Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Comments to "Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healers" Blog Entry

I've been reading the comments posted on this blog entry, especially those who are responding to Dawkins posted comment. I suppose I could post this commentary there, but I think it deserves a whole blog entry by itself. I think Dawkins can answer all those queries directed to him, but I still want to make a couple of observations on the nature (and maybe even fallacy) of a couple of the comments.

1. Supernatural, by definition, is beyond "nature" and therefore can't be explained by our current knowledge or even "detected".

This is strange in the sense that there is a double standard. First of all, there is a requirement that for science to falsify such phenomena, we must be able to comprehend and detect it, and detect it reliably. So since these things are, by definition, supernatural, it is beyond science. Fine. Yet, the same criteria does not seem to apply to those who claim that such a thing exists. It seems that any Joe Schmoe can make claims of supernatural phenomenon without the same requirement that is imposed upon science that claim that they don't exist.

2. These are rare and "transient" events that are not easy to study and reproduce. Again, fine. However, there is a difference between claiming that these are unpredictable events versus "I can make use of them reliably to make predictions or to cure a disease". When one claims the latter, then one IS making use of these supernatural events reliably and controllably! These are now no longer transients and rare events, especially when they can be used for various purposes. I believe this is what Dawkins is attacking. Did the psychic who found dead bodies found it all the time? Can he/she reliably do this? How come we have so many more still missing bodies and persons?

I highlighted earlier a study that concludes that mobile telephone masts do not cause the claimed illness. If you look carefully, the way that study is handled is related to what we are discussing here in the sense that any claims of something to exist MUST be convincing enough to be above the random, background "noise". For example, in that study, if you were conducting the study and you happen to be studying the person who got all of the signal correct, you'd be inclined to think that the effect is real. After all, here's the evidence - this person got it right 100% of the time!

However, this is what we call an anecdotal evidence and it doesn't rule out the possibility of chance. When we compile ALL of the statistics from other subjects, and if you bin the results (how many got it all wrong, how many got 1 right, how many got 2 right, etc... ), you'll notice that the number that got it all right is no more significant than the random fluctuation of the statistics. And the fact that even those who do not claim to be sensitive to the signal can ALSO got them all right means that one cannot rule out chance.

The criteria for something to be valid and accepted in science is utterly strict. People can argue of course that they believe in something, or such-and-such occurs, but one should not try to put it on the same category as scientific evidence. Yet, the alternative medicine community and even many of these crackpots not just claim these things to be real and valid, but also denigrate science and scientists for not accepting them via various conspiracy theory and whatnot.

It is why I applaud people like Bob Park, and certainly Dawkins for going after them. After all there has been a severe imbalance where one side of the story seems to be getting the popularity and free reign of the media, while science seems to take a back seat. It is about time someone goes after them and expose them for what they are.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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