background preloader

Science Errors & Conflicts

Facebook Twitter

The Crisis of Big Science by Steven Weinberg. Last year physicists commemorated the centennial of the discovery of the atomic nucleus.

The Crisis of Big Science by Steven Weinberg

In experiments carried out in Ernest Rutherford’s laboratory at Manchester in 1911, a beam of electrically charged particles from the radioactive decay of radium was directed at a thin gold foil. It was generally believed at the time that the mass of an atom was spread out evenly, like a pudding. In that case, the heavy charged particles from radium should have passed through the gold foil, with very little deflection. To Rutherford’s surprise, some of these particles bounced nearly straight back from the foil, showing that they were being repelled by something small and heavy within gold atoms.

Rutherford identified this as the nucleus of the atom, around which electrons revolve like planets around the sun. This was great science, but not what one would call big science. Nuclear physics soon got bigger. Is 'Big Science' In Trouble? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture. Hide captionA 2007 artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope in operation.

Is 'Big Science' In Trouble? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture

A 2007 artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope in operation. Science is expensive, but the payoffs more than justify the costs. Let's focus here on basic science, that is, science that doesn't have the goal of being "useful" in the short run through technological or medical applications, and through generating wealth (usually for the shareholders). A Result Of Zero Doesn't Always Mean Zero Results. Forlorn graduate students sometimes turn to a publication called The Journal of Negative Results.* In graduate student mythology, it’s the repository for toiled-over experiments that produced nothing — no effects, no detections, no differences, nothing.

A Result Of Zero Doesn't Always Mean Zero Results

(*This actually does exist for specific disciplines. But it’s not really the salvation most grad students wish for.) But: a) that’s how science works, and b) negative results can still pack a punch. Last week, two astrophysical negative results appeared in high-profile journals.In Nature, the IceCube collaboration (including then-graduate student Nathan Whitehorn) describes missing neutrinos — a paucity of particles that’s problematic for theorists suggesting that gamma-ray bursts generate ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Then, in the Astrophysical Journal, a team of astronomers in Chile concludes that dark matter doesn’t live within 13,000 light-years from Earth. Leaks, hacks and science - science-in-society - 06 December 2011. Science thrives on freedom of expression and must be at the forefront of defending it THE words "science" and "censorship" do not sit easily together.

Leaks, hacks and science - science-in-society - 06 December 2011

And yet over the past decade, science has come to occupy an increasingly important role in debates over free speech. This is partly due to public clashes between science and politics, from the censoring of climate science in the US under the Bush administration to David Nutt's dismissal as the UK government's adviser on drugs after voicing his views on the safety of ecstasy. But it also reflects a revolution in access to information which has exposed every sector of society to an unprecedented level of scrutiny. From WikiLeaks to phone hacking, the tension between openness, privacy and confidentiality has become one of the defining issues of our time. Science in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail: What’s wrong with British journalism?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Science in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail: What’s wrong with British journalism?

For a few hours last week, I'd planned to write a column about the "five-second rule. " Scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in England had released a study showing that some foods (ham, cookies) were safer to eat than others (dried fruit, pasta) after being left on the floor to collect germs. The Huffington Post picked up the story, as did Gizmodo and Good Morning America and the TODAY Show. Dodgy tales of 'research' swirling the globe - opinion - 31 May 2012. Read full article Continue reading page |1|2 For a few hours last week, I had planned to write a column about the "five-second rule.

Dodgy tales of 'research' swirling the globe - opinion - 31 May 2012

" Scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in England had released a study showing that some foods (ham, cookies) were safer to eat than others (dried fruit, pasta) after being left on the floor to collect germs. Science Denial In The 21st Century. Web edition : Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 Text Size MADISON, Wis. — The arc of science has faced roadblocks for centuries, but the pattern of denying the weight of evidence has taken on new virulence recently.

Highly motivated people openly cast doubt on well-established evidence — the theory of evolution, the human effects on climate change, the value of vaccines and other findings that have achieved an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. Researchers and science writers tasked with reporting on these issues gathered April 23–24 at the University of Wisconsin at a meeting titled “Science Writing in the Age of Denial.”

Some noted that seemingly spontaneous denial of science in the populace is quite often a carefully choreographed attack. Sean B. When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’ A December 18 Washington Post poll, released on the final day of the ill-fated Copenhagen climate summit, reported “four in ten Americans now saying that they place little or no trust in what scientists have to say about the environment.”

When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’

Nor is the poll an outlier. Several recent polls have found “climate change” skepticism rising faster than sea levels on Planet Algore (not to be confused with Planet Earth, where sea levels remain relatively stable). Many of the doubt-inducing climate scientists and their media acolytes attribute this rising skepticism to the stupidity of Americans, philistines unable to appreciate that there is “a scientific consensus on climate change.” The Financially Driven Erosion of Scientific Integrity. All else being equal, if you pay for something bad, you will get more of it.

The Financially Driven Erosion of Scientific Integrity

If you punish something good, you will get less of it. These basic rules of economics apply as much to junk science and scientific integrity as they do to junk food and political candor. Science and the scientific method are the jewels in the crown of Western civilization. What does it mean to say that something causes 16% of cancers? A few days ago, news reports claimed that 16 per cent of cancers around the world were caused by infections.

What does it mean to say that something causes 16% of cancers?

This isn’t an especially new or controversial statement, as there’s clear evidence that some viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause cancer (think HPV, which we now have a vaccine against). What Is Pseudoscience? Climate deniers are accused of practicing pseudoscience, as are intelligent design creationists, astrologers, UFOlogists, parapsychologists, practitioners of alternative medicine, and often anyone who strays far from the scientific mainstream.

What Is Pseudoscience?

The boundary problem between science and pseudoscience, in fact, is notoriously fraught with definitional disagreements because the categories are too broad and fuzzy on the edges, and the term “pseudoscience” is subject to adjectival abuse against any claim one happens to dislike for any reason. In his 2010 book Nonsense on Stilts (University of Chicago Press), philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci concedes that there is “no litmus test,” because “the boundaries separating science, nonscience, and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe.”

Princeton University historian of science Michael D. The Allure of Gay Cavemen. Third genders, two spirits, and a media without a clue. Author’s Note: Earlier this month the UK Daily Mail reported on continued excavation at an archaeological site near Prague where researchers described an individual with an alternative gender identity. The following post originally appeared at Neuron Culture hosted by Wired after the original report last year. Geology will survive creationist undermining - opinion - 11 October 2011. Creationist infiltration of scientific conferences seems outrageous, but banning them would do more harm than good WHAT should a scientific society do when creationists want to participate in its conferences?

This question faces many scientific organisations in the US. At meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 2009 and 2010, young-Earth creationists, who think Noah's flood was a historical event and the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, presented posters, gave talks and led field trips. Is how to engage with the crackpot at the scientific meeting an ethical question? There’s scientific knowledge. There are the dedicated scientists who make it, whether laboring in laboratories or in the fields, fretting over data analysis, refereeing each other’s manuscripts or second-guessing themselves. And, well, there are some crackpots. I’m not talking dancing-on-the-edge-of-the-paradigm folks, nor cheaters who seem to be on a quest for fame or profit. I mean the guy who has the wild idea for revolutionizing field X that actually is completely disconnected from reality.

Generally, you don’t find too much crackpottery in the scientific literature, at least not when peer review is working as it’s meant to. "Cargo Cult Science" - by Richard Feynman. Richard Feynman From a Caltech commencement address given in 1974 Also in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas--which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn't work, to eliminate it. This method became organized, of course, into science. 'Chemical-free' nonsense - Age of oldest rocks off by millions of years - space - 29 March 2012. In cancer science, many discoveries don't hold up.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer -- a high proportion of them from university labs -- are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future. During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce.

Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development. As Dutch Research Scandal Unfolds, Social Psychologists Question Themselves - Research. By Christopher Shea. Red-Wine Researcher Implicated in Data Misconduct Case. A three-year investigation into a University of Connecticut biology laboratory has found its chief guilty of falsifying and fabricating data on more than two dozen papers and grant applications. Dipak Das, director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) in Farmington, and his lab studied the beneficial health effects of wine (including one component resveratrol, which has been linked to life extension and other health benefits) and other foods, as well as cardiology.

Web freedoms fuel 'academic spring' journal protest - science-in-society - 13 February 2012. Many authors of psychiatry bible have industry ties - health - 13 March 2012. Just as many authors of the new psychiatry "bible" are tied to the drugs industry as those who worked on the previous version, a study has found, despite new transparency rules. The findings raise concerns over the independence of the revamped Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and scheduled for publication in May 2013. Faulty Comparisons. Is anyone else disturbed by the following description?

'Gay cure' psychiatrist apologises for flawed study - health - 22 May 2012. A leading psychiatrist whose controversial study backed therapies to make gay people straight has admitted it was flawed and apologised to homosexuals for implying that they could be "cured". In 2003, Robert Spitzer, while at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, published a paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior concluding that "reparative" therapy – which can include aversive conditioning and spiritual intervention – could change sexual orientation.

He reached this conclusion after interviews with 200 self-selected individuals who claimed to have become heterosexual after the therapy. Leaders of controversial neutrino experiment step down - physics-math - 30 March 2012. Read more: "Neutrinos: Complete guide to the ghostly particle" Neuroscience Coverage: Media Distorts, Bloggers Rule. Spurious Positive Mapping of the Brain? Gary Taubes — Author of Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories. Paranormal Circumstances: One Influential Scientist's Quixotic Mission to Prove ESP Exists. TED: Even More Elitist Than We Thought. Great news! Governments agree to abolish death! Don’t mention income inequality please, we’re entrepreneurs. Philip Kitcher: The Trouble With Scientism. What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific “Truth” Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us.

Gould's skulls: Is bias inevitable in science? - life - 25 July 2011. Beware the Fausts of Neuroscience. The Right Way to Get It Wrong. Fritz Haber's Experiments in Life and Death. "The Nobel Prize and Einstein's Ghost" by Anders Barany. ‘Open Science’ Challenges Journal Tradition With Web Collaboration. Secret Computer Code Threatens Science. Why full disclosure is healthy - health - 14 February 2012. Science publishing: The trouble with retractions. A few simple checks would transform science reporting - opinion - 09 December 2011. The publication imperative - 24 April 2012. "Publish or Perish" by Iain Chalmers.