Show me the research

Someone pointed out one of my failings the other day. And you know what, he’s right. I’ve neglected one tenet of critical thinking: don’t blindly accept the results without first confirming the research and the methodology.

Whenever I see some wierd statistic I should be asking how they came up with that figure. I should be challenging people about where they get them. No one shows sources anymore. They just spout numbers and expect everyone to trust them. Except there’s one small problem with that.

People lie.

If there’s one thing we should have learned by now is that people will say anything in support of their pet causes. They’ll cherry-pick data. They’ll skip over more recent research to select outdated research that fits their predetermined conclusions. And if they can’t find at least highly-questionable research to back them up? They’ll lie. Fabricate. Make stuff up. Because studies have shown that 89% of people will pass along information presented as fact without questioning it. See, I just made that up, but since it sounds true enough, why question it, right?

Except a lie that sounds true is still a lie.

I need to call them on it. Oh, I know what will happen. I’ll get called names. They’ll claim I don’t care about the horrific plight of {fill-in-the-blank}. They’ll castigate me up one side and down the other for even suggesting they’re not telling the absolute, irrefutably truthy Truth.

But at least I won’t be anti-science.

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Speaking of research and science, a group at Stanford University decided to conduct an experiment on just what people might reveal through their mobile phone metadata. They got a group of volunteers willing to let them record information on their calls similar to what the infamous NSA data-gathering project might collect. With such a small group over such a short time they figured they wouldn’t find much. They were wrong. Read more on Ars Technica.