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“You Know You’re Soaking In It” – How a patina of science sells you an ideology

In brief
  • Government-funded studies are often presented as  scientific but conveniently serve ideological agendas.
  • Many studies rely on subjective assumptions and guesswork, reflecting personal preferences.
  • Greater transparency, rigorous methodology, and unbiased authors are essential to combat pseudoscience.

A reliance on science led decision-making

There’s a well known TV commercial from the 80s that used ‘science’ to pitch dishwashing liquid as a hand moisturiser. It’s marketing proof that people in white coats can sell just about anything.

In New Zealand the government often  relies  on supposed scientific research to inform decision-making. But not all research is created equally. The bottom line is a lot of the time  a patina of science is used to sell their agenda. 

The tricks of the trade include studies based on highly subjective assumptions to measure things, which are often unmeasurable and only amount to dressed up wild guesses.  A lot of the time a person with any meaningful world experience can quickly see the weakness or that the desired answer is just not possible to even remotely quantify. Sometimes it is a matter of degree.

Let’s look at three previous articles by News Essentials that exemplify this point, which is a regular theme of ours.

The Clean Car Discount reconsideration

Lou Wickham, representing Emission Impossible, recently urged a reevaluation of the clean car discount in New Zealand. She cited the Health and Air Pollution in NZ (HAPINZ 3.0) study, published in 2022, to argue that vehicle emissions were contributing to thousands of deaths and significant economic losses annually. 

Scepticism arises when one examines the study’s methodology. In our view, the study lacks  even flimsy evidence in attributing premature deaths to automobile pollution over several decades. 

To do so would require a massive control group study, which would be logistically challenging. Moreover, the claimed economic impacts lack the ring of confidence (to steal from another sciencey commercial), given their massive impact on New Zealand’s GDP and death statistics.

The Manalagi Project’s healthcare discrimination claims

The Manalagi Project’s study on healthcare discrimination against New Zealand’s Pacific rainbow community has been actively promoted by RNZ. However, the study’s sample selection, primarily self-selecting and self-reporting participants, does not provide confidence in its findings’ applicability to the broader community. 

Moreover, the study’s key claim of discrimination is based on subjective self-reports of “microaggressions” and perceived differential treatment, primarily related to race or sexual orientation. 

Such subjective perceptions do not meet scientific inquiry standards. It also raises concerns about the study’s funding sources and the potential bias introduced by advocacy groups. 

The Manalagi Project lacks the rigour expected in reputable scientific work and appears more as an advocacy effort than objective research.

Auckland’s Safe Speeds program

A draft study commissioned by Auckland Transport, claiming that Aucklanders save about $10 million yearly due to the Safe Speeds program. However, the study’s methodology is criticised for being inherently speculative in quantifying benefits like public health improvements and journey time predictability. 

Minor methodological tweaks could wildly alter the study’s conclusions. 

Furthermore, the link between lower speed limits and reduced congestion is not clear-cut, and many of the study’s numbers are based on guesswork. 

Why isn’t this silliness called out for what it is?

Our staff has a lot of overseas experience and we can say, unequivocally, that the other jurisdictions we are familiar with would not countenance what goes on here, without scoffing feedback.

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