The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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4:04pm on Tuesday, 27th January, 2015:
When scientists discovered that smoking caused cancer, they didn't look at smoking and try to figure out what it caused. What happened was that they noticed that the incidence of cancer — particularly lung cancer — had risen sharply from what it had been in the past, so they looked for a cause. They figured that it was something to do with modern living, so checked out several possibilities (such as people whose jobs meant they breathed in more petroleum gasoline fumes than everyone else got lung cancer more; they didn't). They discovered that people who smoked had a much bigger chance of getting lung cancer, and calculated that it accounted for practically all the rise in incidence of the illness.
If the scientists had worked the other way, they would have had an agenda: find what bad things smoking causes then warn people. That's not how science works, though (well, not unless you're a psychologist looking to get money to prove the ill effects of computer games).
Here's an article from a 1962 encyclopoedia I have, which is about climate change (I've mentioned it briefly before). Scientists form over 50 years ago had noticed that the world is getting warmed, but don't know why.
Climate change deniers might say we still don't know why. It's hard for them to argue that it's not happening at all, though, when its effects were noticed by people who didn't have an agenda, just data.
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