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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Critical Thinking

What is critical thinking? We all make mistakes even when we are intentially trying to think critically. I recently posted a comment on a blog criticizing big pharma and the FDA for their influence on science. The first rebuttal I received informed the world that I was a left winger with an anti-science attitude, and that I lacked critical thinking skills.

The statement was, "The biggest problem facing medical science comes from the Pharmaceutical industry and the FDA".

The rebuttal: "This is an excellent example of the anti-scientific thinking on the left. The science isn't the problem in the pharmaceutical industry or the FDA (capitalism and deregulation are the problems)."

Now let's break down the rebuttal in terms of critical thinking.

Question A: I'm a left winger.

The comment that I made was on a left wing blog. That is the bias that a critical thinker must avoid. I made no comment regarding my political viewpoints.

Question B: I'm anti-science.

Once it was assumed that I was a left winger it must be assumed that I am vehemently against all things that involve authority. However I made no negative comments regarding science. Rather I derided the influence big pharma and the FDA is having on the scientific process in medicine.

The last sentence, "The science isn't the problem in the pharmaceutical industry or the FDA" represents the real break down in critical thinking.

I say the science (X) is good. Big pharma (Y) and the FDA (Z) have a negative influence on science (X).

The rebuttal says that X isn't the problem in Y and Z. In parenthesis we see that capitalism (C) and deregulation (D) are the problems.

I claim that Y and Z have negatively influenced X.

The rebuttal claims that C and D have negatively influenced Y and Z.

It is assumed then (in the rebuttal) that X is merely a subset of Y and Z and thus cannot be influenced by them.

Science is never a subset of any other organization. It exists in the minds of men. It can be used by anyone who choses to try it. When big pharma goes through the FDA to put a drug on the market they are telling us that they used science to determine that the drug will alleviate some ailment that occurs in the human body. Quite often this is not the case. They manipulate data, which does not serve those engaged in the scientific process. Since the process involves many people putting together many pieces of the puzzle, anyone throwing in nonsense will create confusion along the path to the truth. They hire scientists but use their own ghost writers to write up the papers for the hired scientists to sign their names to. This is a shamefully anti-science practice meant to lend credence to the companies non-scientific marketing of their product.

I could go on but I'll stop there. The problem I encountered with my comment was that it appeared that I was attacking science. We want advances in medicine as much as the Cargo Cults want the cargo. We look to any organization who employs "science" to bring us our hopes and dreams in a neat little pill. The problem is that science is more than white lab coats and big words. You have to have the ability to cut through your biases and think critically about the issues at hand. What really matters? Nature will let you know if you set up your experiments properly. If you consider science a subset of the corporate process then you will have a hard time getting to the truth.

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