Tag Archives: Daniella Balarezo

FLOATER: A Tool-Kit for Evaluating [Scientific] Claims

FLOATER toolkit [downloaded from http://thinkingispower.com/floater-a-tool-kit-for-evaluating-claims/]
FLOATER [downloaded from http://thinkingispower.com/floater-a-tool-kit-for-evaluating-claims/¸]

Thanks to Raymond Nakamura`s November 16, 2021 tweet (his website is here), I found this rather nifty tool and the Thinking is Power website.

Before moving on to the toolkit, here’s a little about the website’s creator (from the About page) Note: A link has been removed,

Thinking Is Power (TIP) was created by science educator and communicator Melanie Trecek-King to provide accessible critical thinking content to the general public through entertaining stories, approachable language, and shareable graphics.

TIP’s content is based on a general-education science course Trecek-King developed that’s designed to help students understand the process of science and how to use critical thinking to make informed decisions. The course was the result of years of teaching introductory biology students to (mostly) memorize facts and realizing they were going to forget everything…except how much they hated science. Trecek-King’s other goal with TIP is therefore to encourage other science educators to reflect on how we teach science, and even what it means to be science literate. Is it memorizing and regurgitating facts? Or understanding how the process of science acquires knowledge and why it’s reliable? 

Since its launch in January of 2021, Thinking Is Power has rapidly become a go-to resource in the area of science communication and critical thinking. …

As for the toolkit, here’s some of what I found particularly interesting (from the FLOATER webpage) Note: Links have been removed,

As a science educator, my primary goals are to teach students the essential skills of science literacy and critical thinking. Helping them understand the process of science and how to draw reasonable conclusions from the available evidence can empower them to make better decisions and protect them from being fooled or harmed.

Yet while nearly all educators would agree that these skills are important, the stubborn persistence of pseudoscientific and irrational beliefs demonstrates that we have plenty of room for improvement. To help address this problem, I developed a general-education science course which, instead of teaching science as a collection of facts to memorize, teaches students how to evaluate the evidence for claims to determine how we know something and to recognize the characteristics of good science by evaluating bad science, pseudoscience, and science denial.

In my experience, science literacy and critical thinking skills are difficult to master. Therefore, it helps to provide students with a structured toolkit to systematically evaluate claims and allow for ample opportunities to practice. …

The foundation of FLOATER is skepticism. While skepticism has taken on a variety of connotations, from cynicism to denialism, scientific skepticism is simply insisting on evidence before accepting a claim, and proportioning the strength of our belief to the strength and quality of the evidence.  

Before using this guide, clearly identify the claim and define any potentially ambiguous terms. And remember, the person making the claim bears the burden of proof and must provide enough positive evidence to establish the claim’s truth. 

I’m included one excerpt from the poster in the hope that it will encourage readers to visit the webpage and/or site for themselves (from the FLOATER webpage) , Note: Links have been removed,

It seems counterintuitive, but the first step in determining if a claim is true is to try to determine if you can prove it wrong. 

Falsifiable claims can be proven false with evidence. If a claim is false, the evidence will disprove it. If it’s true the evidence won’t be able to disprove it. 

Scientific claims must be falsifiable. Indeed, the process of science involves trying to disprove falsifiable claims. If the claim withstands attempts at disproof we are more justified in tentatively accepting it. 

Unfalsifiable claims cannot be proven false with evidence. They could be true, but since there is no way to use evidence to test the claim, any “evidence” that appears to support the claim is useless. Unfalsifiable claims are essentially immune to evidence. 

There are four types of claims that are unfalsifiable.

1. Subjective claims: Claims based on personal preferences, opinions, values, ethics, morals, feelings, and judgements. 

For example, I may believe that cats make the best pets and that healthcare is a basic human right, but neither of these beliefs are falsifiable, no matter how many facts or pieces of evidence I use to justify them.

2. Supernatural claims: Claims that invoke entities such as gods and spirits, vague energies and forces, and magical human abilities such as psychic powers.

By definition, the supernatural is above and beyond what is natural and observable and therefore isn’t falsifiable. This doesn’t mean these claims are necessarily false (or true!), but that there is no way to collect evidence to test them.

For example, so-called “energy medicine,” such as reiki and acupuncture, is based on the claim that illnesses are caused by out-of-balance energy fields which can be adjusted to restore health. However, these energy fields cannot be detected and do not correspond to any known forms of energy.

There are, however, cases where supernatural claims can be falsifiable. First, if a psychic claims to be able to impact the natural world in some way, such as moving/bending objects or reading minds, we can test their abilities under controlled conditions. And second, claims of supernatural events that leave physical evidence can be tested. For example, young earth creationists claim that the Grand Canyon was formed during Noah’s flood approximately 4,000 years ago. A global flood would leave behind geological evidence, such as massive erosional features and deposits of sediment. Unsurprisingly, the lack of such evidence disproves this claim. However, even if the evidence pointed to a global flood only a few thousand years ago, we still couldn’t falsify the claim that a god was the cause.

3. Vague claims: Claims that are undefined, indefinite, or unclear.

Your horoscope for today says, “Today is a good day to dream. Avoid making any important decisions. The energy of the day might bring new people into your life.”

Because this horoscope uses ambiguous and vague terms, such as “dream,” “important”, and “might”, it doesn’t make any specific, measurable predictions. Even more, because it’s open to interpretation, you could convince yourself that it matches what happened to you during the day, especially if you spent the day searching for “evidence.”

Due to legal restrictions, many alternative medicine claims are purposefully vague. For example, a supplement bottle says it “strengthens the immune system,” or a chiropractic advertisement claims it “reduces fatigue.” While these sweeping claims are essentially meaningless because of their ambiguity, consumers often misinterpret them and wrongly conclude that the products are efficacious.

4. Ad hoc excuses: These entail rationalizing and making excuses to explain away observations that might disprove the claim. 

While the three types of claims described thus far are inherently unfalsifiable, sometimes we protect false beliefs by finding ways to make them unfalsifiable. We do this by making excuses, moving the goalposts, discounting sources or denying evidence, or proclaim that it’s our “opinion.” 

For example, a psychic may dismiss an inaccurate reading by proclaiming her energy levels were low. Or, an acupuncturist might excuse an ineffective treatment by claiming the needles weren’t placed properly along the patient’s meridians. Conspiracy theorists are masters at immunizing their beliefs against falsification by claiming that supportive evidence was covered up and that contradictory evidence was planted.

The rule of falsifiability essentially boils down to this: Evidence matters. And never assume a claim is true because it can’t be proven wrong. 

Interesting, eh? There are another six to investigate on the FLOATER webpage.

One last thing, there’s also, “How to Read the News Like a Scientist; Overwhelmed by your news feed? Use tools from science to evaluate what’s true and what’s fake,” suggests researcher Emma Frans in a March 22, 2019 blog posting (made available by Pocket) by Daniella Balarezo and Daryl Chen for TED Ideas .