How deductive reasoning can lead us to stupid conclusions

“Elementary, my dear Watson… “

Let’s say you are a researcher hard at work analyzing results from your current medical project. You have a large number of available options that may affect the results of that research before coming to any published conclusions. (And if Big Pharma is funding your research, you likely have considerable motivation to skew those results to favour their product). What you will certainly be most interested in is simply interpreting your existing data by applying deductive reasoning to come up with “The Truth”. In other words, what are you going to tell the world that your findings mean? But according to the clever scientific minds over at Photon In The Darkness, deductive reasoning is not all it’s cracked up to be:

“Deductive reasoning is defined as ‘an argument where the conclusion is a logical consequence of its premise’. Many believe that if their conclusions follow logically from their premises, then their conclusions must be true. But this reasoning can be either valid (if the conclusions are logical consequences of their premises) or invalid (if they are not).

There is no true.”

In an essay last year called Deductive Mis-Reasoning,  filed under their Help For The Bewildered section, Photon In The Darkness offers us the perfect simplistic example of flawed deductive reasoning at work: the iconic fictional police detective, Sherlock Holmes. Continue reading

The Lucky Stockbroker Syndrome and other ways to skew medical study results

This week, I happened upon an essay in Photon In The Darkness called A Layperson’s Guide to the Scientific Literature. While much of this site looks at the subject of autism and the growth of sensational theories based on individual experiences rather than medical research, there is much here about pseudoscience that certainly helps me, a dull-witted heart attack survivor, understand more about how to interpret ‘research’ that scientists (or their Big Pharma pals, whichever the case may be) publish in medical journals.

For example, this Layperson’s Guide discusses a phenomenon called The Lucky Stockbroker Syndrome that can lead to reinforcement of individual experiences, based on the following analogy:

“A stockbroker decides to try a new money-making scheme. He gets a list of 10,000 potential clients and sends half of them a letter telling them that a certain stock will rise in value over the next week. To the other half of the list, he sends a letter saying that the same stock will fall in value.

“The next week, he sends letters to the half of his list (5,000 people) that got the correct prediction – again, half of them are told that a certain stock will go up in price and the other half are told that the stock price will fall. This goes on for a total of six weeks.

“At the end of this time, he has a list of 156 people who have – by random chance – received six consecutive correct predictions about stock prices. He then offers these people an expensive five-year subscription to his stock-picking service, which they gladly purchase, thinking that he has some amazing system for predicting the stock market.”   Continue reading