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April 6, 2006

The Blindingly Obvious

Interesting how much effort, nowadays, is going into proving what we ought already to know: Life evolved in part from climbing from the sea to the land. Prayer by strangers can't improve health. Next? A double-blind study of whether psychics can solve crime? Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea. Maybe this -- the eradication of superstition -- is a slower process than we thought. Maybe you have to keep at it. Maybe disbelievers, not believers, should be calling for more of these studies.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at April 6, 2006 10:56 PM


You seem to believe that the "double-blind study" is a handy truth test, like a perfected metrocard that opens all turnstyles, that can be confidently administered to any question, turns red or blue within 15 minutes and then we "know".

Double binding merely removes one of the simplest sources of error from the experimental situation. It certainly doesn't guarantee that the results are true. It's like a surgeon scrubbing his hands before an operation: it doesn't mean the operation will be a success. The most important use of the term is to create journalistic factoids. No one wants to look at the study, particularly the assumptions that underly its question and its methodology. Just say it's double-blinded and it gains a vague air of facticity. The vagueness is in fact part of the effect: few of the people who read the words daily really know what double-blinding is -- but accepting the paradox that closing the eyes twice makes science better able to see , gives the reader a little transcendent thrill, a little" thus sayeth the lord", or at least a boost of confidence, "one more step towards truth, thank goodness". It's just that silly religious urge transfered to science. And science manipulates that urge as ruthlessly as once did the religious establishment (granted many benevolent intentions to both institutions as well): the current and still underplayed scandal of me-too prescription drugs owes a lot to the equation of "double-blind" with "true".

Posted by: mark shulgasser at April 10, 2006 12:27 PM

You jumped both feet on the mere mention of the double blind study.

While both science and religion are belief systems and both have theology, one is open to the continual revision of "what is out there" and the other(s) is closed to revision as much as possible.
The double-blind study is an important tool in research and is not at all responsible for the scandals at the FDA.

If science was as riddled with irrationality as "religion" is, we would not be communicating on these magic electronic boxes.

Posted by: Jay Saul at April 16, 2006 10:48 PM

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