Two Ways to ‘Misthink’ about Biology

Consider this a cultural reflection of a sort. In multiple COVID-related discussions, I see two common errors regarding how biology is done (well, more than that, akshually, but if you are unhappy with only two errors, you always can avail yourself of the Mad Biologist’s Money Back Guarantee™). The first error has to do with ‘crazy hypotheses.’

Biologists propose lots of hypotheses about stuff and sometimes those hypotheses are pretty crazy, especially when we see something ‘weird’! Then biologists do some more work & realize that it wasn’t so dramatic (hopefully, there’s still something interesting, so you didn’t completely waste your time). This happens all the time: a first glance suggests something interesting or novel, only to vanish after careful consideration.

This might have some relevance to some emails about whether or not COVID-19 was engineered in a lab. Just saying.

The second error is to overemphasize the importance of a single study. One study is an interesting finding, but we always need additional studies and lines of evidence. One would think people would’ve learned this from various health studies (e.g., nutrition) long before the pandemic, but I guess… some of us didn’t. On a related note, when we have multiple studies, often a couple will contradict each other–this, too, is normal. You then have to review those studies for potential flaws, confounding variables, inability to generalize to certain situations, and so on (literature reviews, how do they work?). You actually have to understand the methodology and have some domain expertise. And reasonable people can and do disagree about these things!

Anyway, just something to keep in mind as the COVID-19 political discussion continues to ramp up.

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