Category: Science

Is it Anti-Science to say that Science Needs to Clean Up its Act?

By , October 21, 2013 12:15 pm

The Economist says there’s Trouble at the Lab. Nick Brown Smelled Bull. What’s going on here? Where’s the rational, reasoned thinking we are told is the hallmark of science?

According to The Economist,

This [that too many scientists use inappropriate statistically techniques] fits with another line of evidence suggesting that a lot of scientific research is poorly thought through, or executed, or both.

Nick Brown would surely agree. The BS he smelled involved applied positive psychology and

A butterfly graph, the calling card of chaos theory mathematics, purporting to show the tipping point upon which individuals and groups “flourish” or “languish.” Not a metaphor, no poetic allusion, but an exact ratio: 2.9013 positive to 1 negative emotions. Cultivate a “positivity ratio” of greater than 2.9-to-1 and sail smoothly through life; fall below it, and sink like a stone.

The theory was well credentialed. Now cited in academic journals over 350 times, it was first put forth in a 2005 paper by Barbara Fredrickson, a luminary of the positive psychology movement, and Marcial Losada, a Chilean management consultant, and published in the American Psychologist, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the largest organization of psychologists in the U.S.

Brown, a 52-year old part-time master’s student at an obscure London university with a degree in computer science, would have none of that.

In what world could this be true? he wondered

So off he went. The story of his campaign against this particular piece of bad science is well worth the read.

Like Brown, I am not a scientist. I’m not even particularly well-schooled in the subject. But I follow it. I read my share of articles on the subject. I read a few blogs that deal with it. I even have friends who are scientists. Accomplished ones, in fact. Sadly I’ve also read my share of Facebook posts touting science as the Holy Grail and at the same time disparaging faith and religion. Well, these two articles should give pause to those who place their faith in science. For as The Economist says, quoting Dr. Bruce Alberts, editor of Science,

[S]cientists themselves . . . “need to develop a value system where simply moving on from one’s mistakes without publicly acknowledging them severely damages, rather than protects, a scientific reputation.” This will not be easy. But if science is to stay on its tracks, and be worthy of the trust so widely invested in it, it may be necessary.

Apparently the emperor isn’t the only one in need of some new clothes. Richard Dawkins, call your office.

About those Abortion “Myths”

By , April 23, 2013 11:49 am

The Washington Post recently ran a piece titled “Five Myths about Abortion,” part of an on-going series titled “Five Myths: Challenging Everything You Think You Know.” And surprise! Some are challenging author Rickie Solinger on her use and abuse of abortion facts and statistics.

First comes Ramesh Ponnuru, who avers that “The Washington Post’s ‘five myths’ column propagates myths at least as often as it debunks them, and today’s ‘five myths about abortion’ adds to that dismal record,” then proceeds to dissect Solinger’s attempt at myth making.

Then comes Jonathan Adler, who likewise has his bones to pick with Ms. Solinger, in this case regarding myth #3: that Roe led to a huge increase in the number of abortions. According to Adler, “Solinger purports to be correcting a ‘myth.’ Yet nothing in Solinger’s account is directly responsive to the claim she purports to correct.”

In brief, Solinger’s piece doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You can read the long version at the links.

So You’re Anti-Science if You Don’t Accept Research Posing as Science?

By , March 17, 2013 9:00 am

Apparently, the NRA and all of us Right Wing Gun Nuts are anti-science, according to a post on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC site, which in turn references a 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. I guess that’s marginally better than being called racists, homophobes, fascists, deniers (oh wait, deniers by definition are anti-science), and such. But only marginally. Well, of course, there is another side to the story, and I’m simply preserving it here for future reference.

Herewith are links to two articles published on They shed additional–and much needed–light on Mr. Roth’s story (the one on O’Donnell’s site). The first one actually links to the latter one by the way. I recommend you read them. Here is the key quote from both in reference to that 1993 “scientific” study, among others:

Contrary to this picture of dispassionate scientists under assault by the Neanderthal NRA and its know-nothing allies in Congress, serious scholars have been criticizing the CDC’s “public health” approach to gun research for years. In a presentation at the American Society of Criminology’s 1994 meeting, for example, University of Illinois sociologist David Bordua and epidemiologist David Cowan called the public health literature on guns “advocacy based on political beliefs rather than scientific fact.” Bordua and Cowan noted that The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, the main outlets for CDC-funded studies of firearms, are consistent supporters of strict gun control. They found that “reports with findings not supporting the position of the journal are rarely cited,” “little is cited from the criminological or sociological field,” and the articles that are cited “are almost always by medical or public health researchers.”

Reasonable minds can differ. I recognize that. But in most cases all the reasonable minds aren’t standing on just one side of the issue. That’s especially true when one side is calling the other “anti-science,” “deniers,” “racists,” “homophobes,” “fascists,” and the like.

Edited: added clearer references/links in the first sentence of this post as well as to the sentence that leads into the block quote.

Emily Litella: Act II

By , January 4, 2013 11:10 am

A leading environmentalist and opponent of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), Mark Lynas, has issued a blunt statement that he was wrong to oppose GMOs.

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering—what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

Emily Litella was available for comment.

Norman Borlaug would be pleased.

Naughty or Nice Takes on an Urgent Dimension

By , December 12, 2012 1:11 pm

A 60-second exposure of near-Earth asteroid 2012 XE54 streaking through the sky on Dec. 11, 2012, during a close flyby that brought it inside the moon's orbit. CREDIT: Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes, Remanzacco Observatory

A 60-second exposure of near-Earth asteroid 2012 XE54 streaking through the sky on Dec. 11, 2012, during a close flyby that brought it inside the moon’s orbit. CREDIT: Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes, Remanzacco Observatory

Hey, all you who doubt the after life and you who don’t, the news is that we all may have an opportunity to test our theories sooner than we think.

Scientists have discovered about 9,000 near-Earth asteroids to date, but perhaps a million or more such space rocks are thought to exist.

And some of them are potentially dangerous. Observations by NASA’s WISE space telescope suggest that about 4,700 asteroids at least 330 feet (100 m) wide come uncomfortably close to our planet at some point in their orbits.

So far, researchers have spotted less than 30 percent of these large space rocks, which could obliterate an area the size of a state if they slammed into Earth.

But there are much bigger asteroids out there, such as 4179 Toutatis, a 3-mile-wide (5 km) behemoth that’s in the process of flying by Earth now. Toutatis will remain 4.3 million miles (7 million km) away during its closest approach Wednesday morning, but it may come closer on future passes.

Toutatis would inflict devastating damage if it slammed into Earth, perhaps extinguishing human civilization. The asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was about 6 miles (10 km) wide, researchers say.

The First Amendment Gets in the Way Again

By , December 4, 2012 2:12 pm

According to Ruthann Robson at Constitutional Law Prof Blog, “For Judge Shubb, because ‘a mental health provider’s pursuit of SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] is guided by the provider’s or patient’s views of homosexuality, it is difficult, if not impossible, to view the conduct of performing SOCE as anything but integrally intertwined with viewpoints, messages, and expression about homosexuality.’ Thus, Judge Shubb concluded that the statute was undoubtedly subject to strict scrutiny.”

As Ann Althouse–a con law prof at the University of Wisconsin–puts it, “Free speech, an American tradition, inconvenient, as ever, to lawmakers who think they know better than the people who insist on talking about things.”

Well, This Quote Caught My Attention

By , February 22, 2012 11:02 am

So there the Internet’s in a tizzy over an apparent scheme by someone on the globe’s a’warmin’ side of the climate debate to discredit the “denier” side. I use the word “denier” purposefully and in quotes because that’s the word of choice the other side uses routinely to, I can only assume, stifle debate about the climate science behind global warming. I mean, can you think of another reason to use that pejorative?

In any case, the argument is that if you accept the argument that global warming is happening and that man plays a big part in that warming, you’re rational and accept science and all it has to offer. If you don’t, you’re a “denier” and anti-science. You probably–indeed likely–don’t accept evolution and probably–almost certainly–will vote for Santorum this fall.

If that all makes sense to you and if you accept my premise that the pejorative “denier” is intended to stifle debate, you’ll have trouble like I did making sense of the following by a guy named Peter Gleick, “head of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California and apparently until very recently, the chair of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics,” according to Megan Mcardle who writes today in The Atlantic about the aforementioned scheme. Quoting Mr. Gleick now (bolded emphasis mine):

I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved.

Now I’m not a climate scientist, but from my observations, I’d say that the “deniers” would love to have a debate, would love to argue their side in peer reviewed journals, would love to share the stage with global warming alarmist Al Gore. Maybe Mr. Gleick can make that happen–after he comes clean from his misguided efforts to “attack [‘deniers’] and scientists [who don’t accept the so-called global warming consensus] and prevent this debate.” Maybe. Not holding my breath, though that might help stave off global warming–if there is global warming.

Finally, and on a related note, the following quote from Mcardle’s pen should be carved in stone for all to read and re-read (people in the press, you guys and gals in Congress, Mr. President and all the candidates who are running to take their seats, I’m thinking of you):

After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else.

Folks, that last quote accounts for the economic mess we are in right now. Because the people I’ve just named have lost our trust, many of the tools we need to solve/fix this mess are off the table–until trust is restored–and that’s another blog post.

UPDATE: Judith Curry of Georgia Tech adds her two cents.

Steven Hawking’s “god” May Not Exist. Mine Does.

By , May 18, 2011 9:20 am

After reading many, many arguments for rejecting faith in God–including some posted today in The Washington Post’s “On Belief” section–I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m safe in my belief. That is, I’ve yet to read any such argument that even begins to touch the pillars of my belief system, the pillars of my faith. Instead, doubters and the faithless, hack away at a straw man religious faith that is always foreign to me, so foreign, in fact, that I often find myself agreeing with the critic.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Flip On the Light Switch

By , April 21, 2011 10:20 am

Hey, I have an idea!

Let’s bring back the good old incandescent light bulb.

We knew this, didn’t we? And we were already upset about burning out our last incandescent light bulb, weren’t we? There ought to be a law of (obvious) unintended consequences.

Here’s to Appreciating a Man Who Gracefully Wears His Religion on His Sleeve

By , March 1, 2011 9:23 pm

This story about Professor Clayton Christensen in Forbes magazine is impressive in no small part because the world-renown professor so effortlessly, so guilelessly shares the story of his battles with diabetes, a heart attack, cancer, and a stroke, aided by a great family and the strong conviction that God has and has had a plan for him.

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