Ineffective drugs, amnesia about genetics, Dolly the sheep, and lies about vaping - plus a huge list of interesting links about bad science
Good to see someone calling out the genetic confound issue. One of my bugbears with Emily Oster is that she ignores this point when it suits her.
Stuart, you should mention this blog in the Studies Show. I only found out about it by accident, and it’s great reading.
Pseudoephedrine - which I'm pretty sure is effective - is available behind the counter at UK pharmacies (Sudafed is the usual brand name). In case anyone wants an effective alternative.
I've heard it's behind the counter because it can be used to make meth (hopefully true because it's funny).
And has nobody made a tool to reformat papers according to the different requirements of journals? Could be a use for LLMs? Although a depressing number of uses for LLMs seem to be "intermediate between me and these dumb, kludgey systems some other people have built".
> which he doesn’t deny is true—is a bad message because it’s made
Typo here, I think the end of this sentence got cut off.
Not sure where to put this question, but will you review the new Sapolsky book that’s presently coming out？I saw a link of your review of “Behave” from a couple of years ago, but it was broken...
Keep banging the drum on leaving out genetics. It happens all the time. People seem to forget that the parents who are providing the environment you grew up in usually provided your genetic material as well. Worse, when you mention it, you get the fake agreement of "Oh well of course! Genetics plays a part in this" but then revert back to discussing only the environmental effects in about fifteen seconds. It is especially frustrating on topics where the heritable contribution is large, such as IQ.
> doesn’t work to decongest your nose
Sigh, I've often taken these medicines and thought they didn't seem to do very much, but just assumed that they must have some small effect that I'm not noticing, and maybe they work better for other people. Surprised but not really surprised to discover it was a scam all along. I wonder how many other OTC medicines we take for which this is true?
> what questions the Government/Civil Service want scientists to tackle on that topic to help them develop policies
This is the wrong direction of travel :( If the civil service were mostly staffed by clones of you Stuart then maybe it could work, but in its current state it just continues the pre-existing trend of government becoming mentally enslaved to academic pseudo-science and garbage papers that large chunks of the citizenry can see through, but the civil service amazingly cannot.
We should actually be doing the opposite: pass a law forbidding communication between the civil service and researchers, then defund public research in general. Anything else is going to yield an endless stream of Neil Fergusons and Chris Whittys.
> relaying the shocking information that vegetarianism is partly genetic. But… of course it is
This feels a bit like an overreach. It's not obvious, unless "partly" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Vegetarianism was hardly known a few generations ago, but if it was meaningfully genetic I'd think we'd have seen a large and continuous veggie population throughout history. Also most people who become vegetarian seem motivated by moral ideas or fashions, hence the recent trend towards veganism, something that's obviously happened a lot faster than anything can change genetically.
> A “noble lie” is always going to backfire in the end when people find out they’ve been lied to
Hear hear. Except post COVID I'm not convinced this is true anymore :( I think it's true for maybe 35-40% of the population. The majority however seem happy to be lied to, because they think they need to be manipulated by "the experts" otherwise they risk making the wrong decisions. They've become infantilized and intentionally malleable. This is driving extreme polarization in the population between those who are adults and want/need to have the full story, and those who are scared of either themselves or those around them who want the "noble lie". It seems bad and I don't know how we can dig ourselves out of this hole.
> implying that drinking more water might actually help with some specific medical conditions. Huh!
Surely dehydration must be a complicating factor in a lot of illnesses? Water is just so fundamental to our bodies.
> the US National Science Foundation have announced (in partnership with my pals from the Institute for Progress) that they’re going to be running formal experiments on their grant-giving process
Progress in theory, but only if the results of the experiments are actually used to change policy, the experiments are done well, etc. More cynically, the people who obliviously fund mountains of crap pseudo-science announcing they're going to Science themselves isn't obviously going to yield useful outcomes.
> here’s evidence that about half of all pre-registrations ended up different, in terms of the hypotheses eventually tested, from the eventual published study
This is why I've given up on the idea of science reform. It's the same story with data access statements, putting CIs on everything, replication studies and a bunch of other ideas that sound good at first but end up being turned into theatre by researchers. Government funded science will always attract scammers who pretend to play by the rules but don't, and nothing will happen because the civil service is stuffed with HR Karens whose job is to spray money everywhere. And anyway, Pride Month is coming up so who has time for sad-face-making stuff like writing scolding letters to hero scientists?
Most of your post is useful updates on important things, which I appreciate as usual. I think you overreach in one place:
> A “noble lie” is always going to backfire in the end when people find out they’ve been lied to - however nobly.
In terms of expected consequences, this sounds like a great maxim for decision-making. It doesn't sound like an entirely accurate description of communication between an elite and a populace.
If you trust the writers of this Wikpedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%A0%C4%87epan_Mali), then its introductory section offers a counter-example.
I don't know the history of science communication well enough to find a more relevant counter-example. But I would be surprised if there are none. People's attitudes (including re: being lied to) can be complicated, and sometimes shift with context. Unfortunate as that is.
Or were you aware of this maxim-description disjuncture, and writing with conscious irony to increase acceptance of the maxim? ;-)