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Attitude: What to do when others say “BS” to you.

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  • Attitude: What to do when others say “BS” to you.

    I found this a fascinating piece about scientists who confront controversy when dealing with the public (and even colleagues):-

    

Outreach: Speak up for science

    It begins thus:-



    David Robert Grimes, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, UK, is an adamant defender of science, but the blog post he wrote in August caused quite a stir, even for him. Troubled by an upcoming vote by Dublin City Council on whether to stop fluoridating the city's water supply, in his post he implored councillors to heed evidence that fluoridated water helps to prevent and slow tooth decay. His contention that claims to the contrary are inflammatory, invalid and dishonest prompted critics around the world to call for his resignation, he says.

    
Grimes's experience may be extreme, but it serves as a reminder that publicly presenting controversial findings or opinions — even if they are factually sound — can leave one open to hostility. When it comes to speaking up, the uncomfortable reality is that sometimes scientists, especially those at trainee and junior levels, face a difficult choice: courting controversy can exact a career toll, but staying mute can lead to harmful policy decisions uninformed by science.



    Early-career researchers who want to speak out must learn how best to communicate science and how to respond productively to criticism, experts say. Yet many young researchers engage the public armed with little communications or media training [ref omitted], and when wading into combustible topics such as climate change, evolution and public health, they quickly learn that science often runs counter to strongly held ideology.
    




    The last lines of the article sound a warning for those who refuse to engage constructively, either out of hostility and fear or simply because they have naive attitudes:-

    


    Ultimately, scientists who speak out create room at the table for evidence, say those who have found their voice. “If we aren't there speaking on the science,” says Shepherd, “people skilled in messaging, such as attorneys and lawyers, will fill the gaps.”
    Last edited by rwatts; 01-10-2015, 05:09 PM.

  • #2
    I wasn't aware that there has been any definitive scientific finding on fluoridation - rather that the evidence is statistical and indirect. But I'm not current on this research. I agree that if you don't agree with Grimes, your best approach is with actual research data.

    I would say that calling those who disagree "inflammatory, invalid and dishonest" implies a no bout adout it slam dunk scientific certainty. Does this actually exist?

    Comment


    • #3
      The case against fluoridation is in my opinion stronger than the case for it. It can be poisonous, and "safe" doses do not do a good job of preventing caries. Too many communities had better dental health after going off fluoridated water or other stuff (e.g., toothpaste).
      The greater number of laws . . . , the more thieves . . . there will be. ---- Lao-Tzu

      [T]he truth I’m after and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance -— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

      Comment


      • #4
        Fluoride is toxic, but so is almost everything if you over do it. There might be one danger with routine fluoridation of water supplies. Some folk are getting fluoride already and the additional might have negative effects. It would take quite a bit I imagine. My first girl friend, in fourth grade, had brown teeth from living in an area with high natural flouride. She appeared to be otherwise healthy, but that was from an infatuated fourth graders perspective. I would be interested in seeing any studies on people in areas with such high natural flouride. That might tell us something with some scientific certainty.

        ETA: This looks like leading away from the OP. Sorry about that.
        Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by rwatts View Post
          I found this a fascinating piece about scientists who confront controversy when dealing with the public (and even colleagues):-

          

Outreach: Speak up for science

          It begins thus:-



          




          The last lines of the article sound a warning for those who refuse to engage constructively, either out of hostility and fear or simply because they have naive attitudes:-

          


          Flouridation seems to be the issue you folk see here.

          I could say you are all bonkers because we've had it here for decades, and the benefits outweigh the costs. And my reason for saying this is that I am a scientist* and I have researched all this, and so have all the data on my side.

          But that's just the point. No matter how much I might think this, in the public sphere it's pointless arguing in such a manner. If I don't convince you then I've lost. If the scientific community (which, presumably, is mostly for fluoridation than it is against it) does not convince you, then it loses. And ultimately flouridation will be thrown out.

          So the article is arguing that telling you all that you are bonkers and don't know because you are not scientists, simply will not work. In fact, it's much more likely to be counter productive than productive.

          The only way is to keep on arguing to the data, and to do so with a degree of empathy towards those who disagree. But as the article shows, it's often best to sit down with the opposition and try to work through it, using those data - theirs and yours.

          Implicitly in all this, is the idea that even if a scientist is correct, an advocate for a particular action nevertheless has to be prepared to lose out in the domain of implementing public policy. The public, and hence the tax payer, and thus the politician simply may not see it your way, rightly or wrongly.

          However, name calling, and stomping one's feet because the public and the politicians are unscientific, simply burns one's bridges.

          And phank is correct - there is no such think as scientific certainty, as in absolute proof. That in itself requires that a scientist be prepared to argue, and to advocate, and to make a case for or against a proposition. Behind all this is the need to develop a more sympathetic strategy when dealing with the public.





          * I am not really.
          Last edited by rwatts; 01-10-2015, 08:47 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Jedidiah View Post
            Fluoride is toxic, but so is almost everything if you over do it. There might be one danger with routine fluoridation of water supplies. Some folk are getting fluoride already and the additional might have negative effects. It would take quite a bit I imagine. My first girl friend, in fourth grade, had brown teeth from living in an area with high natural flouride. She appeared to be otherwise healthy, but that was from an infatuated fourth graders perspective. I would be interested in seeing any studies on people in areas with such high natural flouride. That might tell us something with some scientific certainty.

            ETA: This looks like leading away from the OP. Sorry about that.
            Oh there is nothing wrong with a side track. It might bring in another conversation, but that's o.k.

            I'm an advocate of fluoridation. Not because I've studied it, but because the experts say it's best.

            My teeth are all false, but then I grew up on rain water. By age 22, I'd had all my teeth removed. But fluoridation has been with us here in Adelaide for decades now, and so we are used to it and I am not aware of any bad side effects that anyone's been able to identify. The dentists seem to be happy with it, such that a lot of their work now seems to be for things other than teeth pulling and teeth filling.

            Your questions re fluoridation are interesting. It would be interesting to see if such studies have been done and what they show.

            Another thing of interest would be the number of deaths and/or sicknesses due to tooth decay.

            Like so much in public policy, it's a matter of costs and benefits.

            Comment


            • #7
              So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that Grimes is going about advocating his position all wrong. He is saying "I am a scientist, you are not, and so your position is inflammatory, invalid and dishonest." What he should be doing instead, is presenting his evidence.

              I looked into fluoridation once many years ago, and I was not persuaded that in the concentrations found in most municipal water supplies, it did anything one way or another. But what bothered me most is that I simply could not find any laboratory testing, all I could find was the sort of statistical trends you mention - that someone noticed that caries were less common in communities with more natural fluoride in the water, and concluded that the fluoride was the responsible agency. No controls were mentioned, no effort to determine if some other factor was involved. Often enough, correlations occur because of some unidentified commonality. In any case, calling your opponents dishonest ignoramuses isn't the optimal persuasive approach.

              (It's been over 40 years since I was exposed to my last fluoride in either water or toothpaste or mouthwash. In that time, no caries or fillings. And recently, I saw on TV that fluoride is NOW being said to strenthen enamel, rather than to fight disease. But no research was mentioned.)

              Comment


              • #8
                Vaccination is another big one that goes like this. It's very tempting to say to anti-vaxxers 'You're an idiot, you know that , don't you.' The science here is unequivocal and yet people persist in believing some internet page. In a reasonable word, you ought to be able to convince people with evidence. On Earth, you will always find someone who thinks Kennedy was assassinated by time travelling lizard people.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by pancreasman View Post
                  Vaccination is another big one that goes like this. It's very tempting to say to anti-vaxxers 'You're an idiot, you know that , don't you.' The science here is unequivocal and yet people persist in believing some internet page. In a reasonable word, you ought to be able to convince people with evidence. On Earth, you will always find someone who thinks Kennedy was assassinated by time travelling lizard people.
                  This seems a bit unfair. There actually WAS a small statistical correlation between MMR vaccines and autism - a result of both the vaccine and autism happening at about the same age. Now granted, the quack who claimed the vaccine caused autism has been thoroughly debunked and drummed out of his profession. BUT autism is a terrifying unknown - it's often totally debilitating and there is no known cure and almost no help for it. And of course, many parents DID notice the autism within a short time (weeks to months) after administering the MMR vaccine. And as I recall, there were problems for a while with the vaccine and mercury in the base, or some such.

                  Fear may not be reasonable, but it's not stupid.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by rwatts View Post
                    But that's just the point. No matter how much I might think this, in the public sphere it's pointless arguing in such a manner. If I don't convince you then I've lost. If the scientific community (which, presumably, is mostly for fluoridation than it is against it) does not convince you, then it loses. And ultimately flouridation will be thrown out.
                    Prejudice wins over science every time.
                    Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by phank View Post
                      This seems a bit unfair. There actually WAS a small statistical correlation between MMR vaccines and autism - a result of both the vaccine and autism happening at about the same age. Now granted, the quack who claimed the vaccine caused autism has been thoroughly debunked and drummed out of his profession. BUT autism is a terrifying unknown - it's often totally debilitating and there is no known cure and almost no help for it. And of course, many parents DID notice the autism within a short time (weeks to months) after administering the MMR vaccine. And as I recall, there were problems for a while with the vaccine and mercury in the base, or some such.

                      Fear may not be reasonable, but it's not stupid.
                      It's the lizards I tell you. As a parent of autistic children I've researched this matter pretty closely and my understanding was large scale meta analyses showed no correlation between vaccination and autism. I am quite prepared to be proven wrong.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by pancreasman View Post
                        It's the lizards I tell you. As a parent of autistic children I've researched this matter pretty closely and my understanding was large scale meta analyses showed no correlation between vaccination and autism. I am quite prepared to be proven wrong.
                        But as a parent of an autistic child, surely you'd be suspicious if autism developed shortly after a vaccination. I've worked with a guy whose son is pretty autistic and deals with epilepsy on top of it. He doesn't seem to understand how autism normally manifests itself, and he swears up and down that it was the vaccine's fault. The correlation may not exist on a large scale, but the timing is often close enough for there to be a correlation in an individual's mind.
                        I'm not here anymore.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Carrikature View Post
                          But as a parent of an autistic child, surely you'd be suspicious if autism developed shortly after a vaccination. I've worked with a guy whose son is pretty autistic and deals with epilepsy on top of it. He doesn't seem to understand how autism normally manifests itself, and he swears up and down that it was the vaccine's fault. The correlation may not exist on a large scale, but the timing is often close enough for there to be a correlation in an individual's mind.
                          Oh yes, I agree with that. Personal anecdote always wins out over boring statistics.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jedidiah View Post
                            Prejudice wins over science every time.
                            Prejudice is a major problem for all of us in every decision we make. But I don't think it's so that prejudice wins over science every time.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Jedidiah View Post
                              Prejudice wins over science every time.
                              But “nature cannot be fooled” and therefore science will tell you what the effects of prejudice are. For example, how an infection will spread if its victims do not understand how it is transmitted is a scientific question. So, I would say it is exactly opposite but human beings insist on learning by failure because they are naturally quick to jump to the wrong conclusions. In the bitter end, prejudice always fails.
                              “I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.” ― Oscar Wilde
                              “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence” ― Bertrand Russell
                              “not all there” - you know who you are

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