Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Interactive Science Series
Q: I am all confused. We get controversial research reports. Then some experts contradict them. Who should we believe in when both are from the field of science?
Krishna: I do agree with you. When there is pressure on researchers, they don't follow the scientific methodology properly, tweak the results, p-hack and try to publish as many papers as possible which effect the scientific world. Then when people from the fields like industry, business, politics, religion etc. try to 'influence' the research by providing funds, we get chimeras all around. Ordinary people will definitely get confused.
Recently a student asked me a Q. It seems he read in the papers that flossing doesn't have much effect on dental health. But his mother asks him to floss as his dentist told him to do that everyday. 'Should I or shouldn't I floss my teeth?', he asked me.
Well, a specialist thinks in this way... flossing will remove food particles lodged between teeth which in turn reduces food for microbes and plaque formation. Then isn't it good for your teeth? Yes, it is!
Then why did some researchers say it will not have any effect on dental health which doesn't sound like good science?
Well, there will be several factors effecting dental health. You cannot take into account only the effect of flossing and say, it doesn't have any effect. Especially, when you age your problems become complicated. If you have diabetes, the complications get doubled. If you eat sweets and refined foods regularly, then they become more knotty. If you have more spaces in between your teeth, or if your teeth are not regular, then you face more difficulties. If you are a non-vegetarian, it is going to effect too.
With so many things having effect on your dental health, how can you just say only flossing effects or doesn't effect your dental health? Have the researchers taken into effect all these things? I didn't read that in the paper. So?! It is a faulty research. Just ignore it and do what your dentist told you to do and what your informed reasoning tells you to do.
I do floss my teeth, apart from brushing them twice daily. This really helps me in keeping my teeth in good shape. Now decide for yourself what to do.
Distinct forms of knowledge can’t be judged by the same standards: what a patient prefers on the basis of personal experience; what a doctor thinks on the basis of clinical experience; and what clinical research has discovered — each of these is valuable in its own way. While scientists concur that randomized trials are ideal for evaluating the average effects of treatments, such precision isn’t necessary when the benefits are obvious or clear from other data.
Uninformed opinions differ from years of experience and informed conclusions. But how informed a specialist is also impacts his opinion as does how he analyses and uses it. Sometime back I took my mother to a dentist. The doctor started probing her teeth with a sharp needle and my mother started screaming. The doctor told her to stop doing that. Then I told the doctor, she cannot do that. "What?!", he said, "Some people don't scream at all. Then why can't she?", he asked.
This reply of mine made him fall completely silent: 'As a doctor, you must be aware that the pain threshold differs from person to person depending on several factors. When the threshold is low, people feel more pain and if it is high, less pain. Your screaming depends on your pain. Some people can bear it because their pain threshold will be very high. My mother's pain threshold is very low. She cannot bear even a small intensity pain. Therefore, she screams more. She can't help it. Please bear the sound of her scream.
Even though the doctor is highly specialized in his field, he couldn't evaluate the situation properly with the information he had and thought everybody can feel and bear the pain in the same way and asked my mother to stop screaming which I think shows despite having knowledge, some people can't evaluate situations in the way they should be doing.
A critical thinker evaluates research methodology, how the researchers arrived at the conclusions, whether all the parameters that have effect on the conclusions are taken into account or not, and the results are fact based or uninformed- hunch based.
While the highly evaluated opinions of specialists are good for societies, they need not be rules set in stone. So are systemic evaluations. They can compliment each other. Provided, they are arrived at various conclusions based on their thorough investigations and methodology, they suit particular situations in particular ways. Which one suits which situation has to be decided with highly specialized reasoning.
Man on the street will definitely have problems doing this. Consult a specialist, go for a second opinion if needed, try to understand each ones' explanation, think critically and decide which way to go.
Yes, you are the boss, it is your domain, you have a brain, you have the information, you have your knowledge based experiences - try to use all these to distinguish what is right and what is not for you!
Q: What is the life of a researcher like?
Krishna: The replies to this Q differ from person to person based on his or her experiences.
This is mine: Very thrilling!
We go through a rainbow of emotions actually.
In the beginning - first six months - it will be challenging and confusing. Then a bit disappointing when what you plan doesn’t work properly. You get impatient when the deadlines set by fund providers are approaching and you still have lots of work to do to get the right results that can be published or patented. Finally when you achieve your goals you feel elated.
On the whole it would be very thrilling to tell the world what you have found and nobody knows about it until you do! I faced it several times and it is a full life worth living. Nothing compares to it!
Q: I am a research scholar and heard several lectures that tutor people on how to present your ideas and thoughts to your audience. Most of the people that give advices say 'sense of humour' attracts people more. But I don't like to go that way. What is the way out? How can a scientist talk in a silly way to attract people?
Krishna: Shall I tell you something that is really a fact? Most of the critical thinkers I spoke to said 'sense of humour' involves some silly thinking and talking which they desist. I too don't like to say silly and stupid things to make others laugh. And I don't like to listen to silly talk too and don't think such talks can make me laugh either. What others think are big jokes repel me most of the time!
Once a person asked a scientist, 'How can you become famous in a very short period?' The scientist replied, 'Sleep with a Kardashian'. Everybody around laughed but the person who asked the Q got annoyed and said, ' That has nothing to do with science'. The scientist said, 'I can't tell if you are asking how to get famous at doing scientific research, or if the question is part of some scientific research'. Although it was supposed to be a joke, could make everybody laugh, it was silly and loose talk. It would be better if we can keep away from such things.
But some people think it involves intelligence to talk silly. It depends on the perception of the people. We are being made to think silly talk is the only way out by the people who try to guide others... However, they forget that there are other ways too to attract people. Intelligence, critical thinking, knowledge, right information and reasoning attract me more than silly talks with highly animated gestures.
Don’t believe whatever rubbish people are trying to sell you. Different things work for different people. Don't try to imitate others. Just be yourself.
Sometime back I heard a very good talk given by a scientist. He's very soft spoken, simple and presented his lecture very clearly. He didn't use even a single joke or what we call 'using trivial words or sentences'. He didn't even smile while presenting his lecture. But his talk attracted people. Everybody listened to him with rapt attention and gave a standing ovation in the end.
You can command attention and respect just by being an honest person. People treat Mary Curie differently from Oprah Winfray. Now decide for yourself who you want to become.
Q: Does diet cholesterol increase serum cholesterol levels?
Krishna: Research from the meat and poultry end says that the increase will be very little. Research originating from other labs say it is notable. :)
But inter-individual variation is significant too. It actually depends on your internal metabolism and processing. You cannot make generalized statements based on your prejudices.
Only 15% of circulating cholesterol in the blood comes from what you eat. The other 85% comes from the liver. So although the effects of diet cholesterol are low, diet cholesterol might make a difference in those who are genetically predisposed to certain conditions.
Eat cholesterol-containing foods moderately. Check your blood cholesterol levels frequently if you are middle aged or your close family members have conditions based on them and listen to what your doctor says and follow his advice strictly if they are very high.
Q: How does science explain Gravity Hill, Mystery Spot and The Oregon Vortex?
Krishna: Science says they are just optical illusions!
At the Magnetic hill, Moncton, New Brunswick, as impossible as it sounds, your car will start to "roll" uphill. “And it doesn’t just work on cars – vans, trucks and even tour buses roll upward in total defiance of natural law.
A Japanese scientist has won an award for duplicating the kind of optical illusion that for decades has baffled tourists who visit the fabled Magnetic Hill in Moncton, N.B.
Kokichi Sugihara of the Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences won the international competition for Best Visual Illusion of 2010, at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Fla., for showing how objects can appear to roll uphill, as if they are being pulled by a magnet.
That kind of illusion has been drawing tourists to the southeastern New Brunswick city since the 1930s.
Sugihara's video, "Impossible motion: magnet-like slopes" shows a structure with four slopes. At the start, four wooden balls all appear to roll up the slopes against gravity. But as the camera circles the structure, the slopes are seen to be actually pointed down.
Most mystery spots share a basic presentation. You are shown into a special room or small cabin where the strange phenomenon will occur. A friendly guide explains that what you are about to see "lies well-beyond the scope of science." The patter may differ, but the stage is set for some rather astounding optical illusions. You will see balls roll uphill, and water flow briskly up the spout. You will watch as ordinary chairs defy gravity and cling to the wall without support, while fellow visitors stand around in impossible angles.
Mystery Spots are cleverly engineered. To construct a mystery spot, first they build a little room or cabin. Next, they lift one side of the house until the room tilts about 25°. Some say that the first Mystery House slid down a hill in a rain storm and ended up at the perfect angle. Whereupon the owners noticed strange things happening inside. They hide the fact that the little house is tilted. They just place the room along a slope and bury part of the floor if necessary and use walls or fences along the approach to cleverly disguise the terrain and slope them the wrong way. The idea here is to distort the architecture, and add landscaping to make it look straight and level to a visitor. They remove as many vertical references as possible, and change the slant of the ceiling to make the room look level. Then they place purposely distorted objects around to further enhance the effect of normalcy. They make sure that everything looks as normal as possible; as if the room weren't tilted. This is how it is actually:
However, things look different to the people inside the room
How normal flow of water is shown flowing uphill...
Inside the room, it looks like this
A vortex is a whirling mass of fluid or air, especially a whirlpool or whirlwind.
In fluid dynamics, a vortex is a region in a fluid in which the flow is rotating around an axis line, which may be straight or curved.
This is how Oregon Vortex is explained...
Q: What does 5 sigma mean in scientific research?
Krishna: It is a measure of how confident a scientist is about his results. The number of sigmas measures how unlikely it is to get a certain experimental result as a matter of chance rather than due to a real effect.
If experiments show results to a 5 sigma confidence level, that means if the results were due to chance and the experiment was repeated 3.5 million times then it would be expected to see the strength of conclusion in the result no more than once.
For example in particle accelerators, scientists look at the particles produced by the collisions to work out what happened. Lots of particles are produced at the collisions but only some come from important reactions that scientists are looking for, e.g.a Higgs Boson decaying into two photons at a specific energy. But there are many other processes that can produce two photons at the right energy. The LHC looks at millions of particle collisions and counts the number of times two photons at the right energy are produced and compares this to the number predicted by current. The LHC looks for an excess number of times two photons are produced; with the excess number being produced by the Higgs Boson. Once the excess reaches a 5 sigma level, the Higgs is considered discovered.
5 sigma corresponds to a p-value, or probability, of 3x10-7, or about 1 in 3.5 million. This is not the probability that the Higgs boson does or doesn't exist; rather, it is the probability that if the particle does not exist, the data that CERN scientists collected in Geneva, Switzerland, would be at least as extreme as what they observed.
Q: How difficult is it to explain things scientific to ordinary people and make them accept them?
Krishna: Some things are not easily grasped by non-science people. And when they refuse to see things from a scientific point of view, the situation becomes even more difficult. I try my best to find a common ground. But you cannot reduce scientific facts to a quarter or half to become diplomatic. You cannot change them in any way to buy peace. You just cannot accept stupid arguments based on biases and mis-conceptions. At times people resort to bullying to make you accept things too when their numbers are more.
Things people of science have to deal with while entering a non-scientific zone...
Psychological Inertia- It is Possibly the biggest hurdle faced by non-scientific people. It is the barrier created by the mind when there is an attempt to break the current state to enter a new state. Inertia is the state of rest so long and until an external force acts upon it. Therefore Psychological Inertia is a lack of required action. One may observe in their daily lives that there generally is no motivation for action until there is a pressure exerted upon them, by either their superiors or signs of loss/damage which prompts them to act. This may be the furthest reaching malady. Psychological Inertia prevents the human mind from reaching the full potential of its thinking and creative abilities. It is the tendency of people to continue to move in a direction of comfort and security and refuse to accept newly found facts.
Cognitive inertia refers to the tendency for beliefs or sets of beliefs to endure once formed. In particular, cognitive inertia describes the human inclination to rely on familiar assumptions and exhibit a reluctance and/or inability to revise those assumptions, even when the evidence supporting them no longer exists or when other evidence would question their accuracy. The term is employed in the managerial and organizational sciences to describe the commonly observed phenomenon whereby managers fail to update and revise their understanding of a situation when that situation changes, a phenomenon that acts as a psychological barrier to organizational change.
Social proof- People think everybody or majority of people around are saying something, it must be true. Majority cannot be wrong!
As a science communicator I accept these challenges. If people are ready to consider science from a neutral point of view, they try to understand, think about them and accept them. I don't force anybody to come my way. I just put facts before them and let them think, understand and if they find them to be accurate, they accept them.
I use my skills to make people think in a different way.
Q: Do home remedies work? Do they have any scientific basis?
Krishna: Some might work while most don't. Most of them are untested scientifically and are based on knowledge passed on from mothers and grandmothers based on their bizarre experiences.
The excuse for non-performance of these 'remedies' given by the advisers is - People don't use them properly or outcomes differ from person to person. Well.
Recently I read a complaint by a man -who used aloe vera for his ailments -that said they didn't work for him. And the adviser said, 'There are several varieties of aloe vera. You might not have used the correct one for your ailment!'
I am fed up of reading these excuses given by alternative medical practitioners.
But I am glad to say some people of science are trying to test these 'remedies' in labs to find out the truth. We have to wait for some time to know the results.
Until then be cautious because some of them might even harm you.
Q: Why do majority of scientists agree with climate scientists?
Krishna: "Scientific creativity" is what when you know one thing and you know another one too, you try to connect things and try to imagine with this information and predict things. This is not exaggeration. It is 'smartness' and learning from experiences.
Yes, I agree, the data is insufficient. And the models of climate science are inconclusive and might not be correct. The things that effect the climate are enormous and cannot be fit into provable models. But we have some information. We have some proof. And we have enough knowledge to tell that if we don't take action, we will be harmed. Isn't that enough for any sensible person to take action?
If we still wait and watch despite that knowledge, what is the use of having it at all? Wait for full knowledge and get doomed meanwhile?
That is what majority of scientists think. Yes, we have seen some data. We have reports of consequences of climate change from several parts of the world. Therefore, the trust on the climate scientists is based on "creative thinking of scientists" and some evidence. That is why majority of scientists agree with their colleagues in the field of climate science.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of inventions?
Krishna: According to the scientific community, anything invented is like a knife. A knife can be used to cut throats and spill blood. It can also be used for good purposes like cutting fruits and vegetables. It depends on the person who uses it. Likewise science can also be used for the benefit of living beings as well as for their destruction. Which way it goes is in the hands of the person who uses it. The choice is definitely yours, Homo sapiens.
My art work based on the theme:
Choice is Yours (http://www.kkartfromscience.com/popup/as10.html)
Q: In your article science-as-an-infant-must-accept-that-it-doesn-t-know-the-answers -yet you mentioned about "God of Gaps". What does it mean?
Krishna: ''God of the gaps" is a term used to describe observations of theological perspectives in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of existence of God. Some use the phrase as a criticism of theological positions, to mean that God is used as a spurious explanation for anything not currently explained by science.
Some of the great scientists in earlier centuries did this. As they lacked thorough knowledge and tools to find out things, they just thought "God did everything in the way they are"! They filled the gaps in the knowledge about the world with ''God".Q: Why don't skins leak unless they are cut?
(In statistics, the value of sigma you accept is a choice. 2 sigma (the usual choice in climate science) on a bell shaped curve corresponds to P <0.05. This means that 1 in 20 times you will get the result by chance. A 5 sigma corresponds to P <0.0001. This, of course, means that only 1 time in 10,000 will the result be by chance. A greater sigma or lower p value does not indicate greater certainty. Instead, it indicates the odds that the result will occur by chance. We choose to accept the risk that the results were by chance. This is the Type I (or alpha) error in statistics.)
Science, in general, has decided that we will accept p < 0.05. It was a choice. You could also accept the same p value. That you do not does not confer greater certainty to your results or provide more support for your theory. Your insistence on 5 sigma could indicate 1) an ignorance of statistics, 2) a very cautious and risk-averse personality, or 3) your data has very little variance. I suspect the latter is involved. Physics, being deterministic, has very little variance.
Biology has much greater variance, as individuals vary by quite a bit. Climate science has even more variance, since there are quite a few variables, and even more interactions. Therefore the variance precludes using a 5 sigma. You would simply never see an effect that is actually there. This is a type II error. It’s always a balance trying to avoid either the type I or the type II error.
It is also possible that climate data is not bell-shaped. Everything we have been talking about is based on “parametric” data, which includes a bell-shaped distribution of values. What’s more, the really drastic effects may fall before the 2 sigma level. If climate data does not have that, then a higher p value may be better:
You might find this discussion of statistics and climate change interesting: