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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another nugget from the quote mine: In evolutionary biology, "almost no findings are replicated"



Jerry Coyne is always fun. He has the distinction of being a Darwinist who is perfectly honest about the war between Darwinism and any belief in the uniqueness of humans - many examples here, and such relief from any contact with Christian Darwinists.

Recently, he commented on an article in The New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer, “The truth wears off: is there something wrong with the scientific method?”.

Basically, Lehrer says, an initial demonstration in science tends to weaken or disappear when attempts are made to replicate it:
On September 18, 2007, a few dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and drug-company executives gathered in a hotel conference room in Brussels to hear some startling news. It had to do with a class of drugs known as atypical or second-generation antipsychotics, which came on the market in the early nineties. The therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to be steadily falling. A recent study showed an effect that was less than half of that documented in the first trials, in the early nineties. Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested again and again. The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts are losing their truth.

Read more here [some more there, but you must pay for the rest].
Coyne writes in "The 'decline effect': can we demonstrate anything in science?"
I tend to agree with Lehrer about studies in my own field of evolutionary biology. Almost no findings are replicated, there’s a premium on publishing positive results, and, unlike some other areas, findings in evolutionary biology don't necessarily build on each other: workers usually don’t have to repeat other people's work as a basis for their own. (I'm speaking here mostly of experimental work, not things like studies of transitional fossils.) Ditto for ecology. Yet that doesn't mean that everything is arbitrary. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that the reason why male interspecific hybrids in Drosophila are sterile while females aren't ("Haldane's rule") reflects genes whose effects on hybrid sterility are recessive. That’s been demonstrated by several workers. And I'm even more sure that humans are more closely related to chimps than to orangutans. Nevertheless, when a single new finding appears, I often find myself wondering if it would stand up if somebody repeated the study, or did it in another species.
Good thing to wonder about. Time more people wondered about that. Breath of fresh air.

Personally, I am most wary of any finding that is breathlessly touted as proving what our moral and intellectual superiors (in their own view) totally believe already, so why anyone even did the study isn't clear. Couldn't they just save a bundle by making the whole thing up? Given that we all must swallow it anyway, or so we are told.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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