Unmeasurable CoFactors, Blind and Unblind
Imagine a study to determine the effect of water on human.
Science would seek to isolate the variable, amount of water, then chart variance among related measurables – but what measurables will be considered related, and therefore measured? The defining factor may be who pays for the study – a company that sells water, a company that sells a water alternative, or a company who hates humans? Even when incentives are honest, complexity of commingling inputs makes firm conclusion elusive. What additives are present in the water consumed? What foods were eaten along with it? What effect has the air concurrently breathed?
Observers and those who observe them must understand that results will always reflect whatever unmeasured inputs remain. Minimizing error requires maximum practical control of commingling inputs so that unmeasurable cofactors equalize to some degree as sample size grows. Studying water would do so with an undecorated room and by ensuring similar caloric cycle, mental acuity, sleeping pattern, and mood of the observed. Even with such procedures in place, conclusions drawn from study results are always something less than fully conclusive. Therefore the summary of findings and reporting on the study must balance reasonable doubt with incentives – which might be principled and ethical, or might be economic. In worst case, cofactors are intentionally ignored to reduce expensive results to a reportable conclusion, and researchers, reporters, and future studies rely on such lazy, incompetent, or unethically published conclusions, and draw their own from them, creating a pattern that increases error over time.
A keen eye aware of limitations above is needed to distinguish good studies and findings summaries from bad ones. Scientific research must move toward greater competency and incentive aligned with the ideals of truth, less influenced by the desires of unqualified scientists, study-funders, and political agenda. The culture must again select for the open minded and for those who naturally seek to falsify their own assumptions. We must venerate those observers and truth-seekers who hold principles and ethics above agenda or personal gain – otherwise the trend is toward falsity.