Should we be Skeptical in Science?


| 7 Comments
When scientists do experiments, they try to prove a predetermined hypothesis. But what if the experiment is flawed and goes unquestioned for years? If this is the case, the results of the experiment will be thought upon as 'correct' for years until it is widely accepted as flawed and irrelevant to the subject at hand. Back in the 1970's there was an experiment done on monkeys to see if smoking marijuana was harmful to the brain. The results clearly showed that the monkeys had brain damage from the experiment. For years this result was widely accepted for the results, but most people don't know what the experiment was. The monkeys were forced to inhale extreme, unrealistic amounts of smoke in a five minute period. The results showed brain damage but was the brain damage caused by the smoke from the marijuana? In class we talked about how correlation doesn't always mean causation. Could the brain damage have been caused by a lack of oxygen flow to their brain? In the documentary, "The Union", scientists explain that the brain damage was indeed caused by insufficient oxygen flow to the brain. More recent studies done in 1992 found different results. In this study, the monkeys were exposed to a much more realistic amount of marijuana for lengths up to a year. In this study, there was no evidence of brain damage. Now that both of these findings are out, which one do we believe?
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How is it possible to have an experiment's results be accepted for years, only to learn later that the experiment was flawed? In this case, the results weren't consistent to findings in more recent experiments. Is this example one of many, is this a common thing to happen in science, or is it just a lone example of regulatory failure in the science community. My question is, can we trust all of the findings that come out of science journals and other published essays, or should we always remain skeptical? If we should remain skeptical, how can we believe the things that we read in science journals? 

7 Comments

I really like your blog post because I wonder about this all the time. I am a little bit more optimistic about science being flawed because it means that there is always room for growth. Its really is crazy to believe that one day everything we know now might not be true in the future. The marijuana issue is a lot bigger than science it really has more to do with politics. But, I don't see where the two studies contradict each other because in the second study you said the amount of smoke was more realistic so therefore the monkeys didn't have brain damage. And that the brain damage in the first one was due to the unrealistic amount of smoke which basically suffocated the brain?

I love the concept of this blog and your final statements with regards to what can we trust since science has failed in prior occasions (in my opinion). Like Andrew said last week I believe, science seems to be about presenting your opinion on a matter, backing it up with "science", and letting others then tear your work apart. So what should we actually trust when it comes to reading a science journal? Only 40 years ago, they seemed to mess up this study with the monkeys and marijuana. While that is not far in the past, I see fewer mistakes being made in the future because of increases in technology and also continuously having more "findings" to work off of. As time goes on, I think one should become less and less skeptical about science. But then again, nothing, even science, is perfect....

This was a great way to not only focus on the affects that marijuana has on the brain, but also on the way scientists conduct different experiments. Knowing that sometimes the results of an experiment can be due to other facotrs gives me the motive to actually look into what was being done before believeing a new study. Reading this blog left me questioning why scientist never question outside factors before plotting out the reasons behind things, this marijunana study as an example, shows that there are times other factors during an experiment may play a role.

I love how someone actually questioned this and decided to blog about this topic because it is something that I have been wondering as well. For your first question, I think it really depends on the topic. For example, I think that everyone can agree that all the research revolving around if smoking is bad for you is pretty legit. But, for things like marijuana, how can we be so sure it is THAT bad for your brain? The report mentioned earlier even mentioned that it got proven that it was in fact a lack oxygen that caused the monkeys' brains to turn out of sync. So, I would say articles and research that have been proven should be taken seriously for the most part. But, depending on the legitimacy of the article and the topic, it is not farfetched by any means to be skeptical.

Interesting point and post. I've often wondered about this sort of thing myself. When a study is found to prove something, how sure are we that it isn't by way of some large experimental error? This is different than the prayer experiment we talked about in class. Obviously, there is possibility that the monkeys' extensive brain damage was due to chance. Rather, there had to be something that caused their brains to change for the worse. What we need to look at with a critical eye is if that change was intended or unintended. The lack of oxygen to the brain was an unintended mistake to the experiment's design.

Do we know who discovered that the oxygen was the cause of the brain damage? Is the documentary just about this experiment or about more than this?

Interesting point and post. I've often wondered about this sort of thing myself. When a study is found to prove something, how sure are we that it isn't by way of some large experimental error? This is different than the prayer experiment we talked about in class. Obviously, there is possibility that the monkeys' extensive brain damage was due to chance. Rather, there had to be something that caused their brains to change for the worse. What we need to look at with a critical eye is if that change was intended or unintended. The lack of oxygen to the brain was an unintended mistake to the experiment's design.

Do we know who discovered that the oxygen was the cause of the brain damage? Is the documentary just about this experiment or about more than this?

Interesting point and post. I've often wondered about this sort of thing myself. When a study is found to prove something, how sure are we that it isn't by way of some large experimental error? This is different than the prayer experiment we talked about in class. Obviously, there is possibility that the monkeys' extensive brain damage was due to chance. Rather, there had to be something that caused their brains to change for the worse. What we need to look at with a critical eye is if that change was intended or unintended. The lack of oxygen to the brain was an unintended mistake to the experiment's design.

Do we know who discovered that the oxygen was the cause of the brain damage? Is the documentary just about this experiment or about more than this?

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