When talking about things that are controversal, often "pragmatic"
arguments come up that refer to statistics, quotes and other evidence
which are "common sense", but of which nobody seems to really know the
Like, in a recent discussion about
vegetarism, me and my interlocutor wondered whether anyone really made
reliable studies about whether the production of meat and milk is less
efficient and more polluting than the production of vegetables which can
supplement meat and milk. I am a convinced vegetarian, for moral
reasons (though I am not a vegan for purely pragmatic reasons), and I
would still be a vegetarian if it was more polluting than eating meat,
but anyway, this question is interesting.
seems to be common sense, and I dont really doubt that its true.
Producing meat doesnt just need grassy green stuff, cows need corn,
which needs a lot of nutrients to grow, which therefore needs manure
which pollutes the ground water. The question is, in the end, if we grew
vegetables directly instead of cow-food, could we get the proteines
people need more efficiently? I dont really doubt this, and many people
claim that, its sort of "common sense", but I dont know any single study
verifying this, and actually, I doubt that most of the people claiming
Same is for the whole
climate-change-discussions. There are studies, but who is really
interested in them? Most people just claim what their ideology dictates
them, as you always find some study giving you a better position.
for drugs (on which I recently blogged), there is a lot of "common
sense" about illegal drugs and people dying because of them, some people
claim that additional restrictions would reduce the number of deaths,
some people (like me) claim that it will be the other way around. There
are studies, but they are hard to get for ordinary people.
for crime. Some pople claim that stricter penalties decrease crime.
Some people say that they are useless, some even claim that in some
cases penalties which are too hard can be counterproductive and increase
the relapse rates for criminals.
The problem is that normally
people are redirected to "experts" on a topic, if they are interested in
a topic. On the one hand, there is the Press™ that should make such
information available to a broad audience without requiring them to get
deeply into that topic. Papers and magazines may be useful if one wants
to know about stuff happening in the world, but with all that tabloid
newspapers and ad-sponsored magazines many people (like me) doubt that
they are a good source for this type of information. For example,
whenever I read an anteroom-paper about some topic I know, I see a lot
of wrong or misleading information, sometimes I even see what exactly
the people writing that article didnt understand. So I conclude that the
same holds for topics I am not familiar with. Why should I read them
(except when I am in an anteroom without having anything to do anyway).
the other hand, even first-hand experts often are affiliated to
interests like funding or selling stuff, and of course, ideology (which
is in my opinion good for research, but bad for objective discussions).
And of course, they get their information either from other experts or
from research results they read themselves.
Therefore, it would
be nice if there was a sort of newspaper that tries to give its readers
exact information about the statistics and research papers studies rely
on, without requiring them to know every detail. Knowing every detail of
every topic is basically not possible, but it should be a major goal to
make it easy for people to get into details of every interest when
needed. That is, if somebody makes a claim, dont ask him for
consequences of his claim, ask him why precisely he made that claim and
what it bases on, discuss with people who think different. A discussion
between two scientists having different opinions should in many cases be
more interesting than an interview.