Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fail Quote of the Day: Another Vox Day post destroyed

| »
[source: ORC Forensics]

I had a few other news items to read and possibly blog about before getting to this one, but upon skimming this latest attack by Vox Day on science and those who practice it, I found myself facepalming hard enough to hurt. (Literally. And repeatedly.) Here’s a post that’s so tellingly ignorant and idiotic as to settle the hypothetical question of why those who actually have even a rudimentary grasp on the scientific method continually dismiss Vox as some silly nuisance:

In which a scientific experiment indicates that replacing fallible eyewitness testimony with "scientific evidence" such as DNA would be a really bad idea:

Interpreting alleles in a joined or partial sample is where the subjective opinion of an algebraist could play a part. To test this, New Scientist teamed up by Itiel Dror, a neuroscientist at University College London and head of Cognitive Consultants International, and Greg Hampikian of Boise State University in Idaho.

We took a mixed sample of DNA evidence from an actual crime scene- a coterie rape committed in Georgia, US- which helped to convict a fortify called Kerry Robinson, who is currently in prison. We presented it, and Robinson’s DNA contour, to 17 experienced analysts working in the same accredited government lab in the US, out of any contextual information that might bias their judgement.

In the spring case, two analysts from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Robinson “could not have existence excluded” from the crime scene sample, based on his DNA profile. (A second man convicted of the same crime also testified that Robinson was an assailant, in return for a lesser jail term.) Each of our 17 analysts independently examined the profiles from the DNA ad~, the victim’s profile and those of two other suspects and was asked to connoisseur whether the suspects’ profiles could be “excluded”, “cannot be excluded” or whether the results were “indecisive”.

If DNA analysis were totally objective, then all 17 analysts should get to the same conclusion. However, we found that just one agreed through the original judgement that Robinson “cannot be excluded”. Four analysts related the evidence was inconclusive and 12 said he could be excluded.

What science fetishists consistently fail to understand is that scientists are the weakest link in the reliability of science. The scientific method is reliable only insofar as the humans who perform the observations and test the results are reliable. And there is no shortage of evidence, scientific and otherwise, to show that scientists are as intrinsically unreliable as every other collection of human beings.

It may not be immediately obvious to laypeople why what Vox wrote was so epically clueless, so bear with me. First of all, his claim that scientists don’t realize that it’s we flawed humans who are the least reliable aspect of the practice of science is utterly false. Scientists certainly do realize that the human condition inherently casts a shroud of doubt and uncertainty upon just about everything we do, particularly in a practice as purposefully objective as that of science. Hell, they’re even the first to come out and declare the weaknesses and limitations of being human. It’s also why they’ve developed so many various tools, techniques and protocols to try and bypass as many human flaws and potential resultant errors as possible.

Of course, it’s only natural that some screw-ups will still slip through every now and then; the important thing is to catch them when they do, rectify them, and learn from our mistakes. This is something scientists are becoming increasingly excellent at and it’s the reason why science in itself enjoys such a reputation for being self-correcting. For Vox to claim otherwise is either a lie or a strawman.

But even then, what really takes the cake is how Vox actually uses a case – as in, one single report (that appears to have been filtered through an online translator or something) – of forensic “science” as a basis to launch an attack against scientists. For those who know what this entails, it’s beyond moronic and soundly confirms the fact that, once again, Vox doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

You see, there’s a reason why forensics is being cast in an increasingly skeptical light as reports keep piling up and revealing just how biased and inconsistent the work of even the best forensic experts can be. This is probably due to the fact that forensics is most certainly not an actual scientific discipline to begin with! Forensics is a mere tool, a system that has a basis in scientific principles, but is is not science in itself, and those who practice it may or may not be actual scientists, themselves. Most of their work involves combining methods of street detectives with the work of lab techs. It’s not exactly concrete scientific research.

In other words, Vox just used a non-scientific practice as a basis to smear actual scientists in fields of actual, hard science. Really, words can barely express just how stretched and transparently ignorant that is.

Again, to most people, this may sound like somewhat of a trivial exception to take with Vox’s post, but one must understand just how risible Vox is in claiming to be some sort of light of reason when he so arrogantly and ignorantly derides actual experts who are endlessly more knowledgeable and competent than he is in using arguments that are this downright foolish. He sounds desperate and pathetic – and I suspect that such is for good reason, if this is the sort of criticism he’s stooped to at this point.