Brazil Requires Literacy For a Seat In Their Congress. When Will Lancet Magazine Require The Same of Scientific Authors?

November 11th was a happy day in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was even happy for a guy named Tiririca who has just been elected to Brazil’s national legislature. The Brazilians have just one-upped California’s continued re-election of Barbara Boxer. Tiririca, “Grumpy” in Portuguese, is a professional circus clown – not one of the NCAA-like amateurs we elect up here in the states.

Regrettably, the Brazilian pun-Nazis don’t seem eager to have a clown join their Congress. They held a closed-door exam to determine if Francisco “Tiririca” Silva could actually read or write. This is a Constitutional requirement in Brazil that no doubt gives The Senator Not to Be Called Ma’am, all the more reason to bless her American Citizenship. It’s a shame Lancet Magazine doesn’t use similar criteria to determine whether a submitted article should published as academic literature. This would have saved modern science from Nutt, King and Phillips 2010 (AKA: Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis).

This preposterous contribution to the high-minded, elite journal Lancet, makes the following logical fallacy masquerade in print as a logical conclusion.

MCDA modelling showed that heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals (part scores 34, 37, and 32, respectively), whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others (46, 21, and 17, respectively). Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) in second and third places.

(Nutt, King and Phillips, 2010).

The cryptic MCDA modeling described above is shorthand for multicriteria decision analysis. This process involves getting a large group of individuals deemed as subject matter experts to voice their opinion on how to make a hard decision. The process involves applying a set of agreed-upon scores to what is generally qualitative or subjective data.

Ops Research Cubicle Trolls like bad, ole moi use this sort of thing to decide how many nukes we let Iran build before bribing Israel to blow them up. It’s a way of making decision in the absence of credible and evaluable scientific data.

Often life truly is remarkably short of mathematical data. Guys like me get trained to solve all sorts of cool things like Differential Equations, and then never, not even in our grossest nerd-fantasies, get handed ANY quantifiable data labeled “dF(x)/dt.” Decision analysis gets pulled out when we chair some sort of an ad hoc BOGSAT and have to make a rapid, credible and defendable decision; that employs mathematical reasoning, in the utter absence of normalized, scientific data. In other words, this is to be used when science is utterly unavailable – not as a valid replacement for the scientific method.

If I were plying my trade at US Army TRADOC; rather than working in a cost shop, I could invent just the right MCDA criteria to prove that the old Roman Gladius posed a much greater threat than the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union. Just make a data field entitled “Historically Documented Inflicted Casualties” the dominant weighted criterion in my analysis and the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union wouldn’t hurt a fly. The humble gladius has probably caused more accidental deaths on the set of Russell Crowe movies.

But, we return to the paper at hand. The Nutt, King and Phillips 2010 – Job that claims alcohol is a more dangerous drug than heroin, crack or meth. The last time any logical human looked at the experimental design involved here, alcohol was legal to more people, under more circumstances in the UK, than it is the US. The same statement could not be made with respect to heroin, crack or meth since the Brits gave up on fighting Opium Wars in Southeast Asia.

Of course these pathetic, pondering, piddle-sticks of nonsensical pontification couldn’t just admit that they BS’ed up a handy-dandy criterion that could be tweaked just a hair and reveal a hitherto-unknown tendency among rivers to flow uphill. Instead they grace our literary ears with the language of SCIENCE!! William M. Brigs offers us some example of the lurid prose serving to camouflage the utterly botched arts of logical reasoning.

This proposal was surely put to a vote—just as the list of harmful drugs would be—and the motions were carried. The gang then elected a leader, who we are assured was “an independent specialist in decision analysis modelling. He applied methods and techniques that enable groups to work effectively as a team, enhancing their capability to perform, thereby improving the accuracy of individual judgments.” What could possibly go wrong?

When they finished, the cabal of voters realized they were on to something big. Their scientific findings were so shocking that they “correlate poorly with present UK drug classification, which is not based simply on considerations of harm.” Press releases would have to be written! Policies would have to change!

(HT: wmbriggs.com)

I’m sitting here wondering why I never get tasked to these glorious MCDA panels? I’m much happier using alcohol than heroin, meth, or crack. Of course this wasn’t science in a form Thomas Kuhn, Voltaire or Einstein would recognize, acknowledge or even, in a pinch, wipe their butts with. The authors had a conclusion in mind three pints prior to their first stab at any actual “research.”

You don’t empanel a BOGSAT to answer questions for which the mortuaries, hospitals and rehab centers throughout the UK offer you factual, quantitative data. If this topic were pursued with any honor at all, the meticulous reams of data that professionals take every year on the topic of abused substances might have really come in handy. But this study, and much of what we get out “Scientists” these days has nothing to do at all with any methodology that was even as professionally skeptical as that set forth by William of Ockham.

Back 1320, when Ockham studied his scrolls at U of Oxford, they essentially did it better than authors published in internationally recognized journals like Lancet do it today. This is because William of Ockham really wanted to acquire knowledge. He wasn’t just putting on a show. This brings us back around to the predicament faced by poor, old, grumpy Francisco “Tiririca” Silva. He may not have enough literacy to serve in the legislature back in Brazil, but I’m sure his logical acumen could be no more lacking than that of the authors published in the next edition of Lancet.