Root Causes of Late Adopter Preference

As you may know, I'm a big fan of late adoption and conservatism (in the "marked by caution and moderation" meaning of the word), as well as patience and a wide field of view when looking at science in progress. With that in mind, I thought I'd point you to a very helpful look at why my point of view is a good one.

"There is increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," says researcher John Ioannidis in an analysis in the open access international medical journal PLoS Medicine.

This is something that scientists are quite aware of - although you wouldn't find many broadcasting it to the world, for all the obvious social reasons. I think it's a wonderful exercise to point out the systematic causes of this process. When I said the following:

Important questions, especially those related to medicine and statistics, are not answered with a single study. Each study, and the resulting debate, can take years. Building - or changing - even a preliminary scientific consensus on any position is a process that spans decades.

I could - and should - have added that most of what was written on these topics would turn out to be wrong. It might contain useful ideas, or prompt other people into useful directions, but it will be wrong. This is taken for granted by scientists; after all, the scientific method and the community that supports it form a system that makes useful, rapid, solid progress even though the individual components of that progress are largely flawed. Science is built by consensus and aggregation, a form of ongoing, distributed cross-checking of information. Every single collection of data could be 99% wrong, but you'll still get the right answer in the end if you have enough of those collections to compare.

The take away here is not to listen to any single study (and especially if someone is using it to sell you something relating to the anti-aging marketplace). Ten studies or twenty studies pointing to the same conclusion are more interesting.


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