Fallacious Assumptions Corrupt Science
Scientists are not immune from the attraction of primrose paths that lead to confirmation of their biases.
Let’s look at some examples of fake science resulting from dubious assumptions.
Alien imposters: Planets with oxygen don’t necessarily have life (Science Daily). Since oxygen prevails on our green, inhabited world, some astrobiologists have considered oxygen a biomarker: that is, an element in an alien planet atmosphere that might signal the presence of life there. Scientists at Johns Hopkins have offered a cautionary tale about this assumption:
“Our experiments produced oxygen and organic molecules that could serve as the building blocks of life in the lab, proving that the presence of both doesn’t definitively indicate life,” says Chao He, assistant research scientist in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the study’s first author. “Researchers need to more carefully consider how these molecules are produced.”
New epigenetic study: Guinea pig fathers pass on adaptive responses to environmental changes (Phys.org). It’s been called the “Central Dogma” of genetics: DNA, the master molecule, produces RNA, which produces protein. DNA is thus the sole foundation for inherited characteristics. This unidirectional flow of information has been proved incorrect by epigenetics, a collective term for processes “above” genetics that violate the Central Dogma, including epigenetic inheritance. If the environment can trigger epigenetic changes that are heritable, as in this study with guinea pigs, then another great institutional dogma has fallen.
Widely used reference for the human genome is missing 300 million bits of DNA (Science Daily). Numerous studies have relied on a reference database for the human genome made 17 years ago. Now, “Johns Hopkins experts say additional reference genomes from different populations are needed for research.” Here was a database ripe for erroneous conclusions:
Specifically, the world’s reference genome was assembled from the nucleic acid sequences of a handful of anonymous volunteers. Other researchers later determined that 70 percent of the reference genome derives from a single individual who was half European and half African, and the rest derives from multiple individuals of European and Chinese descent, according to Salzberg.
Almost everything we know about social media and health could be wrong (New Scientist). “There’s a fundamental flaw in many studies on social media use,” argues Tom Chivers in this article. The flaw comes when sociologists assume that participants in surveys give true answers to questions about how much they use social media and other technologies. Participants may not even know; “but how much we think we spend glued to our devices and how much we actually use them are almost completely unrelated.”
Oxygen could have been available to life as early as 3.5 billion years ago (Science Daily). This is a billion years earlier than secular evolutionists thought. Even for moyboys, this announcement should be bad news. The reporter tries to spin this revised dating in favor of evolution, but such an early date causes serious problems for origin-of-life models: first, because oxygen is toxic to primordial soup, and second, because it drastically speeds up the rate that chance would need to invent photosynthesis.
Air‐Sea CO2 Flux Estimates in Stratified Arctic Coastal Waters: How Wrong Can We Be? (Geophysical Research Letters). Climate scientists have used estimates of fresh-water layers at the top of ocean waters to calculate how much the ocean acts as a “carbon sink.” These researchers tried different sampling techniques, and have found wide variations depending on how close the water is to polar caps and coastlines. “Overall, the strong summertime sink of atmospheric CO2 implied by the underway data was not supported by shallower data,” they say, which could lead to “substantial errors” in the database. “How wrong can we be?” they ask. They hope newer samples will average out, but call for better data collection.
These are just a few examples out of numerous stories that run across our desk at CEH. Upsets occur frequently, undermining textbooks and widely-held beliefs. Scientists can be wrong for well over a century before someone asks questions and looks at the underlying support for assumptions, and finds flaws. We showed last year how creation scientists found fundamental flaws in Fisher’s Theorem, a population genetics “law” that seemed to support evolution (16 Feb 2018). It’s not just soft sciences that are plagued with upsets (psychology, evolution, climate change); even the hard sciences are at risk (dark matter, Newtonian dynamics, fossils). We’ve shown how dates of planetary surfaces based on crater counts turned out to be wildly off, because of secondary cratering.
And yet confident assertions based on flawed assumptions carry on. Geophysicists base conclusions on Milankovitch cycles (22 June 2018), Great Oxidation Events, Snowball Earths, RNA Worlds and other mythical inventions that have about as much validity as astrology. Within recent weeks, for instance, origin-of-life researcher Steven Benner pulled the rug out from under the RNA World scenario, the leading hypothesis in the field, showing that the essential ingredient HCN was highly improbable to exist on the early earth (Evolution News).
“Oh, but we know evolution is a fact!” Keep these stories in mind when hearing scientists claim, “we now know” some fact about nature. If scientists can be so wrong about things right under their noses, how can they pontificate about things in the distant past or future? And what assumptions are they making today that could be undermined in 2019 or 2020 or a decade from now?.
At New Scientist last month, Michael LePage self-righteously told his liberal readers “How best to talk to your science-denying relatives this Christmas.” It’s easy to card-stack the answer with extreme examples, but maybe the answer should sometimes include, “Listen to them.”