Data is necessary when determining fact

By Baxter Black: Humor Columnist

I was having a nice visit with the proprietor of Family Meats in his butcher shop in Caloundra, Queensland. His specialties included chopped beef and kidney pie makings, barbecue ronelli and lamb loin chops for $16.99 a kilo.

A sign at the counter said, “Antibiotic and Hormone Free!”

We discussed the political etiology of that policy. I explained that for years the hormone implant Synovex had required a 60-day withdrawal before slaughter. Some questioned that it was not long enough. Using improved technology new trials were run. To everyone’s surprise, there was no detectable residue in the implanted vs. the controls at any time.

The FDA, in accordance with the scientific findings eliminated any withdrawal date.

The Australian butcher leaned over his counter and said, “If I told that to any customer in here, they flat wouldn’t believe it!”

Politics overrides fact when money, tradition and/or ignorance hold sway. Consider trying to convince the Harvard Flat Earth Society in 1376 that the earth was round. “Are you kidding!” They would posit scornfully, “Look at Walden Pond! It would spill out if the world was round.”

Many scientific advances have met brick walls of resistance. People were led to fear electricity, viral vaccines, bovine somatotrophins, genetically modified foods and global cooling. However, science is not allowed to draw conclusions based on subjective information. Simply having a celebrity say that eating squirrel innards reduces their blood pressure does not make it fact.

Results have to be statistically repeatable under the strictest conditions to eliminate variables and be valid. Suspicion, speculation, logic, testimonials, the Pope’s blessing, computer models or Gallup polls do not make something necessarily factual.

Lack of sufficient scientific data is at the base of the controversies concerning the big bang theory and man-made global warming. Activists, concerned citizens, astronomers, meteorologists, reporters and columnists are entitled to believe one way or the other, but scientists are not allowed to present their opinions as fact. No matter how compelling their justification is, the law of objective statistical proof says their conclusions must be beyond all reasonable doubt.

Remember, Perry Mason was fiction.