A single swallow does not a summer make

Some folks who are against vaccines, mask-wearing, and so on refer to research papers to support their view.

PAPERS WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WITH NO CREDENTIALS IN THE FIELD

Often, these are not studies. They are theoretical papers written by folks with no credentials in the field. The only thing they have going for them is that they are presented in a format that makes them look scientific at first glance. And this trick sometimes works. If you are not used to reading and evaluating scientific papers, and you don’t have much knowledge about the field, you can be misled to think this is actually serious science.

SINGLE SWALLOW STUDIES

Occasionally, these are single studies that find something different from what was found in innumerable other studies. These studies go against the mainstream. It’s always like that in science. There will always be outliers. And, often, they are outliers because they use a small sample size or otherwise weak or bad methodology. For these outliers to have any value, their findings need to be replicated by several other studies using solid methods. A single swallow does not a summer make.

HOW SCIENCE WORKS

Medical science relies on solid methodology and replication. One or a few studies finding something doesn’t mean much. It’s only when a large number of independent researchers find the same or similar results, using methods other cannot find a serious fault with, that something is taken more seriously. And even then, it’s provisional since future research may find something else.

We cannot cherry pick from outlier studies to support our view. At most, it can be interesting information to hold very lightly. It’s clearly not anything to base our views or life choices on.

WHEN WE CHOSE BAD INFORMATION

In one sense, it’s understandable if people are misled by papers that look serious but aren’t, or take a single study and say “this is how it is and everything else is wrong”. They want something to be true and cling to any straw that can help them support it.

In another sense, it shows a lack of commitment to reality. They know they are not experts in the field. They know they are not used to reading or relating to these types of papers. They know innumerable other studies show something else. They know the view among people with solid credentials in the field is different. And yet they pretend they know the outlier view is true. They promote it to others. And they use it to promote irresponsible behavior. That is inexcusable.

DRAFT

And sometimes, these are single studies that found something else than innumerable other studies. They go against the mainstream. It’s always like that in science. There will always be outliers. And, often, they are outliers because they use a small sample size or otherwise bad methodology. For these outliers to have any value, their findings need to be replicated by several other studies using solid methods. A single swallow does not a summer make.

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