Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Decent Measure of The Harmful Effects of Drugs

The following chart shows the classifications of drugs as proposed in the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Class A substances being the most harmful and class C drugs being the least harmful. The penalties attributed to the drugs are also determined by the class of drug used.

The mean harm score based upon the scoring of independent experts is presented below. As can be seen, the current classes of drugs do not correlate with the scores attributed to the drugs by medical professionals and the scientific literature used in this meta-analysis.

The below chart is scored from 0-3, with 0 being no risk,
1 some, 2 moderate, and 3 extreme risk.

If we assume that the results of this study are an accurate representation of the apparent harm of the drugs studied, obviously, the current classification system is not objectively based upon the physical harm, societal harm, or addictiveness of the drugs.

Sometimes people are too quick to jump to conclusions when certain drugs are proposed to be legalized, cannabis being one example. What is needed are more objective studies that get rid of the political baggage so that we can actually make informed decisions about the dangers of drugs.

Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse
The Lancet, Volume 369, March 24, 2007, Issue 9566, Pages 1047-1053
D. Nutt, L. King, W. Saulsbury, C. Blakemore

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On the Topic of Intellectual Dishonesty

Intellectual dishonesty sometimes creeps into the scientific world and should be squashed like bug whenever found. So, What is the problem with intellectual dishonesty?

A person may believe in something or hold a belief in something and be wrong without knowing, this is commonly referred to as "ignorance". But, when a person believes a certain thing, yet advocates the opposite point of view in order to obtain an educational degree in science, that is called "intellectual dishonesty".

Let's go through some of the positions that a Christian young earth creationist takes.
  1. The earth is 6000 years old.
  2. Noah's ark was around 4000 years ago and water covered the entire earth
  3. Noah's ark contained all species minus salt water fish.
  4. Species divergence occurred in 4000 years and 99% of all species went extinct in that 4000 years.
  5. People somehow lived to the age of +900 years old
  6. God created the universe with light already on its way to earth.
  7. The central tenets of Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are flawed.
  8. Evolution by natural selection doesn't occur.
  9. Dinosaurs and people lived together. (the Flintstones was a documentary)
  10. Not swayed by evidence, but convinced by poorly formed idiotic bronze age myths.
  11. Blind Faith > Scientific Method
Well, guess what University of Hawaii, there are two creationists that I know of who want to obtain graduate degrees in natural sciences from your school.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

On my Personal Philosophy: Scientific Material Probabalism

Written as a time-capsule on my current worldview, to be read over in subsequent years to examine how and when my philosophy evolves:

At the current date 7-02-09, my philosophy is one of my own making. I purport that the best way to view the world is through the universal solvent that is called modern science. How should we judge the validity of ideas? I propose that the only way to properly judge the truth claims made by others is to use the scientific method. When the scientific method is inapplicable or evidence is not forthright, healthy skepticism and logical rationalization followed by probabilistic approaches will suffice as tentative devices.

I feel it necessary to create a self-definition of what my philosophy is, so as to refer back to this definition in the future. I must admit that I am reluctant to use a word or concept that already has a school of philosophy tied to it, but perhaps a combination of terms will lessen the confusion of terms.

"Scientific Material Probabalism"

Science is the main theme of this philosophical worldview. By using the tenants of inductive reasoning and empirical testing, science has been the most successful tool in discerning truth claims from falsehoods. By taking the scientific method we come to an understanding that so far there is no evidence of supernatural events, hence the following of materialism. Probabalism comes into the picture when we start to talk about the limitations of scientific findings, knowledge and "proving" things. I propose (it has been iterated many times before by philosophers of science) that in science something can never be known to 100% certainty, therefore one has to look at the findings of science in a probabilistic fashion. e.g. Creationism 1.6*10^-35 % (this is made up and is actually the Planck length if you wanted to know where I got the number from) chance of being true, while evolution 99.9999...% true. But what about claims that are 50-50, or even claims with which we have no answers for? A tenet of the philosophy is the willing acceptance to say "I don't know". When "I don't know"'s are found, that is when you can do either of two things: be content with not knowing at the moment or actively pursue the answer to the proposed question.

A common criticism towards scientific findings is that "science changes and paradigm shifts occur which turns science on its head" or "look scientists said eating eggs is bad ->good -> bad -> good etc...." I propose that the pragmatic approach is best to deal with such statements. So what if our current understanding of gravity is wrong, will airplanes fall out of the sky if a specific type of quantum gravity is found to be more accurate than general relativity? Perhaps the best definition of science is found in the following book:

Sagan, Carl, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark". Ballantine Books, March 1997 ISBN 0-345-40946-9, 480 pgs.

Science is a process, a self-correcting process that changes, this is the beauty of science, the strength of science, and by no means a Weakness.

Now on to moralistic properties of this philosophy. Recently, Sam Harris, HERE, made comments on using science to compare political ideologies and practices in order to form a new political system that promotes social wellness, equality, while maintaining high levels of prosperity. (No, this is not communism or utopianism, it is a progressive stance) I would go one step further and compare cultural practices, I will state that different cultural practices are harmful to a society (nationalism, tribalism, harmful religious practices). The major stepping stone for this type of scientific social study would be, what combination of factors (social well being, equality, freedoms, happiness) should be maximized? I will not delve into the subject of social engineering as this is an extremely deep field, but I hope that the reader can understand the direction that i was going in with what is written above.

Now, what about individual moral actions or moral stances. I propose a new definition called "moral probabalism" (not to be confused with the 16th century catholic philosophy.) The main stance of this philosophy is that a moral action much be approached individually (every case is different) and judged based upon the context surrounding the action taken or being taken, with all of the information available at the time an action must be taken or not taken based upon the probability of the outcome connected to a certain value property. As to what the value property is it has to be defined at the moment, it could be for the good of an individual, for the planet, for the species, etc...

to be continued......