Throwing paper rocks.

I am continually surprised and amazed at just how much the world of internet and social media based arguments has changed in the last 18 months – from simple, often funny, shitlords and troll poster’s who at least had a sense of humor we now see a world of angry Karen’s (and their male equivalents) who respond to arguments by posting links to research papers in peer reviewed journals.

I for one read several research papers a week especially when i can peer over the shoulder of someone like Dr John Campbell while he explains the big technical terms and explains what the P and R values of a finding were : i’m lucky in that i had a basic training (during my SRN training years) in cell biology and microbiology…..even better to have been taught how long a paper surgical mask would capture bacteria or viruses * . In those days we were just expected to believe what we were told so it’s no surprise to keep finding out, again and again, that we were wrong about a lot of things but we certainly weren’t expected to read peer reviewed scientific papers.

I first came across peer reviewed medical science when i did my Intensive Care training back in 1989 and did so because we had to learn how to read and critique a paper – the first time that i had to learn about ‘N’ , ‘P’ and ‘R’ for example which if you don’t know this stuff mean respectively number of people in the study and the study reliability and validity……if you don’t know what they are it would really help if you took the time to find out before you started throwing peer reviewed papers before throwing them around in a social media site argument like so many paper rocks.

Even funnier is when journalists read a paper and pass off a found association as being proof of or cause of something happening – association becomes causation and we are all suddenly well informed that one thing causes another…..a recent example being that low levels of Vitamin D cause heart attacks in the Scandinavian countries in winter. Lets not even start on correlation, negative correlation and study design.

Actually, it’s journalists that really piss me off…..

It was quite funny recently when a senior doctor who is also a medical researcher and educator was ‘fact-checked’ in a journal run by, no, not scientists but journalists as though their ‘training’ qualified them to fact-check an expert in the field. Now, we can all challenge ‘experts’ if we think they are wrong and lets face it – everyone can be wrong at some time, but to do so confidently without even understanding the basics of what is being discussed is nothing but sheer hubris and arrogance.

This year iv’e had to read a lot of academic papers and to do so iv’e had to continually refer to a set of notes just about the research values and as you would expect with high-tec virology and immunology iv’e had to keep diving back into the basic science to even begin to understand what the paper is talking about : i’m lucky though because although i can’t do maths to save a life i can understand anything in physiology quickly enough to make sense of it.

To pull things back a bit i’d like to say that we don’t need PhD’s to read a research paper, just some time, patience and a bit of humility and if we feel we need to then there’s a dozen channels or more about any and every subject out there that we could access to start learning the basics. Earlier i said that it was a shock to find out how many things we were taught as facts in our nurse training were in ‘fact’ not so. I think it was professor Zoe Harcombe who started out as a mathematician but ended up studying nutrition who commented that there is a huge difference between someone who was taught in a system, for example medicine, nursing or dietetics and someone who has taken the time to learn it from the ground up.

The final thing that i’d like to mention today is what happens when a smart academic writes a spoof paper which reads so well but is complete BS and manages to get it accepted in a peer reviewed, so called, journal and when that paper gets cited by other ‘academics’ in the field : this is what James Lindsay managed to do with his spoof paper “The conceptual penis as a social construct” here :

Ok….lets also say that ‘social science’ is rarely scientific and ‘science’ so called can simply be ‘Bad Science’ as Dr Ben Goldacre once put it in his book with that title…..worth a read in my humble opinion.

*Not very long or not at all is the answer.

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