Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Imagine that fake smiling makes, say, 10% of people feel better and 10% feel worse and has no effect on 80%. Then there’d be no effect overall.
And yet, fake smiling would still cheer up 10% of the population, which is a pretty useful thing to know. You could try it and see if it works for you. If you are in the 90% that it doesn’t help, then don’t bother with it anymore. But if you are in the 10% for whom it does work, well, you’ve learned a useful trick.
I’ve long pointed out that I find that if I feel a sore throat that’s the sign of a cold coming on, if I immediately drinking echinacea tea, I quite often sidestep the cold.
Does that prove that Chinese Herbal Medicine Is Science?
But on the other hand, I’ve never met anybody else who finds that echinacea works for them. On the other other hand, Whole Foods always has stocks one or two facings of echinacea tea out of maybe 200 facings of tea, suggesting I’m not the only person in the world who finds echinacea makes them feel better. But I don’t see any evidence that Echinacea Fever is sweeping America as more and more people wake up to the universal wonders of echinacea tea. It just seems to be a minor niche product with a small but fairly stable market share.
If I do a physics experiment and get a result that differed from one of Newton’s Laws of Motion, well, either I did the experiment wrong or all physicists have some explaining to do.
Everybody seems to want the human sciences to work like the natural sciences. Physicists aren’t supposed to get idiosyncratic results. Thus, if fake smiling or echinacea works for me, then it ought to work for you, right?
But what if the human sciences don’t work much like physics? What if idiosyncratic results are just what you get?