December 9, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Science Flipflops

Science says… on second thought, science says the opposite.  Or, we’re not sure what science says.  The following recent stories show that things you thought science had proven may not be true at all.  What’s next?

  1. Take testosterone for fairness:  The image of the testosterone-crazed, egotistical, reckless, raging road warrior is all wrong.  At least, that’s British and Swiss researchers found with a controlled experiment on 120 subjects that showed people given testosterone pills were more likely to make fair-minded judgments than those with a placebo – unless they knew they took the testosterone.
        The headlines tell all: “Testosterone does not induce aggression, study shows,” from Science Daily and PhysOrg; “Women on testosterone only think they’re macho,” from New Scientist, which added, “Long blamed for aggression, promiscuity and even greed, some of testosterone’s alleged effects may be all in the mind.”  One of the researchers explained the reason for the experiment: “we were interested in the question: what is truth, and what is myth?”
  2. Germs do a body good:  Here’s a headline to raise eyebrows from Live Science: “Germs may be good for you.”  Those raised on the image of nasty germs may be surprised at what science is saying now: “Exposing kids to nasty germs might actually toughen them up to diseases as grown-ups, mounting research suggests.”
  3. Survival of the… what?:  Oh my goodness, what would Charles Darwin say about this headline from Science Daily and PhysOrg: “Social Scientists Build Case for ‘Survival of the Kindest’.”  Was all that talk about Malthus and nature red in tooth and claw for nothing?  “Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish,” the article begins.  “In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.”  If only Hitler and Stalin had known.
        The authors attempted to give Darwin a reprieve by quoting him as the father of compassion theory: “This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct.”  There’s a research project for someone: what did Darwin mean, in context, and in the larger context of his view of how evolution operates?

We were going to share the story about the Professor who is receiving messages from space, but that’s just a teaser line on PhysOrg about ground-space communications with the International Space Station.

If scientists cannot be sure about things that are testable right in the lab, how can they possibly be so cocky about things that supposedly happened millions of years ago?  Nice sentiment: “what is truth, and what is myth?”

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Categories: Health

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