On Sociological Pseudoscience and Good vs Bad Academics

The shooting in Orlando has brought out political opinions from areas that I don’t normally see them. Someone referred me to a video of Obama responding to a question about the murder rate in Chicago. The point being that the murder rate in Chicago is very high despite very tough gun control laws, with background checks and all that. Obama did not answer the question, but went into an unrelated invective against the NRA and how they have successfully lobbied to forbid the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta to study gun violence.

First of all, I would support any effort to prevent the CDC from doing anything, and even existing for that matter. They should be disbanded and their efforts left up to private industry. Second of all, what the CDC has to do with gun violence I have no idea, and why they should spend my money studying it is beyond me. They are supposed to study diseases, not gun violence. So why we should be outraged that the CDC cannot study gun violence is something I don’t understand.

But anyway, I was referred to a study done apparently supporting the idea that gun violence is lessened when gun control laws are passed. Nevermind the recent Paris attacks, which took place in a gun free zone, or the murder of that British MP over the weekend, also in a gun free zone, or the shooting in Orlando in a gay club that was also a gun free zone. The logic of gun free zones being open targets just doesn’t register when sociological studies can be linked to.

There is no problem with being a sociologist or anthropologist or economist for that matter. It is a noble activity to conduct privately funded studies to try to find out things, whether they are in the past or present. The problem with sociologists is that they tend to come to government, or their works tend to be forwarded to government, to justify certain policy positions that have affect people’s lives on the basis of “science” with standards that would shock a physicist or biologist.

If we take the FDA for example, or NASA, two organizations which should be privatized but that’s a different issue, if the FDA approved a drug based on the pseudoscientific methods conducted in sociological surveys and studies, they would be putting the lives of people at risk and many would die. The amount of exactitude necessary for a phase 3 study to gain FDA approval is extremely high. Every piece of data has to checked and rechecked with placebo controls in most cases and everything else, with confirmatory studies to follow, and if there’s even a shred of doubt that a new medicine may be causing harm it will be pulled off the shelves. Phase 3’s often negate positive evidence of Phase 2’s and so forth. The example of a placebo arm in a trial is particularly important because the FDA does not normally accept something known as “historical control” where you compare people on a drug with past data from people who were not.

One example I’ve dealt with recently is Sarepta Therapeutics, which tested Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug Eteplirsen versus historical control from other DMD patients who were not involved in the study. This is a problem because the endpoint in the study is the 6 minute walk test, basically how far a DMD patient can walk in six minutes on the drug, compared to how far other DMD patients can walk without it in the past, the so-called historical control. But the problem is the patients on the drug are more motivated to walk as far as they can in order to get the drug approved, while the historical control was not motivated at all because they were not involved in trialing any drug. This inflates numbers towards Eteplirsen, which is one of the big reasons why the FDA has not approved the drug yet.

The historical control model is similar to sociological study methods, but not as bad. With studies about gun control laws, there are so, so many variables that enter the equation that it cannot be controlled. You can maybe make some guesses, but nothing more than that, and they won’t be very good ones.

If NASA or SpaceX were to build their hardware based on the methods in sociological studies, everyone who ever blasted off in a rocket would be dead. No hard scientist would ever risk anyone’s life on the basis of a study conducted via the methods of sociology.

But when “social scientists” with certain political opinion conduct studies on minimum wage, gun control, or whatever other political issue and then these studies are presented to politicians who make laws based on them, then logic is thrown out the window and laws are passed. People literally become lab rats, testing the policies of the political elite with their lives. This is incredibly immoral.

Based on pseudoscientific minimum wage studies, low skilled workers will lose their jobs. Based on gun control studies, it will become more difficult for nonviolent people to buy and carry guns. Nevermind the a priori logic that higher minimum wage means a labor surplus AKA unemployment, and never mind the a priori logic that criminals do not follow gun control laws.

Let’s say a bunch of academics study which gun control laws correlated with the lowest gun violence. This could be done, but proves nothing of a causal link. Let’s then say they piece together the “perfect gun control legislation” they have pieced together from their correlative hunt based on what they think are the best aspects of each “successful” gun control law. Then they give it to the politicians and they pass it into law.

That would be like putting astronauts on a rocket engineered by sociologists who conducted studies of rockets that have worked in the past but have no idea why because they are not physicists, and combined what they think are the best features into a new rocket, and then test  it for the very first time when it’s fully loaded with people on the thing.

The Challenger exploded and people died in 1986 because it took off on a cool day and that made the O-rings less elastic. This was discovered by physicist Richard Feynman. It was not proven because there were no trials, but the point is, one tiny oversight based on the temperature of the day the Challenger took off took the lives of everyone on board. Here’s Feynman on that:

Now, here’s Feynman on social sciences:

Now, there is nothing wrong with being an academic. If you study the past, say the bible and try to prove who wrote it or where it came from or whatever, go for it. But don’t try to get a law passed forbidding kosher slaughter because you think שחיטה is a myth. If you’re a sociologist studying the evolution of human behavior, have fun. Publish studies, but don’t advocate for a law mandating human behavior based on your observations. Have the humility to recognize that the methods you use cannot lead to anything close to the certainty of hard science like physics or biology, and that you have no right to force your conclusions on anybody, regardless of any good intention. All your work can do is increase the amount of hypotheses we have regarding any particular question. If social academics stopped at that, I’d have no problem.

I follow Judaism (maybe). But I don’t fool myself into believing my version of it is proven scientifically. Therefore I would absolutely oppose a law that would force anyone to do anything based on what I believe about God, because I understand that my belief could be wrong. Sometimes I might try to convince someone of the truth of what I believe about X, but if they don’t believe me, it doesn’t particularly bother me.

I speculate about the future. It’s what I do for a living. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. I try to convince people to buy gold based on what I see as the truth, but I have done no experiments and cannot predict exactly when it will go up to $10,000, which I believe soon that it will. If I’m wrong, I lose my own money, not other people’s money.

But the academics that try to get laws passed based on the pseudoscientific studies that they conduct, those are the ones that really piss me off. I do not want to be anyone’s guinea pig. It’s immoral and disgusting and infuriating. When someone wants a law passed preventing me from getting a gun because of some study they read, I can’t stand it. I can forgive those who defer to so-called academic authority, but not the academics themselves who advocate for laws based on their gun control studies. Or increasing minimum wage because of a study they read, it drives me up a wall.

Or raising or lowering interest rates based on a study, it scares me.

On that score, it is a very good thing that the CDC is forbidden from conducting studies on gun violence. Because those studies will be biased by political opinions and then brought to Congress to pass laws. No government body should conduct a single study about anything whatsoever. Studies should be private initiatives.

No hard scientist that values human life would ever force people to participate in a study that might harm them without each and every individual’s expressed written consent. But when sociologists advocate for policy based on these studies, they are essentially forcing all of us to participate in a study extension without our consent so they can see how many of us get killed and whether it will be more or less than something else.

I am not a lab rat. Gun control based on studies is immoral. So is minimum wage or any other policy of force, whether it is based on nothing but feeling or peer reviewed study by the most recognized PhD’s in the universe, it’s all the same garbage.

And of the lot, economists are the absolute worst in terms of turning us all into murine models in their human experiments.