwell's, or Pasteur's, or Darwin's?
Many times. In the case of Newton's Mechanics, they can and have been proven to hold true over and over in every physics class in high school and many colleges. That's a slam dunk.

Those simple experiments do not "verify" the theory, they illustrate some of the principles involved that compose the theory. One does not verify gravitational theory by dropping an apple on one's head. People knew for thousands of years before Newton that objects fall to the ground.

Einstein's predictions have been the subject of many independent verifications. The point is not an appeal to authority, or a consensus view of Truth, but just the testing of a hypothesis. Some of Einstein's predictions were not testable when first proposed; the precision of measurements at the time was inadequate.

The replication of a result in multiple labs is a useful standard within the Scientific Method, not because multiple independent results make a fact true, but because the process of replication clarifies the boundary conditions. The Miller-Urey experiment (the creation of the molecules of life) was repeated in many labs and different initial conditions resulted in different constituent molecules. Contamination was a problem in some cases, but it was easy to sort those out by comparison with those other restagins and the better understanding of experimental design that they brought out.

The idea of testing the hypothesis in different labs by different researchers can also lead to rejection of the hypothesis. Different researchers have different expertise and one result, for an example, of cortisol production due to stress of a bacterial colony, was artificially low because borate-containing glass was used. That used to be the more common form of glassware in the lab, due to strength, but borate is not always inert. So borate-free glassware is now used in experiments where it might react with the substrates being tested. Such findings may lead just to a correction of method, or to a deeper understanding of the nature of the entities involved. A competent biologist might not know of an interaction with an inorganic constituent of supposedly neutral containers, but a differently-trained biochemist might well catch the problem.

Another problem is exceptional cases being used as a reference standard, such as Gregor Mendel's sweet peas. It turns out that the particular variety he used is exceptionally clean in its dominance/recessive expression. Other examples used since have more co-dominance, multi-gene interaction and quatenary expression (epigenetics) to muddy the results. In fact, Mendel himself, apparently frustrated by the difficulty reproducing his original results with other plants actually fudged (faked) results in trying to repeat his predictions of phenotypic expression with those subjects. In this case, repetition is a check on the veracity of the claim. It turned out that Mendel was fundamentally right, but the picture was more complicated. There are cases that are essentially as straightforward as his pea plants, for example ABO blood types.

------

But those issues are not involved in verifying the theory. They are involved in developing the theory which is supposed to explain a range of phenomenon. A hypothesis is not a theory. The elimination of variables is one method for developing a theory from a hypothesis. Also, theories are not verified by how many predictions they make that can be tested. They are verified by how many observations they can explain.

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What do you mean by "verify the claims individually"? Am I expected to raise millions of dollars to repeat the tests to verify the results before I take a drug that my doctor says will help me? How would you judge individually if a vaccine is safe for you if 99.999% of the people have no reaction, but 0.001% die from it? The only way that I know of is to take it and watch for a negative reaction.

In the end you have to take the drug and see what happens, yes. Even an expert researcher can't predict how his own body will react if he takes a new drug he himself has tested. (Unless he knows his body chemistry well enough to know for certain what the drug will do in his specific case, and when is that ever the case?)

What you have to verify is that the sources you use to account for knowledge you don't have (i.e. the various organizations what might have tested the product) are reliable. Once, my mother handed me a container of a drug she had been prescribed and said, "Take this, it's supposed to be great for [what I had]." Was I going to take her word for it? Seeing as the extent of her education was graduating high school in 1950, along with other factors including some that make me wonder even how well she did at that, I think not. :huh: On the other hand, had my doctor advised me to take the same medicine after a thorough exam and consultation, with perhaps a little personal research, and applying what I do know about myself and about such things, I might have been fine with it.

Would that have guaranteed that the drug would have worked, or that there wouldn't have been bad side effects? No. But in the end the decision rests with the individual, so it is that individual's judgment that applies, no one else's. That the individual might need to rely on secondary sources, because he can't or doesn't want to raise millions of dollars to verify the results, simply means that he ought to verify the integrity of those sources and use his own knowlege the best he can. That doesn't mean the judgment, and the responsibility to make it, is not his own. Nobody else can swallow that pill, or even decide to, for him.

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