Custom Search

Monday, January 31, 2011

Repeatability in studies falls over time: Can you give this phenomenon a name?

In “The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” (New Yorker, December 13, 2010), Jonah Lehrer reported,
Many results that are rigorously proved and accepted start shrinking in later studies.

[ ... ]

... now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

[ ... ]

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved?
Suggestions for names, with rationale, gladly accepted at Uncommon Descent. Also, any idea why it is happening?


Intellectual freedom: New Media and Suicide Accusation

Recently, “Karajou” from Conservapedia contacted me regarding a claim that their site caused a suicide.
Imagine, if you will, that this is real, that the suicide had actually happened. It would be in the newspapers. It would be on TV. The news about it would be viral, and it would be nation-wide. How do I figure that? "CONSERVATIVE WEBSITE CAUSES MAN TO KILL HIMSELF" would be the screaming headline in big block letters; the mainstream media would have a field day from New York to Los Angeles; and Keith Olbermann would be in such a lather about it on his PMSNBC show that you could see the foam dribbling down the left side of his mouth. If there's anything to make conservatives look bad, this would be it. I can see Stephan Colbert staring down Andy again, with that goofy eyebrow of his lifted above those horn rim glasses.
Yes, I can imagine. We live in the age of truthing, birthing, grassy knolls, tinfoils, and people who think the government should run the media because US vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (2008) is supposedly responsible for a far-off madman’s murders. There appears to be no substance to the claim, but why would that matter these days?

As I have said elsewhere, free media actually reduce political violence, at least in North America:
... assassinations have declined markedly in the past three decades in the United States, due in no small part - in my view - to the rise of new media, including personal social media like the now much-blamed Facebook. People who can just say it, overwhelmingly, tend to just forget it after a while.

Yes, better security played an important role. But, in reality, a free world politician can’t just hide from the public. Elected representatives have logged how many minimal security public appearances across the United States, with how many assassination attempts? Let’s do the math: Very few attempts.

Probability thinking has its uses, and freakout avoidance is one. That is, if avoiding a freakout, rather than cultivating it, is what we want to do.
But, as I told Karajou, suppose there was even a possibility that reading something that upset him tipped a high-risk suicide over the edge? Some thoughts:
- People often act irrationally in the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. Blaming a third party is common. It’s almost as common as pretending it wasn't really suicide.

In a way, one can see why people do it. It's almost like transferring suicide to the "murder" category. And what better way than pinning the "murder" on someone you don't like anyway?

It amounts to: "I can't cope with this terrible loss but I can link it to one of my existing hatreds."

Emotionally, it doubtless feels great for a while; as a way of coping, it's terrible.

- Of course a Web site was not to blame. If the posts depressed the man, he should have avoided them in principle, the way an alcoholic should avoid bars: Not bad for everybody, but bad for him. is most certainly not the answer. Government-friendly media are lazy media, and they certainly won’t represent you.

Labels: ,

Retired science teacher wants Darwinism banninated

A friend worries that this won’t help the cause of science education:
A retired science teacher believes the teaching of evolution is "bad science" and has asked a federal court to declare it illegal to teach the subject in public schools.

Tom Ritter, a former physics and chemistry teacher of over 10 years, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against evolution in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the same court that ruled that teaching of intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional.

Ritter told The Christian Post this week that he didn't pay too much attention to biology before, but now in retirement he saw problems that he couldn't overlook any longer.

"It kind of got to be like picking a scab," he said.

In his one-page brief and one-page suit, Ritter argues that the Blue Mountain School District in Orwigsburg, Penn., is an illegal body because it teaches evolution.

A local resident, Ritter wants the district to stop collecting taxes from him until such teaching is halted. This is one scheme in his plan to get rid of public schools altogether, which he considers to be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
I agree that Darwinism, as fronted to students, is a screaming scandal, based on evidence issues. That said, it’s not about one guy’s taxes.

I should stop paying my taxes due to the City of Toronto’s idiotic handling of garbage issues.

Seriously, it takes more than a gadfly to restore the priority of evidence over theory.

Labels: ,

Intellectual freedom: David Warren’s take on the uprisings in the Muslim world

He’s somewhat pessimistic, and I would say, for the right reasons:
From what I can make out, in Egypt and elsewhere, the people on the streets are the "accredited" -- the bourgeoisie. They are the ones who could most benefit from western-style constitutional government and would suffer most if the government falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are, in terms of "class," the same people who have revolted in Iran -- haplessly against the Islamist regime of the ayatollahs.

[ ... ]

While I recognize that support for "democracy and freedom" is substantial, within each Arab national society - that the middle class is not a nothing; that each economy depends on it - I doubt this "faction" can prevail. Worse, I think we are watching its final, hopeless bid for power.

The key fact, in Egypt (paralleled in Yemen and elsewhere), is that the Muslim Brotherhood has not declared itself. The Islamists could put vastly more people on the street. They could subvert the loyalties of policemen and soldiers, who already resent the moneyed middle class. They could generate just enough heat to make large districts of Cairo and Alexandria, now simmering, boil over.
It’s a much darker and more dreadful version of what we find in Canada: The protest of people who remember a political order in which reason was a valid concept is easily swamped by angry affirmations of God or Government  from those who never, ever had a truly dissenting thought to begin with.

My mental picture of that last has always been yuppie moms who parade their tots in adorable little Che Guevara tees and drop cliche after cliche on the world about non-violence, appealing for “understanding” of other cultures’ mistreatment of women, while professing to be feminists themselves. They like to think of themselves as “transgressive,” but have actually never been good enough to be bad.

Labels: ,

Who links to me?