DANGEROUS PRECEDENT: SCIENCE BY CONSENSUS (UPDATED)

THE WAY IT NORMALLY WORKS ...

 Am I Next? Will a  Judge Use Science by Consensus in a Ruling?

UPDATE: AUGUST 10, 2018 -- JURY AWARDS A CANCER-STRICKEN INDIVIDUAL $290 MILLION

"A San Francisco jury ruled in favor of a former Benicia Unified School District groundskeeper who claimed the chemical glyphosate – contained in the popular herbicide “Roundup' – caused his cancer."

"The jury ordered that Roundup manufacturer Monsanto pay Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who is suffering from terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, nearly $290 million in damages. The breakdown was $819,882 for loss of past earnings; $1,403,327 in future earnings; $4 million in past non-economic losses and $33 million in future non-economic losses. When it came to punitive damages, the jury awarded Johnson $250 million of the $373 million he had sought.

“This jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of Johnson’s legal team. “This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto.” 

"Following the verdict, Scott Partridge, a Monsanto vice president, issued the following statement: “We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family. Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews – and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world – support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer. We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others.” < Source>  

Let us not forget the consensus banning of DDT which lead to the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of individuals from the ravages of mosquito-born diseases. 

Original Post...

Most federal judges are lawyers, some because they found that science was too hard or not to their liking. Now we are finding that some of these very same judges are often presiding over cases that represent existential threats to science, companies that rely on science, and innocent consumers who assume a certain risk when they purchase a product or service that is theoretically safe. 

Judge Vince Chhabria sitting in the U.S. District Court for Northern California (San Francisco) will spend a week or so hearing from court-approved experts to help decide whether there is valid scientific evidence to support the hundreds of damage claims that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killer can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Reportedly, Judge Chhabria “will not determine if the cancer connection exists, but whether the claim has been tested, reviewed and published and is widely accepted in the scientific community.”

 Am I Next? Science by Consensus

Which reveals the dangerous precedent: science by consensus. Truth be told, scientific consensus is an oxymoron as a single research paper can falsify decades of fashionable or agreed-upon science.  

In the words of the late scientist/author Michael Crichton,  “I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled ... Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world ... The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.” 

Perhaps the most famous and credible example of what can go wrong is the tale of “junk science” environmentalism used to have the pesticide DDT banned – leading to the horrible deaths of millions of individuals who were stricken by diseases borne by mosquitos. 

Let’s consider some of the biases that may be involved.

The peer-review bias … few people understand that peer-review is a journal publishing process designed to preserve the journal’s reputation by weeding out craziness and ensuring that the material presented is clear and understandable to its qualified audience. Reviewers do not replicate experiments, they do not independently analyze the data, nor do they vouch for the author’s conclusions. The fact that research appears in a well-respected journal that uses the peer-review process is almost meaningless; especially when the reviewers are colleagues of the author or have substantially the same viewpoint. 

The correlation bias … the results of applying statistical methodologies to a dataset may produce some result, but may not answer fundamental questions. First, is the variable or variables under examination the correct variable(s) to test in a world with a multiplicity of both dependent and independent variables? Second, does correlation imply causation? And third, what is the probability that the result is not an error? All recreational drug users drink water, and the correlation is one-hundred percent. But the real question is, while drinking water correlates with drug use, does drinking water cause drug use? 

The inherent sponsorship bias … it is well known that institutions, researchers, and projects that are aligned with the agenda of the sponsor are more likely to be funded than research the falsifies previous significant and costly research. And, as we have seen numerous times in the past, research that is adverse to the sponsor’s position is either abandoned or buried in reams of irrelevancy. This leads to a strategic error in thinking. Since pro-research papers will outnumber con-research papers, can one rely on the number of papers published to determine a scientific truth? 

Searching the literature is not always the answer.

And, one might suspect that the venality of the well-paid attorneys who may be betting on some form of pre-trial multi-million dollar settlement might be the impetus for the cases.

Already, I am seeing attorneys soliciting cases on television using the opening "Legal Alert" and widely advertising their 1-800 number to farmers, landscapers, and heavy exposure residential users. Using the tagline, "If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma after being exposed to a popular weed killer, you may be entitled to compensation. Call for more information."

 Am I Next? Roundup Weed-killer and Herbicide Under Attack

Should Monsanto be forced to curtail the use of their popular weed-killer, Roundup," you can be that there will be a significant number of employees who will be, as the night follows the day, losing their jobs. 


Are you wondering Am I Next?