3 flavours of science lunacy

Plenty of folks straight up hate science.

Maybe it threatens their worldview or it’s an attack on their power.

If so, good riddance to either.

But here’s the thing:

You can wave the flag of science and pretend you speak in its name… and not. In fact, it’s absurdly common. It takes a lot of training (which, weirdly, they don’t teach much, even in science degrees) and discipline to avoid this mistake.

I see three common mistakes all the time.

So let’s talk about them so you can avoid the same thing.

I’m gonna use two examples here, just for a little comparing and contrasting:

The first is one science has proven – hypnosis, because it’s me and of course I’m gonna talk about that.

The second?

Not so much science-endorsing with this one.

There’s the old thing about people’s behaviour changing with the lunar cycle. You’ve probably heard that ERs see a spike of incidents on a full moon. I’m not disputing that. But I fell into a weird corner of the internet recently where they insisted it was caused by the Moon’s gravitational pull.

Their thinking is that the Moon’s gravity affects the tides, your brain is mostly water, therefore the Moon gravity affects your brain.

That gives us two ideas – one endorsed by science, the other, not.

One definitely true, the other probably nonsense.

Here we go.

Science Lunacy 1 – “that doesn’t sound like science!”

Science has a brand. When you think of it, you probably think of machines, laboratories, data, lab coats…

Then there are things that sound like not-science, like astrology and crystal healing.

It’s unscientific to think in these terms. Science demands you follow the evidence, develop hypotheses and test them as rigorously as possible.

Most of us don’t have the resources to do that – it takes a lot of time, not to mention expertise and equipment. Instead, most of us resort to labelling things by what brand they best fit into.

When some people hear about hypnosis, they say, “that sounds like nonsense!”

I don’t care what it sounds like. What does the evidence say?

There are entire journals dedicated to studying hypnosis. Thousands of experimenters, researchers, psychologists and, yeah, hypnotists have conducted countless experiments with it. It’s real and it’s effective.

It doesn’t matter how ‘sciency’ it seems – what matters is what the experiments show.

Now let’s turn to the Moon affecting the water in your brain. Someone who thinks in terms of science’s brand will say that’s impossible.

That’s suboptimal reasoning. If you can’t prove it’s impossible, don’t say it’s impossible.

In Bayesian terms – a far more rational toolset than brand-based thinking – it’s highly improbable. If there’s any evidence to back up this gravity-based claim, you can update your assessment. In the meantime, it’s less likely than this explanation:

In psychology, myths can become real.

Imagine I said having an apple in your pocket makes you feel more confident. That sounds ridiculous, right? But if you keep hearing that – from people who aced job interviews, launched new businesses, went on hot dates, all with an apple handy – you might start to doubt your doubts.

When you try it yourself, it might make you feel more confident… simply because you expect it to.

That could be what’s happening here. If people expect to act crazier on full moons, they might.

Notice how simple that explanation is, using already-established psychological mechanisms.

Any gravity-based explanation needs enough evidence to dislodge explanations this reasonable.

Science Lunacy 2 – “science doesn’t know everything, therefore I’m right!”

When folks say science doesn’t know everything, they’re right.

When they use it to state their opinions as facts, they’re wrong.

Science could never rule out hypnosis being real. Likewise, science can’t rule out this Brain Tide model of psychology.

But you can’t compare them with equal certainty.

Even before mainstream science endorsed hypnosis, there was a ton of evidence for it. Things like hypnotic anesthesia, where people remained conscious and pain-free during major surgery – that’s been around for centuries.

Even if hypnosis wasn’t real, something weird was happening.

Compare that to the evidence for Brain Tides:

Behaviour changes with the Moon, which has a thousand other explanations for it.

There’s a cutesy analogy about tides.

And… that’s about it.

In this theory’s defence, gathering the evidence to prove this would be hard. It could be correct, just difficult to prove.

Well, guess what?

Science doesn’t care for your excuses.

If you can’t test your idea, all you can say about it is it’s an intriguing, low-confidence hypothesis. It might be right, but probably not.

Science Lunacy 3 – “a study says this, therefore science has PROVEN it!”

To be strict with our terminology, science never proves anything.

It’s excellent at disproving. But all science can do is increase the confidence that a certain theory is right.

That’s science as a whole.

An individual study can’t even say that.

One of the gold standards of science is the meta-study – rather than looking at one bit of research, it looks at as many as it can find. One study might have biased researchers, a flawed methodology or just bad luck.

Comparing many studies averages out these glitches, hence why meta-studies are so great.

Even so, I can easily find high-quality meta-studies published in the last 12 months that contradict each other.

Science gets results through the sheer crushing weight of time and data. Every study is a snowflake added to an avalanche. A single flake can’t hurt a bad idea but a billion can bury it.

We know hypnosis is real, not because ‘a study’ ‘proved’ it, but because thousands of studies have failed to disprove it.

As of this writing, there’s a lot of hubbub about intermittent fasting. A 12-week study showed it didn’t help people lose weight.

“OMG science DISPROVED intermittent fasting lol!”

It did no such thing.

I’ve slightly reduced my confidence that it helps with weight loss. Then I moved on. I’m still going to fast, especially since I never did it for the weight loss benefits. If more studies find the same thing, I’ll adjust my beliefs accordingly.

As far as I can tell, there are no studies specifically researching the Brain Tide idea. I’m sure folks are measuring brainwaves and how they change over a month, but that’s well short of probing this theory.

That means you can believe in tides in your brain if you want – just don’t pretend you’re following the science if you do.

If you’re still reading, good for you. I don’t want to patronise you, but way to have an actual attention span.

Being able to focus more over a thousand words tells me you’ll be a better hypnotic subject than most folks.

Want to unleash more of your brain’s power and really leave others in your dust?

The Neural Reset is perfect for you:


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: