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Comment Re:Double blind study (Score 3, Insightful) 298

yea the thing is its kind a waste of time and money for people to repeatedly perform the same badly controlled experiment over and over.

Sure, I agree with that. The next experiment should control for more variables. It's straightforward to improve upon the methods to leave less doubt. You can also do an experiment to show that some OTHER effect was likely responsible. Formulate another hypothesis that would explain Haggerty's data and test those ideas directly.

But if the people with the resources don't care about this particular issue, no one will do the experiment.

You can find out the same thing faster and cheaper if you just design it well to begin with.

I think if Haggerty had managed to get "no difference" among the three cages, no one would be calling for a better experiment, even though it would have been equally uncontrolled. We need to think about this.

Even if we ultimately prove that Haggerty's hypothesis is incorrect, she took a stab at addressing what she perceives as a gap or mistake in knowledge in the RIGHT way. There is no bad experiment as long as you are trying your best within your resources and acting ethically. There are unfortunate consequences of the media and concerned groups trumpeting EVERY paper as "the truth," but if that happens it is not really Haggerty's fault (IMO, after reading the paper.)

Haggerty did the right thing with her concerned skepticism. When was the last time you saw someone concerned about RF do something other than blog endlessly about RF sensitivity or spout mumbo-jumbo about the balances of life force?

Haggerty designed an experiment that controlled for a number of significant variables while changing the RF applied to the plants in a measured way. That's doing it right. Nothing is perfect. You can never control for ALL variables and there is always a need to minimize the impact of that. But you have to start somewhere, and if you have a fringe idea, that will probably be YOU in your own backyard.

Honestly, this takes the wind out of a lot of science **deniers'** sails. It's strong evidence against scientific conspiracy; evidence against "burying" of "weird" ideas. This person with no formal scientific credentials got a paper published that's based around a pretty deeply fringe idea. She deserved that publication on the basis of actually applying decent, if low budget science and getting a result.

I suspect that it won't be very long before there's a flurry of other careful experiments that explain Haggerty's results with a different interpretation of the causes. There will probably be theory papers on the spectral limits of the response of plants (as she cites some papers on outside-of-the-visible-light effects on plants).
It's not going to take that much time or that much money to refute this result, and in the meantime, Haggerty's publication suggests that properly executed scientific inquiry stands on its own, independent of preconcieved notions or weirdness of the result.

Comment Re:Double blind (Score 1) 298

A double blind study is to prevent placebo effect as well as experimenter bias.

There's yet another reason to do a double blind that has little to do with the results.

If you're a physician administering a placebo to a patient in a drug trial and they die or worsen significantly, it's important that you never know. This is especially true if it turns out that the drug is very effective. The effects of researcher and subject bias when both the experimenter and the subject can communicate nonverbally and instinctively are also an extremely important reason to do double-blind tests in some circumstances.

None of these things apply to subjecting trees to objectively measurable stuff and reporting your methods and results in a reasonably objective way. A certain interest in a question and expectation of the outcome leads one to do experiments in the first place, but that doesn't mean that every test must be carefully tuned to eliminate *any possibility* of researcher bias.

In situations where people are doing controlled, *easily reproducible* experiments and present results based largely on objective measures (in this case, things like biomass, leaf size, fraction of diseased leaf, etc), it's a waste of resources to do blind tests.

Researcher DISHONESTY can still be a problem, but that will ALWAYS be a problem, blind tests or no. People fake data, sabotage results... whatever. That's why independent confirmations are important wherever possible. Working in large groups with blind tests helps reduce this possibility when many independent confirmations are impossible (since it's hard to hold together an actual conspiracy).

But for a single scientist working with reasonably objective methods, it's not worth it. To do a blind test **by yourself** you would have to set up a really convoluted system to hide the methodology from YOURSELF. This is unnecessary if you're doing science right. Some people are prone to confirmation bias. They are bad scientists. They're barely scientists.

Haggerty's paper suggests she's a scientist.

I don't like this result. I don't like it at all. But unless the data were falsified, there's no problem with the method. There are other things that need to be controlled for. It might be something chemically relevant about the aluminum screen. I've found some papers that suggest that the color of a screen can repel certain insects that can pass through the holes anyway... so there could be a difference between fiberglass and aluminum in keeping insects out.

But my concern over the public relations potency of these results and the hypotheses I have about "other factors" are not science. Testing my hypotheses as objectively as I could and presenting the results would be science.

Comment Re:Right (Score 3, Insightful) 298

Just how unbiased was this person? If they were hoping for a specific result, there are a lot of things they could do in an "experiment" like this, even without thinking that they are doing such things.

Do the experiment yourself and find out. You're skeptical so if anything, you'll have the opposite bias. That's how this works.

No human being is 100% free of subconcious bias. A good scientist will do everything they can to perform objectively identical actions on all members of their various experimental organisms. IN that way, they will minimize the effect of their own biases. And others can reproduce the same objectively identical actions to gather more data.

Haggerty's paper suggests that she attempted to be careful in this regard. She explicitly presents her method. That's one way we know that she was trying to avoid her personal biases.

Comment Re:Double blind study (Score 4, Interesting) 298

Personally, I think the shielding worked more as a cozy for the plant and gave it a more stable immediate environment upon which to grow.

Read the paper. Haggerty had two cages, one of which was RF-transparent fiberglass which was close to the same air and light blockage as the aluminum faraday cage.

I still think it will come out that something else was the cause.

But as far as personal bias, a good scientist is aware of their own biases and tries to do things that are somewhat antagonistic to their own point of view. This isn't perfect, but that's why you use objective measures and report all your methods. Someone else can try to reproduce the experiment, improve upon it, control for more things, etc.

It is possible that subconcious/unconcious biases in plant care play a role here, but anyone can repeat the experiment, and it's very likely that those repeating it next will be VERY skeptical to the idea that RF is at fault and will be very careful not to baby the RF caged plants.. and if biased they'll be biased the other way. That's a good outcome of such a publication.

Many repeated experiments by people who are skeptical of each other average over personal biases.

Comment Re:Double blind not needed (Score 1) 298

If there is an opportunity for experimenter bias to creep into any measurement (for example if they are recording something a bit more subjective like bark quality or growth symmetry), then having the person measuring the result be "blind" may be appropriate.

There are a lot of people today that believe that experimenters must PROVE that they are un-biased in a way other than presenting their methods and results.

I think some people in this thread would prefer blind physics experiments :-)

Comment Re:Maybe it was a response. (Score 2, Insightful) 298

Light was controlled for within 5% of that received by the un-shielded plants. There were three groups, and it was simple... fiberglass screen shaded the "mock shielded" group from the sun the same way the aluminum screen did.

I personally think further experiments will discover some other cause besides RF, but Haggerty controlled for and measured a lot of other things... light, air circulation, etc. That doesn't mean her results will turn out to be correct, but she did present everything anyone would need to do to repeat her experiments to verify or refute them.

Comment Re:Hints? Might? (Score 5, Insightful) 298

I have a deep concern about over-stating the dangers of RF radiation... honestly, though, I don't see anything wrong with the PAPER and would say that Haggerty
approached the experiment in an appropriate scientific manner.

Come back and talk to me when you have a more definitive study.

This is not a perfect experiment... no experiment is. But the methodology is laid out. The experiment is reproducible, and that's what matters. I think it may spark interest in study... very likely from people who are VERY skeptical that RF could be the cause, and that's perfect.

I think that it's probably the case that something else is the cause, not RF. There are things that aren't controlled for. But you or anyone else can do a better experiment. You're right to be skeptical of a single one, but that doesn't mean Haggerty's work wasn't valuable.

Comment Re:Flip flop the question: (Score 1) 511

Unfortunately, they are a loud and obnoxious vote, and there's no way for actual science to be communicated against that background.

No doubt, I have a big problem with these people, but it's important to fix the real problem, and make sure that strategy doesn't prove the deniers right. If you suppress them, they become the persecuted "true skeptics" even though they are no such thing... They use pure, evidence-free rhetoric and manipulation of peoples' fears to cast doubt on science.

I think it's kind of useful for scientists to "take back the doubt" in today's current political climate. In a healthy field that's doing real science, there's more than enough skepticism and competition to keep conspiracies from happening.

Unfortunately, as frustrating as it is, I think part of scientists' jobs IS to convince the public that science works. The results are important too, but suppressing the deniers would just give them more power. Making people see that scientific findings have real weight because scientists are constantly trying to prove themselves and each other WRONG is somewhat important.

I think that a lot of the deniers are smart, thinking people without a good understanding of how science works. They get a steady diet of conflicting reports on scientific topics from the media, and they're paying attention, so they see the conflicts. But they don't appreciate how important the conflicts are to the process.

  I notice this on the ham radio websites I hang out on. There are a lot of ham radio operators who think solar physics is a ridiculous pursuit because one group is predicting that the next solar cycle will be incredibly strong and another is predicting, on the basis of a different model, that it will be very weak. These people seem to think that we shouldn't try to predict because our predictions disagree.

They're not dumb. But they are totally missing the point.

The findings are important. But they mean nothing if there's a serious doubt in the process. I think a lot of people couldn't imagine setting themselves up to be publicly wrong like the solar physicists do. Then they try to rationalize the public failures on the basis of more familiar motivations: they're doing it to get attention and funding, to advance their careers. They're bad at their jobs and are wasting taxpayer money. They should just hang it up.

I think a lot of the deniers come out of that kind of thought process.

Comment Re:Where are the studies? (Score 1) 511

Besides how can you explain things to people without using large words. Those words were created for a purpose, mainly to convey specific meanings of what scientist say. Without large words science would be meaningless.

I dunno. If I run across something I can't re-phrase or re-express on the fly, I feel like I don't really understand it. And I don't feel like I've got a lot of big words that are NEEDED to express what I'm doing. I suppose it depends on the field a bit, but you want to give me an example? What is your latest finding, big words included?

When I describe my experiment and what I've found to a random person, I start in a lightly technical tone .. that way I can scale it back if people don't seem to understand, and I ratchet up the technical language if someone is clearly familiar with it.

Comment Re:As perhaps a member of the skeptical public.. (Score 2, Insightful) 511

. But I think it's a mistake to take the current theories of the day as "The Truth" (they're so often over turned by later research)

A good scientist is a professional skeptic and will absolutely agree with that. "The Truth" is not the goal of science. It's not even a possible outcome. Science cannot guarantee that we're moving our knowledge closer to "The Truth." It is pretty good at moving our knowledge in a medium-term useful direction. And when we discover something wildly new, like relativity or quantum mechanics, we branch off in a new direction while simultaneously continuing in the old. The most flexible and brilliant scientists send a feeler off toward totally new territory, ***maybe*** making it somewhat more likely that we're approaching "The Truth" in a long term sense... but probably if we're moving toward "Truth," it is purely by accident.

It's still always possible that human science started with some sort of bias (sensory, cognitive) that makes us very, very wrong in a big picture sense. I think it's important to remember that such a possibility exists, but that it's a matter of philosophy until you can present some evidence for that idea.

Science is a way to discard those ideas that are obviously wrong while keeping around a bunch of useful ideas that haven't been shown to be wrong yet. That's what it's for, and it is the best system we've got for that.

I think it's really important that the public understands that scientists are trying to understand the universe but that many of them are deep skeptics who would be willing to completely change everything they think if presented with appropriate EVIDENCE. That's what makes science so useful and strong. It frustrates me that so much of the media discourse about science is focusing on the internal disagreements and the constant overturning of old ideas and pointing to it like it's a BAD thing. It's frustrating. It's kind of like having someone point at you in grade school and call out to all your schoolmates that you're stupid because you're WEARING GLASSES. It should be totally obvious to everyone who's ever seen you that you wear glasses, and yet, in certain social circumstances, people can wield power by pointing out an obvious fact and saying loudly enough that it's a negative thing.

You're absolutely right that you shouldn't look for "Truth" in science. Any good scientist should be on board with you on that. Our most important job is to be professional skeptics and to construct ideas and gather evidence that disproves other ideas and results. That's scientific progress, and having people point at you and make fun of you for doing that shows a certain immaturity, just the same as winning friends by making fun of someone's glasses.

Comment Re:Or... (Score 1) 511

" it's kind of health to ask for proof, as long as you don't keep denying once you receive it."

To SEEK proof (or, rather, undisproof) regarding things you're skeptical about is great, but the evidence has often been presented already!

There is *always* evidence and methodology presented in scientific presentations, both the source material and in most lay articles (though they could do better on that front, I think). No one should believe or disbelieve the conclusion until they've inspected the evidence and understood why it's evidence for the conclusion. Real skepticism requires a lot of neutrality toward new ideas for at least a few moments.

Comment Re:Flip flop the question: (Score 1) 511

The public does not need to know anything in any given field, but it would be helpful if they really understood how science works. The public needs to accept that science is a process of testing and gathering ideas, not a end-point collection of true answers and facts.

It is entirely possible that our scientific model of everything departs enormously from how the universe actually works. It could all be total bullshit. But if that's the case, we've slowly dug our way into giant pile of incredibly useful bullshit. Proper application of the scientific method always ensures that you move toward ideas that have useful predictive power and throw out those ideas that don't. It never ensures that you move toward Capital T Truth and it is incredibly unstable in terms of having any sort of lasting certainty about The Way Things Are.

That's tricky in terms of public relations. To properly understand an active scientific field, you have to be willing to consider and mull over ten possibly conflicting ideas at once without getting upset that no one can tell you which one is true.

Comment Re:Wait... They want them to dumb things down... (Score 1) 511

That's not true.

Active areas of research are complicated and full of conflicting ideas that are being tested currently to see which hypotheses are supported strongly by evidence and which can be proven false. The most current knowledge in an active field is a complicated mishmash of things that seem to be true (i.e. have been tested several times and not shown to be false), but that haven't all been tied together into one neat, elegant package.

It's absolutely useful for scientists to figure out how to put things as simply as possible, but asking for simplicity above all else is sometimes asking for an incredibly incomplete or misleading answers. A scientist with comprehensive knowledge of the work being done in his or her field will be aware of a dozen important ideas or important results that don't fit together in any obvious way. They might even appear to conflict with each other in the context of what is currently known. In a decade, more complete understanding will resolve that false conflict or further work will expose flaws in prior work.

How do you express that simply to people who want you to point at one idea and say it's the right one? If you know two things in an active field, either one or both or neither is correct. Science is a collection of ideas and results that say something interesting and haven't been proven false yet. That does not always allow simple, correct answers. Very old fields are easier, because things have been tested thoroughly. "Do like charges repel?" "Yes."

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