The (bad) luck of science

A study published in Science magazine earlier this year caused great controversy in scientific circles. Conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, it affirmed that the majority of cancer cases could be attributed to “bad luck” (exactly “bad luck”, in the original scientific article).

Cancer is caused by a mutation in a cell that begins to grow abnormally. Researchers found a relationship between the number of cell divisions in a tissue and the chance of developing cancer in that tissue. After not finding an apparent standard or reason for the occurrence of the mutations in one given tissue more than in another, they concluded that it is a matter of “bad luck”.

I imagined the entire scientific community would come down on them, horrified by the use of the word “luck” in a scientific article, so I waited a while to see the impact it would cause. Yes, there was controversy, but it was regarding the conclusion of the method, which they say is useless when it comes to avoiding cancer.

The researchers’ methods, calculations and interpretations were questioned. The authors promised to make the results clearer, so that people did not think they could neglect their health. But no one had any questions about lady luck.

This is not news. On this same subject, in 2004, the renowned physiologist Richard Doll, one of the responsible for finding the connection between smoking and lung cancer in the 60s, wrote an article in the International Journal of Epidemiology, which ended with the following sentence:

“Whether an exposed subject does or does not develop cancer is largely a matter of luck: bad luck if the several necessary changes all occur in the same stem cell when there are several thousand such cells at risk, and good luck if they do not.”

Seriously. Unlucky cells! And they really want me to give credit to the “absolute truth” they speak of. Bad luck and good luck have the same source. This concept came about when, without knowing how to explain, people attributed a hidden force responsible for seemingly random events. This force was called luck and served as inspiration for the creation of numerous pagan deities, such as the roman Fortune or the greek Tyche. Therefore, nowadays scientists are doing exactly what religious people did in the past.

People believe the answers science offers are irrefutable truths, even when blurred by unreliable concepts. Modern scientific thought judges random methods they do not understand. Strangely, however, they abhor any mention of a higher intelligence behind the creation of the universe, saying that people created the idea of ​​God to explain things they did not properly understand… Well, isn’t that exactly what science is doing with “luck”?

After all, what’s better? Trying to figure out what’s in empty spaces (though we may not understand it) or blame chance, turning a blind eye to what we do not understand? How many wrong conclusions have been drawn based on chance? Many real discoveries have failed to be made because science turns a blind eye to what it does not want to see.

What is the difference between a random unknown force and a specific unknown force? And what if, instead of “bad luck”, the word “demon” was published in a scientific journal? Imagine reading in a secular newspaper: “Most cancer cases are caused by demons”. What if this was sent to Science? Most likely, the article would be rejected under the pretext of “not scientific”…

When we cannot find a reason for a particular occurrence, it means the reason does not exist or we are simply unaware of it? Attributing it to chance is the same as not wanting to admit that lack sufficient knowledge about basic issues, such as the apparent randomness of the mutation in stem cells. Are these mutations actually random? If it depends on the sacrifices of science to the goddess of luck, we’ll never know.

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