On Mon, 24 Aug 1998, Wilson, Dale wrote:
> > I don't think university researchers as a lot are
> > corrupt. I do think that the really/truly important
> > biases are present throughout society;
> I agree. Bias gets dangerous when we take ourselves and our findings
> too seriously.
Wow, looking back at my response I realized I was truly unclear. The word
bias doesn't carry the connotations for me that it does for most people.
Perhaps better to explain what I am getting at by not using that word at
all. Anyhow, when I said that all science, everyone's knowledge has
biases/represents biases, that there, is not bias-less science or
knowledge what I was really getting at is that all knowledge/science is
infused with values/interests. Not just driven by values and interest but
infused along the whole way.
Therefore, we're still in disagreement regarding your claims below, but no
> I disagree to some extent. A large amount of graduate education in
> science, and especially in agriculture, is devoted to learning how to
> avoid and correct bias. Part of this involves the use of statistical
> techniques that estimate the probability of being wrong, and part
> involves experience presenting results in critical fora. Technical,
> self-critical approaches, and a strong dose of humility, really do help
> minimize bias, especially in clear-cut technical matters(such as the
> toxicity of Roundup).
I guess what I meant is I don't want to minimize bias. I want the biases
present to be what I think are good biases...but since I'm not using the
word bias try out the words value or interest in that statement, instead.
<snip a bunch of good points/examples>
> > (For example, ask: Why has there been so much focus on the
> > "hereditary" causes of cancer? Or, in a particular case:
> > Why are we searching for the "hereditary" causes of *this*
> > cancer? The answer(s), the myriad ones that are possible,
> > tell much. When I ask these questions they lead me to
> > reflect on the possibilty of environmental causes to cancer
> > and the reasons these causes may be neglected more than they
> > deserve...They lead me to think of thousands of worthwhile
> > questions for study.
> IMO this is more a matter of practicality than bias. I did a search in
> bioabstracts (Jan 91 and after) with the terms "CARCINO* and
> (XENOBIOTIC* or PESTICIDE)" and turned up 644 papers, so it appears that
> a lot of work is being done on environmental causes of cancer. But
> environmental causes are subtle, and hard to study, and much of the work
> only uncovers tiny bits of the big picture. With modern genetic
> approaches, one can at least find correlations between human genotypes
> and probability of certain diseases. This, combined with plausible
> biological models, is fairly conclusive evidence about the importance of
> genetic factors. Developing information about the relative importance
> and interaction of environmental factors is too expensive.
Hmmm, a few points. One: "practicality" (purely pragmatic considerations)
are a value or an interest too. I think my point holds here as well, it
is indeed a perfect example of the importance of stepping back and asking
the why questions. It behooves researches to ask themselves: How much do
we want "practicality" to be driving our research, project developments
and methods? In a lot of cases, and I imagine in the above, the answer is
not half as much as we want some other values/interests to be driving.
Now I've put "practicality" in quotes because it's a very contested
notion. E.g., Is it practical to spend oodles of time and dollars studying
x if x plays a very minor role in y? Depends what your operative
definition of 'pratical' is, among other things.
Also, the quotes indicate a certain amount of cynicism on my part. I doubt
that *practicality* (pragmatic considertaions) is *the* driving force, or
even the main driving force of a genetic focus on cancer (shorthand there
with 'genetic focus on cancer'). Truly, we study all kinds of things and
embark on amazingly difficult journies of knowledge gathering. We don't,
in general, shirk the difficult. So, why here? That answer, can't simply
be because it's difficult. I think the answer is going to point out that
certain interests, not so good imho, are driving the focus....
Finally, just an aside: Just cause there may be lots of work on
environmental causes doesn't mean there is anywhere near as much focus on
that in the research or at the level of public policy....
And, I don't think there is such a thing as cut and dry number crunching
or stats. There are better and worse stats and better and worse number
crunching but I am not sure about the cut and dryness of it all.
Oh and on the social science thing: I actually don't like the term "social
science". Although it varies from day to day I tend to think science is on
a par with other bodies of knowledge...science is out to explain things.
It's about explanation and so I like to sort of deflate the notion of
social science by talking more about social explanation...Anyhowse, I
acutally think the so called "natural sciences" have a lot to learn about
their own methodology/explanatory models by looking to social explanation,
both "popular" and "academic"...a bit like looking in a fun house mirror,
distorting yet revealing at the same time...This was a big nebluous area
I was thinking about before I got tired of thinking and gave it up...:-)
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