Saturday, January 13, 2018

Gold standard, science and individuals

You may know that supposedly the "gold standard" in science and research is the doubly randomized trial.  Humans are very smart and sensitive so when I try out the turnip cure for the heebie-jeebies, I need a group of people who don't get my turnips and a group who does.  To meet the gold standard, it would be best if I draw names from the entire human population randomly.  Put everyone's name in a really big jar and mix them well and draw out, maybe 1000 or ten thousand names for the control group and an equal number for the experimental group that gets my turnips.  I need to run the whole operation is such a way that neither the people nor the food servers know which is which or who is who. 

But even after I do all that and my turnip treatment does marvelous things, there is much more.  For instance, check out the work of Prof. John Ioannidis.  He is the guy who has shown repeatedly that over time, the entire medical and health establishment, here and elsewhere, can expect that the worth of my turnip treatment for the heebie jeebies can be expected to fall.  Today, it really helps.  Ten years from now, not so much.  We try to capture unyielding, reliable truth with my experiment but as the Buddhists say: Everything changes.  

We change.  Heebie-jeebies change.  Turnips change.  Scientific tests change and experiment procedures change.  

So, what can we do?  The same thing we always do: think, try, work at lessening the negative impact and suffering caused by heebie-jeebies.  Improve our ability to live with heebie-jeebies.  Maybe find ways to enjoy heebie-jeebies.  Maybe find ways to profit by them.  

I am an individual.  I am unique, not uniquer than you, though.  There is no one else born where I was born, sitting now where I am sitting, just my age, with just my internal and external make-up and history.  You are unique.  We are individuals.  In truth, we can be divided but we conceptualize ourselves as fundamental units, unlike (in some ways) any other.  So, maybe we will improve our ways of understanding me and my heebie jeebies, my suffering and my ways of living.  Maybe in the case of the heebie-jeebies or anything else, we will learn to understand me and understand you more deeply, more quickly, more completely.  We may develop alternative standards for treating individuals based more on the unique combinations we are.

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