Monday, September 24, 2018

Bias in Science; how does a messy species find truth?

     I had a great conversation this wk with a newer online chum.. particularly surrounding bias and systemic racism in and around research and methodology. He raised some great points about how research is largely biased, and I couldn't agree more. 
    One only has to look at current maternal death statistics to see that black women in the US are three times as likely to die post-child birth than white women, or look at the history in the US of syphilis "research" methods used on black Americans in the last century in the name of scientific advancement, or the history of eugenics, the concept of the 'one-drop' rule, or historical methods created to classify classes of humans like phrenology.
   The list of human atrocities made in the name of science had been absolutely horrendous.. including the shit-show in the White House and EPA at the moment.
     On this note, I need to talk way more (and hope to see others talk more) about systemic racism and how it creates bias and actively oppresses in science today.. it's critical.
    The point I wish to make, however, is why we so desperately need an unbiased method to interpret the world around us amongst this chaos our species repeatedly creates. We're lousy with stats, we're biased, we can't remember things well, and affluent white wealthy land owners can't seem to treat each other (or anyone we've deemed outsider ourselves) with much mutual respect.
    The gentleman I spoke with made a great point about race relations and the systemic bigotry white folks used to build this country on... and about his own struggle inside that shit-show casm as a person of color in this colonialist country. (This is critically important shit that needs to be talked about.. alot!!) But it kinda had zero percent to do with what I was trying to really talk to him about... that true empirical data is just that opposite.. it doesn't lie or work within bias. We can distort our scientific methodologies to no end, but evidence.. evidence is "pure" in that it's simply explaining reality (after we test and test and test and test and then test once more :) 
   We need to totally be down to talk race relations and politics and science ethics surrounding racism.. it's totally my bag.. and it should be yours too.. but I want to also point out that messy humans stand outside empirical reality... that reality is something beyond human bias.
     It's critical here that we discuss the literal definition and function of what the scientific method is and what it produces... and that while messy humans follow it, we find true empirical realities the more we practice it. There should always be room to talk ethics alongside science (and there has to be) but what science and science communicators are trying to get across to society is much simpler. I only wish we come to have more voices of color reaching out.... trying to convey a method of testing. ... .. and you, I, we...all know it..(you probably learned about it in grade school playing with batteries and basic household chemicals)
   It's the scientific method... one that shows what's real vs what's not, in the most basic sense.. ie, gravity, chemical reaction, the physics of light and motion... basically the stuff that explains why the world works the way it does (ie why your remote control makes things change on your TV screen, or how I'm able to talk to you across town via a soldered glass/metal/led box) .. it's understanding how we got to know these things, and then using those fundamentals to explain and research further.
  Humans can affect funding and grant processes of research, write shitty ethics for an experiment, commit genocide in the name of science.. etc, etc.. but at the end if the day, we can't stop fundamental processes.. we can't  manipulate gravity or stop the sun from coming up, or halt radioactive decay or stop fundamental particles from being atoms.. they simply are. 
    Human bias doesn't affect the rules of physics.. the numbers/the data.. the fundamental equations that make the world work. In this way, science serves us as a tool determining empirical reality. That's what I think so many who "believe" things are missing. The science/numbers don't lie.. it's just we the imperfect people who do.
     How do we account for human error? The scientific method seems like one of the only ways i've found... It simply asks for repeated data over and over and over again.. verifiable results.. it's used with methodologies that root out human error (ie statistical noise, falsified data, or liers) 
   This is why we can only be 98% sure global warming is human produced in meta-data (studies combining hundreds of other studies on subject to account for error) Yes, it's preeeettyy obvious it's occurring... but  climate data is messy.. bc humans are messy.. and so there's 2% of studies that aren't as explicit with their findings (or never directly refer to humans in their study, simply because they assume the obvious in light of their findings in climate Science after 30 years of publishing the same.
    So yeah, I guess I hope folks can understand the difference there... because belief has absolutely nothing to do with why batteries work or how magnets attract. That's science. Bias is human error, and we know it's there and how to correct for it. :) The trick going forward is... how do we stop being awful to each other and simply listen to the reality? I only hope it works to bond us in these tough times.. that science can work as a tool, instead of a political means to further oppress.

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