Tue Jun 30 18:24:37 EDT 2015
Items of Interest
Various web links I found to be of interest recently:
Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics
Attempts to exempt speculative theories of the Universe from experimental verification undermine science, argue George Ellis and Joe Silk.
This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue -- explicitly -- that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.There is also a related New York Times opinion piece A Crisis at the Edge of Physics
... This battle for the heart and soul of physics is opening up at a time when scientific results -- in topics from climate change to the theory of evolution -- are being questioned by some politicians and religious fundamentalists. Potential damage to public confidence in science and to the nature of fundamental physics needs to be contained by deeper dialogue between scientists and philosophers.
Are We Seeing the End of Homeopathy?
Several years ago, during a lecture on Science-Based Medicine, I noted that if there were one medical pseudoscience that was vulnerable to extinction it was homeopathy. Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is.
Glen Greenwald: Don't Trust Anonymous Anti-Snowden Claims
Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it's hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they've learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major U.S. and British media outlets "report," especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials -- laundered through their media -- as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.And according to security expert Bruce Schneier
Do countries like China and Russia have copies of the Snowden documents?
I believe the answer is certainly yes, but that it's almost certainly not Snowden's fault.
... I believe that both China and Russia had access to all the files that Snowden took well before Snowden took them because they've penetrated the NSA networks where those files reside.
Here's the CIA's Just-Released Top Secret File on Saudi Ties to 9/11
Why in the documents related to the September 11 attacks are 29 out of 30 pages about Issues Relating to Saudi Arabia redacted?
The Education Myth
A country's income is the sum of the output produced by each worker. To increase income, we need to increase worker productivity. Evidently, "something in the water," other than education, makes people much more productive in some places than in others. A successful growth strategy needs to figure out what this is.
Doing good isn't being good
Most of us like to be associated with "idealistic" groups that claim that they are doing good, i.e., making the world better. However, this is usually not our strongest motive in choosing to associate with such groups. Instead, we more strongly want to make ourselves look good, and gain good-looking associations. Most idealistic groups quickly learn to cater to this demand
There is a related Julia Galef Rationally Speaking podcast with Robin Hanson discussing his signaling theory.
Mental Illness and Creativity: Two New Swedish Studies
Psychotherapists, in an understandable desire to help their suffering patients, could quite naturally be led to over-interpret what is rather weak evidence.
I empathize with these patients, and with their therapists, but I feel obliged to report the consensus that has emerged from decades of scientific studies: There is no link between creativity and mental illness. There may be a link between an undiagnosed tendency toward mental illness and elevated creativity; but we don't really know, because that's almost impossible to study (how do you study an undiagnosed tendency?). The jury is still out on that issue, and the Kyaga studies represent a contribution to that continuing debate. I'm impressed by the massive volume of data used in the Kyaga studies, and the patterns revealed are interesting, and worthy of further exploration. -- Keith Sawyer
Is Creativity Research Elitist?
- Stage actors: compared with children's party clowns
- Musicians: compared to vintage motorcycle mechanics.
- Writers of novels and short stories: Compared to ministers who write Sunday sermons.
The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment
While it's true that some guards and prisoners behaved in alarming ways, it's also the case that their environment was designed to encourage--and, in some cases, to require--those behaviors.
... The lesson of Stanford isn't that any random human being is capable of descending into sadism and tyranny. It's that certain institutions and environments demand those behaviors--and, perhaps, can change them.
Fat, sugar cause bacterial changes that may relate to loss of cognitive function
Notice the may.
A study at Oregon State University indicates that both a high-fat and a high-sugar diet, compared to a normal diet, cause changes in gut bacteria that appear related to a significant loss of "cognitive flexibility," or the power to adapt and adjust to changing situations.
This effect was most serious on the high-sugar diet, which also showed an impairment of early learning for both long-term and short-term memory.
I'd bet this is a publicity seeking news release and the results will not hold up (even though I do think gut bacteria are important).
Real New Yorkers Can Say Goodbye to All That
We did leave our hometown because of all these aspirational New Yorkers. But we didn't leave to get away from these people, exactly. We left because those of us who grew up there were less willing to bear any burden, pay any price, to stay. The dreamers simply outbid us for our New York, and in the process, they created a city we no longer loved quite so much. This is apt to make such musings hard reading for us.
Thu Jun 18 23:16:20 EDT 2015
Diet, vitamins, health
I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here's How.
We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.
... Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.
Think of the measurements as lottery tickets. Each one has a small chance of paying off in the form of a “significant” result that we can spin a story around and sell to the media. The more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win. We didn’t know exactly what would pan out—the headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure—but we knew our chances of getting at least one “statistically significant” result were pretty good.
Being overweight 'reduces dementia risk'
Being overweight cuts the risk of dementia, according to the largest and most precise investigation into the relationship.
Their most conservative analysis showed underweight people had a 39% greater risk of dementia compared with being a healthy weight.
... Any explanation for the protective effect is distinctly lacking. There are some ideas that vitamin D and E deficiencies contribute to dementia and they may be less common in those eating more.
... But the research leaves many questions unanswered. Is fat actually protective or is something else going on that could be harnessed as a treatment? Can other research groups produce the same findings?
... "The report by Qizilbash and colleagues is not the final word on this controversial topic." Dr Qizilbash said: "We would agree with that entirely."
The Big Fat Surprise
Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. A Conversation with Nina Teicholz
Nina: I was a faithful follower of the low-fat, near-vegetarian diet, but when I started writing a restaurant review column, I found myself eating things that had hardly ever before passed my lips: rich meals of pâté, beef, cream sauces and foie gras. To my surprise, I lost the 10 pounds that I hadn't been able to shake for years, and to boot, my cholesterol levels improved. To understand how this could be possible, I embarked upon what became a decade of research, reexamining nearly every single nutrition study and interviewing most of our top nutrition experts. What I was shocked to find were egregious flaws in the science that has served as the foundation of our national nutrition policy, which for more than 50 years has all but forbidden these delicious and healthy foods.
"An animal foods/low-carb centered diet is unhealthy compared with a 90+% plant-based diet that excludes sugar and refined grain products."
Teicholz takes the negative and Mackey (founder and CEO of Whole Foods) takes the affirmative.
Nutrition: Vitamins on trial
After decades of study, researchers still can't agree on whether nutritional supplements actually improve health.
An editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year offers a striking case in point. In it, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and other institutions proclaimed with certainty that the US public should "stop wasting money" on vitamin supplements.
... Another important factor is genetic variability. "Every person has about 50,000 variations in their genes," says Steven Zeisel, director of the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute in Chapel Hill. Any number of them could be important in metabolism. Yet "very few geneticists are collecting diet information, and very few diet people collect genetic information". Zeisel's work has uncovered, for example, that 44% of women have gene variants that significantly increase their dietary requirements for the nutrient choline. It is perhaps no wonder that trial results have been inconsistent - and that reviews often report null findings (see `Data deficiencies'). Plus, the effects of nutrition interventions are probably subtle: whereas drug trials compare exposure with no exposure, nutrition trials compare higher and lower exposures, because everyone eats and consumes some nutrients. Subtle differences may be hard to detect and have long latency periods. These limitations and considerations add up "in a way that causes trials to be heavily stacked against showing any benefit", says biochemist Balz Frei, director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Also see, Rebuttal to Vitamins Are Bad Editorial by Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.
Brittle Bones and Broken Hips: Drugs Aren't the Answer, Study Finds
Osteoporosis drug sales have reaped billions. Is it a classic case of disease-mongering?
Medications for osteoporosis, which makes bones more fragile and susceptible to breaking, do little to prevent hip fractures, the most devastating consequence of the disease, the authors conclude. And they can sidetrack patients who should instead be exercising, eating right, and quitting smoking.
... To prevent a single hip fracture, 175 women need to be treated with medication for three years, the paper says. In other words, a woman with osteoporosis would need to take medicine for three years to have a 1-in-175 chance that it would help them avoid a broken hip.
U.S. government poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol
The nation's top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.
The group's finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a "nutrient of concern" stands in contrast to the committee's findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of excess cholesterol in the American diet a public health concern.
Alcohol's evaporating health benefits
Industry lobbying and promotion are rife and unchecked by governments
Given the harms attributed to alcohol use, it is not surprising that reports1 2 showing possible mortality benefits for low level users attracted enthusiasm among consumers, the media, and the alcohol industry, along with those who welcomed this as a positive response to accusations that calls for action were based on moral fervour. These apparent benefits are now evaporating, helped along by an important contribution in this week's issue (doi:10.1136/bmj.h384).3 Through analyses based on the Health Survey for England, particularly designed to identify whether any reductions in mortality risk were greatest in older populations, Knott and colleagues show that if there is any beneficial dose-response relation, it is limited to women aged 65 or more--and even that association is at best modest and likely to be explained by selection bias.
Redefining chronic fatigue with better diagnosis, new name
... And the IOM's choice of a new name -- Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, or SEID -- reflects a core symptom, that exertion can wipe patients out.
"This is not a figment of their imagination," said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton of Vanderbilt University's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, who chaired the IOM panel. "These patients have real symptoms. They deserve real care."
Fri May 29 15:08:37 EDT 2015
Items of Interest
Various web links I found to be of interest recently:
Can States Boost Growth By Cutting Top Individual Tax Rates?
A new paper by my Tax Policy Center colleagues Bill Gale, Aaron Krupkin, and Kim Rueben concludes the answer is "no" to both questions. In the cautious language of academic research: "Our results are inconsistent with the view that cuts in top state income tax rates will automatically or necessarily generate growth."
But Bill, Aaron, and Kim also have a warning for those who assert that cutting state taxes is good for growth or raising them is bad: All taxes are not alike. It turns out that while individual income taxes don't matter much at all, and corporate taxes may actually boost growth a bit, higher property taxes do seem linked to slower growth though even that relationship seems to change over time.
How 'Mathiness' Made Me Jaded About Economics
But the way math is used in macroeconomics isn't the same as in the hard sciences. This isn't something that most non-economists realize, so I think I had better explain.
In physics, if you write down an equation, you expect the variables to correspond to real things that you can measure and predict. For example, if you write down an equation for the path of a cannonball, you would expect that equation to let you know how to aim your cannon in order to actually hit something. This close correspondence between math and reality is what allowed us to land spacecraft on the moon. It also allowed engineers to build your computer, your car and most of the things you use.
... But macroeconomics, which looks at the broad economy, is different. Most of the equations in the models aren't supported by evidence.
The Vindication of Edward Snowden
A federal appeals court has ruled that one of the NSA programs he exposed was illegal.
Telling the public about the phone dragnet didn't expose a legitimate state secret. It exposed a violation of the constitutional order. For many years, the executive branch carried out a hugely consequential policy change that the legislature never approved. Tens of millions of innocent U.S. citizens were thus subject to invasions of privacy that no law authorized. And the NSA's unlawful behavior would've continued, unknown to the public and unreviewed by Article III courts, but for Snowden's leak, which caused the ACLU to challenge the illegal NSA program.
Japanese hotel launches 'crying rooms'
A hotel in Tokyo is offering rooms designed to allow female guests to "cry heartily" in private
The crying rooms are the latest in a series of unusual hotels and cafes available in Japan.
Vin Scelsa Leaves the Airwaves May 2, 2015
Vin Scelsa concluded nearly fifty years on New York's airwaves
"Idiot's Delight" was a wonderful anachronism: unscripted, idiosyncratic, and unashamedly out of step with contemporary listening habits.
Why you should really start doing more things alone
"The reason is we think we won't have fun because we're worried about what other people will think," said Ratner. "We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we're afraid others will think they're a loser."
But other people, as it turns out, actually aren't thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There's a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others' interest in our affairs. The phenomenon is so well known that there is even a name for it in psychology: the spotlight effect. A 2000 study conducted by Thomas Gilovich found that people regularly adjust their actions to account for the perspective of others, even though their actions effectively go unnoticed. Many other researchers have since confirmed the pattern of egocentric thinking that skews how we act.
GMO Quarterly Letter 1Q 2015
U.S. Secular Growth: Donkey or Racehorse? -- Jeremy Grantham
Mainstream economics continues to represent our economic system as made up of capital, labor, and a perpetual motion machine. It apparently does not need resources, finite or otherwise. Mainstream economics is generous in its assumptions. Just as it assumes market efficiency and perpetually rational economic players, feeling no compulsion to reconcile the data of an inconvenient real world, so it also assumes away any long-term resource problems. "It's just a question of price." Yes, but one day just a price that a workable economy simply can't afford!
Tue May 19 14:06:13 EDT 2015
Problems with Science
I am a big fan of science and so am happy to see that current problems with scientific research are being tackled.
The Trouble With Scientists
How one psychologist is tackling human biases in science.
Given that science has uncovered a dizzying variety of cognitive biases, the relative neglect of their consequences within science itself is peculiar. "I was aware of biases in humans at large," says Hartgerink, "but when I first 'learned' that they also apply to scientists, I was somewhat amazed, even though it is so obvious."
One of the reasons the science literature gets skewed is that journals are much more likely to publish positive than negative results: It's easier to say something is true than to say it's wrong. Journal referees might be inclined to reject negative results as too boring, and researchers currently get little credit or status, from funders or departments, from such findings. "If you do 20 experiments, one of them is likely to have a publishable result," Oransky and Marcus write. "But only publishing that result doesn't make your findings valid. In fact it's quite the opposite."
... Surprisingly, Nosek thinks that one of the most effective solutions to cognitive bias in science could come from the discipline that has weathered some of the heaviest criticism recently for its error-prone and self-deluding ways: pharmacology. It is precisely because these problems are so manifest in the pharmaceutical industry that this community is, in Nosek's view, way ahead of the rest of science in dealing with them. For example, because of the known tendency of drug companies and their collaborators to report positive results of trials and to soft-pedal negative ones, it is now a legal requirement in the Unites States for all clinical trials to be entered in a registry before they begin. This obliges the researchers to report the results whatever they say.
... The idea, says Nosek, is that researchers "write down in advance what their study is for and what they think will happen." Then when they do their experiments, they agree to be bound to analyzing the results strictly within the confines of that original plan. It sounds utterly elementary, like the kind of thing we teach children about how to do science. And indeed it is--but it is rarely what happens. Instead, as Fiedler testifies, the analysis gets made on the basis of all kinds of unstated and usually unconscious assumptions about what would or wouldn't be seen. Nosek says that researchers who have used the OSF* have often been amazed at how, by the time they come to look at their results, the project has diverged from the original aims they'd stated.
Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.
So why write a blog on retractions?
First, science takes justifiable pride in the fact that it is self-correcting -- most of the time. Usually, that just means more or better data, not fraud or mistakes that would require a retraction. But when a retraction is necessary, how long does that self-correction take? The Wakefield retraction, for example, was issued 12 years after the original study, and six years after serious questions had been raised publicly by journalist Brian Deer. Retractions are therefore a window into the scientific process.
Second, retractions are not often well-publicized. Sure, there are the high-profile cases such as Reuben's and Wakefield's. But most retractions live in obscurity in Medline and other databases. That means those who funded the retracted research -- often taxpayers -- aren't particularly likely to find out about them. Nor are investors always likely to hear about retractions on basic science papers whose findings may have formed the basis for companies into which they pour dollars. So we hope this blog will form an informal repository for the retractions we find, and might even spur the creation of a retraction database such as the one called for here by K.M Korpela.
Third, they're often the clues to great stories about fraud or other malfeasance, as Adam learned when he chased down the Reuben story. The reverse can also be true. The Cancer Letter's expose of Potti and his fake Rhodes Scholarship is what led his co-authors to remind The Lancet Oncology of their concerns, and then the editors to issue their expression of concern. And they can even lead to lawsuits for damaged reputations. If highlighting retractions will give journalists more tools to uncover fraud and misuse of funds, we're happy to help. And if those stories are appropriate for our respective news outlets, you'll only read about them on Retraction Watch once we've covered them there.
Finally, we're interested in whether journals are consistent. How long do they wait before printing a retraction? What requires one? How much of a public announcement, if any, do they make? Does a journal with a low rate of retractions have a better peer review and editing process, or is it just sweeping more mistakes under the rug?
First results from psychology's largest reproducibility test
Crowd-sourced effort raises nuanced questions about what counts as replication.
An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week -- and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced.
But the situation is more nuanced than the top-line numbers suggest (See graphic, 'Reliability test'). Of the 61 non-replicated studies, scientists classed 24 as producing findings at least "moderately similar" to those of the original experiments, even though they did not meet pre-established criteria, such as statistical significance, that would count as a successful replication.
When All Models Are Wrong
More stringent quality criteria are needed for models used at the science/policy interface, and here is a checklist to aid in the responsible development and use of models.
Against this background of declining trust and increasing problems with the reliability of scientific knowledge in the public sphere, the dangers for science become most evident when models-abstracts of more complex real-world problems, generally rendered in mathematical terms-are used as policy tools. Evidence of poor modeling practice and of negative consequences for society abounds.
... The situation is equally serious in the field of environmental regulatory science. Orrin Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, in a stimulating small volume titled Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future, offer a particularly accessible series of horror stories about model misuse and consequent policy failure. They suggest, for example, that the global change modeling community should publicly recognize that the effort to quantify the future at a scale that would be useful for policy is an academic exercise. They call modeling counterproductive in that it offers the illusion of accurate predictions about climate and sea level decades and even centuries in the future. Pilkey and Pilkey-Jarvis argue that given the huge time scales, decisionmakers (and society) would be much better off without such predictions, because the accuracy and value of the predictions themselves end up being at the center of policy debates, and distract from the need and capacity to deal with the problem despite ongoing uncertainties.
... In this light, we wish to revisit statistician George E. P. Box's 1987 observation that "all models are wrong but some are useful." We want to propose a key implication of Box's aphorism for science policy: that stringent criteria of transparency must be adopted when models are used as a basis for policy assessments. Failure to open up the black box of modeling is likely to lead only to greater erosion of the credibility and legitimacy of science as a tool for improved policymaking. In this effort, we will follow The Economist's recommendations and provide a checklist, in the form of specific rules for achieving this transparency.
Science's Biggest Fail
What's is science's biggest fail of all time? I nominate everything about diet and fitness.
... Science is an amazing thing. But it has a credibility issue that it earned. Should we fix the credibility situation by brainwashing skeptical citizens to believe in science despite its spotty track record, or is society's current level of skepticism healthier than it looks? Maybe science is what needs to improve, not the citizens.
Unreliable research: Trouble at the lab
Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not. The Economist, Oct 19th 2013
Dr Kahneman and a growing number of his colleagues fear that a lot of this priming research is poorly founded. Over the past few years various researchers have made systematic attempts to replicate some of the more widely cited priming experiments. Many of these replications have failed.
In 2005 John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, caused a stir with a paper showing why, as a matter of statistical logic, the idea that only one such paper in 20 gives a false-positive result was hugely optimistic. Instead, he argued, "most published research findings are probably false."
The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy
The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (2002-2008) examined the nature of science and how it is used and misused in government decision-making and legal proceedings. Through empirical research, conversations among scholars, and publications, SKAPP aimed to enhance understanding of how knowledge is generated and interpreted. SKAPP promoted transparent decision-making, based on the best available science, to protect public health.
How and why science works may be difficult for non-scientists to understand. The aura around science and scientists - reflecting the power of scientific understanding and its complexity - creates opportunities for misunderstanding and misuse of scientific evidence. Indeed, failure on the part of decision-makers to understand the norms of science may lead to inaccurate conclusions and inappropriate applications of scientific results.
Thu Apr 30 14:58:31 EDT 2015
Items of Interest
Various web links I found to be of interest recently:
Randomness, Skill, and Investment Strategies
Campbell Harvey of Duke University talks with EconTalk podcast host Russ Roberts about his research evaluating various investment and trading strategies and the challenge of measuring their effectiveness.Among topics discussed, two examples of (mis)understanding randomness given:
Significant: Jelly Beans Cause Acne
- So let me set up what actually happens. So, let's say after those 10 weeks in a row you actually subscribe to this person's predictions. And then they don't do so well, after the 10 weeks. And the reason is that the original strategy was basically: Send an email to 100,000 people, and in 50,000 of those emails you say that Team A is going to win on Monday. And in 50,000 you say Team B is going to win on Monday. And then, if Team A wins, the next week you only send to the people that got the correct prediction. So, the next week you do the same thing. 25,000 for Team A, 25,000 for Team B. And you continue doing this. And the size of the number of emails decreases every single week, until after that 10th week, there are 97 people that got 10 picks in a row correct. So you harvest 97 suckers out of this.
- Significant: Jelly Beans Cause Acne
No autism-vaccine link, study finds
Research should focus on prenatal causes of the disorder, scientists say
No association was found between autism and getting the MMR vaccine, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA.
The study of 95,000 children with older siblings also examined those at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), namely those who have an older autistic sibling. No link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism was found in these high-risk children, researchers said in the study.
Declining Desire to Work and Downward Trends in
Unemployment and Participation
The US labor market has witnessed two apparently unrelated trends in the last 30 years: a decline in unemployment between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, and a decline in labor force participation since the early 2000s. We show that a substantial factor behind both trends is a decline in desire to work among individuals outside the labor force, with a particularly strong decline during the second half of the 90s. A decline in desire to work lowers both the unemployment rate and the participation rate, because a nonparticipant who wants to work has a high probability to join the unemployment pool in the future, while a nonparticipant who does not want to work has a low probability to ever enter the labor force. We use cross-sectional variation to estimate a model of nonparticipants' propensity to want a job, and we find that changes in the provision of welfare and social insurance, possibly linked to the mid-90s welfare reforms, explain about 50 percent of the decline in desire to work.
The Placebo Gene?
In the current study researchers performed a retrospective analysis of an existing study population in which there was a no-treatment arm (waitlist control), placebo acupuncture with minimal practitioner interaction, and placebo acupuncture with enhanced emotional support (the "warm and fuzzy" arm). The study population are those with IBS, a syndrome known to have a substantial emotional component. Further, the outcome was the subjective report of symptoms from the subjects. In other words - the syndrome and outcomes were amenable to maximal placebo responses. Prior studies have consistently shown that for subjective symptoms such as this the interaction with the practitioner is the single most important factor in reporting a subjective improvement in symptoms from a placebo intervention.
... Patients with the gene variant associated with increased dopamine activity in both alleles (copies of the gene) showed more of a placebo response, especially to the warm and fuzzy intervention. While again I have to emphasize the preliminary nature of this research, the results are plausible and do make sense. IBS is particularly susceptible to suggestion and a warm interaction with a practitioner, interventions that reduce anxiety and improve mood. Anxiety, mood, and the emotional response to pain and discomfort are all brain phenomena, and dopamine is an important brain neurotransmitter involved with emotion and reward, so it's not surprising.
FT Masterclass: Pickpocketing and how to avoid it with James Freedman
I ask if there are certain hotspots where pickpockets strike. Tourist spots, Freedman tells me, especially places such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, where people's attention is directed upwards and away from their belongings. He says that many pickpockets also operate near signs warning us to beware of pickpockets. The irony is that when people read the signs, they check their pockets or bag, thus alerting the lurking pickpocket to where their valuables are.
Study: Believing You've Slept Well, Even If You Haven't, Improves Performance
Results: Participants who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on the test, and those who were told their REM sleep was below average performed worse, even when researchers controlled for the subjects' self-reported sleep quality.
Implications: A great victory was won here for lies, over truth. This study shows that if you're in the mindset that you're well-rested, your brain will perform better, regardless of the actual quality of your sleep. Conversely, constantly talking about how tired you are, as so often happens in our culture, might be detrimental to your performance.
Can you succeed at anything with enough practice?
How much is achievement based on natural ability and how much hard work?
In an international experiment, a table-tennis coach gave an "unsporty" adult an hour's coaching every day for a year in a bid to make him one of the top table tennis players in Britain.
Why did the project fail? Table tennis has the smallest court, the smallest ball, the smallest bat, the quickest reaction times, the most spin, and it's the only sport where you play on one surface but stand on another.
Thu Apr 9 14:48:02 EDT 2015
Why I am a Climate Change Skeptic
Dr. Patrick Moore, Greenpeace co-founder and former director Greenpeace International.
My skepticism begins with the believers' certainty they can predict the global climate with a computer model. The entire basis for the doomsday climate change scenario is the hypothesis increased atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fossil fuel emissions will heat the Earth to unlivable temperatures.
... In fact, the Earth has been warming very gradually for 300 years, since the Little Ice Age ended, long before heavy use of fossil fuels. Prior to the Little Ice Age, during the Medieval Warm Period, Vikings colonized Greenland and Newfoundland, when it was warmer there than today. And during Roman times, it was warmer, long before fossil fuels revolutionized civilization.
The idea it would be catastrophic if carbon dioxide were to increase and average global temperature were to rise a few degrees is preposterous.
It's Not The Heat, It's the Tepidity
Clifford Asness and Aaron Brown
Of course the real but rather small trend doesn't prove that global warming is a minor issue, far from it. We're just saying the graph taken on its own is actually pretty reassuring, at least compared to predictions, and declared danger points, of the IPCC and similar groups. If things continue along the way they have for the last 135 years, the point at which we reach dangerous temperatures is a very very long time from now. Those predicting that we face a big problem much sooner aren't arguing this from these data, instead they have to be arguing that historical warming trends will change drastically in the near future; that they will not continue at the trend of the past hundred years or so. The historical record to date, and in particular this ubiquitous graph, can't be the basis of an argument that we will hit dangerous levels soon . To argue that we will hit them in this, or even next century requires us to explain away this graph, to explain why the rate of warming will increase.
... Of course, this raises the very important issue of whether or not 4°C is the right danger line. No one knows the answer to this question, but 4°C seems the most common figure used by the experts. It’s what the IPCC uses in its most recent report. No one denies that there are some risks and costs to any amount of warming, and on the other hand, almost no one is predicting that warming at or slightly beyond 4°C will cause extinction of the human race either. Risks go up with the amount of warming. We just don't know how fast. Despite the uncertainties, there seems to e a scientific consensus that less than 1°C or 2°C of warming would make global warming no more serious than several other environmental issues, but warming above 4°C would likely make global warming a unique danger. Even if the danger point is 2°C this trend doesn't reach it until over 130 years from now.
For reactions and rebuttals see Imagine if They Disagreed With Us!
What we did not expect was the immediate and strong chorus of agreement, yes agreement, from climate scientists. Equally unexpected was that their agreement would be couched in unfriendly terms!
Tue Mar 31 12:05:36 EDT 2015
Items of Interest
Various web links I found to be of interest recently:
Homeopathy won't cure you, researchers conclude
Is this news?
After a years-long review of hundreds of studies, Australia's top medical research agency has concluded that homeopathy is essentially useless for treating any medical condition.
... Although several studies have shown that homeopathic "remedies" have no detectable amounts of the original substance left, homeopaths believe the tinctures retain a "memory" of the original substance and are thus effective.
... They say they found no reliable evidence that any homeopathic treatment led to health improvements that were any better than a placebo. And the researchers say the studies that did find homeopathic remedies effective were either so poorly designed, or so poorly conducted, that they were too flawed to be considered reliable.
Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind
Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them
Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies.
What's Changed about the Standard of Living?
It's Complicated. But Hopeful. By Megan McArdle
This list illustrates why public policy seems to be struggling to come up with a plan of attack against our current insecurities. The welfare state is relatively good at giving people money: you collect the taxes, write a check, and now people have money. The welfare state has proven very bad at giving people stable jobs and stable families, a vibrant community life, promising career tracks, or a cure for their drug addiction. No wonder so many hopes now seem to be pinned on early childhood education, far in excess of the evidence to support them: it is the only thing we have not already tried and failed at.
But I think this list illustrates the poverty of trying to measure living standards by staring at median wages. Many of the changes of the last century show up in that statistic, but others, like the time no longer spent plucking chickens, or the joys of banishing lye from the pantry, appear nowhere. Nor do the changes in job and family structure that have made the lives of people who are indisputably vastly materially richer than my young grandparents were, nonetheless feel much more precarious. We look into the numbers and think we're seeing hard facts. But in fact, like someone reading tea leaves, we are projecting our intangible impressions onto an ambiguous picture.
Why the Idea That a Big Cyber Attack Could Create a Huge Tech Armageddon Is Pure BS
It turns out that all the talk of cyber Armageddon was a load of bunkum. An elaborate propaganda campaign which only serves as a pretext to sacrifice our civil liberties and channel an ocean of cash to the defense industry.
Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?
The continuing debate over a murky sexual encounter at a 2008 convention for cheekily anti-establishment skeptics underscores a broader dilemma: How can a progressive, important intellectual community behave so poorly towards its female peers?
Genetic Data Tools Reveal How Pop Music Evolved In The US
... and show that The Beatles didn't start the 1964 American music revolution after all
Instead, they say that the evolution of music between 1960 and 2010 was largely constant but punctuated by periods of rapid change. "We identified three revolutions: a major one around 1991 and two smaller ones around 1964 and 1983," they say.
The characters of these revolutions were all different with the 1964 revolution being the most complex.
... Another question hotly debated by music commentators is how British bands such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones influenced the American music scene in the early 1960s. Mauch and co are emphatic in their conclusion. "The British did not start the American revolution of 1964," they say.
Wed Mar 25 13:31:39 EDT 2015
Problem with Economists
Why do people still pay attention to a profession that has been so wrong so often?
What Good Are Economists?
Robert J. Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale
Indeed, economists failed to forecast most of the major crises in the last century, including the severe 1920-21 slump, the 1980-82 back-to-back recessions, and the worst of them all, the Great Depression after the 1929 stock-market crash.
... A cynic might ask, "If economists are so smart, why aren't they the richest people around?" The answer is simple: Most economic ideas are public goods that cannot be patented or otherwise owned by their inventors. Just because most economists are not rich does not mean that they have not made many people richer.
I guess I must be a cynic because I disagree with the Nobel laureate. If economists understood economics they could become rich without owning or patenting anything, by for example just betting on which way interest rates will go.
How Economists Came to Dominate the Conversation
There's an old Bob Dylan song that goes "there's no success like failure," and it's a lesson that's been central to the rise of the economics profession. Each economic calamity since the Great Depression -- stagflation in the 1970s, the double-dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the 1991 downturn -- has served to boost the stock of economists. The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.
Explaining How Economists Explain
It takes a physicist, Mark Buchanan, to analyze what is wrong with economics:
Academic economists, they say, use the term "explanation" in a way that other scientists never would. Instead of developing realistic and testable theories like those in biology or physics, they often aim only to develop "theoretical cases" -- imaginary mathematical worlds with their own rules of cause and effect.
... And yet, Gilboa and his colleagues suggest that most economists don't see checking the external validity of models as part of their job. Rather, they like to make whatever assumptions are needed to prove their results, get published in a journal, and then "leave the similarity judgements to practitioners." If their results are inappropriately applied in the real world, that's not their problem. In no way does it threaten the reputation of the theories they have developed.
As explained in The Economist the only reliable method to evaluate predictions is to conduct a Philip Tetlock forecasting tournament.
Addendum 04/19/2015: Science's Toughest Test, & Higgs Particle vs Piketty
Good science allows only shakeable faiths. Its toughest test comes
when new evidence meets old certainties. By that test some economics
seems more art (or math masked religion) than science.
... One aspect of Tyler Cowen's intertribal Piketty review illustrates. He calls Piketty's redistributive recommendations "more ideological than analytic," then complains about "distorting effects" of "intense government control," asserting that growing the "economy would do more than wealth redistribution to combat...inequality." But recent IMF research finds "no observed tradeoff between redistributive...institutions and...growth." Instead "inequality reduces growth". Are Cowen's ideological priors encouraging him to discount contrary evidence?
Wed Mar 4 22:41:29 EST 2015
It is pretty hard to find decent coverage of Netanyahu's address to Congress from conventional reports in newspapers or on radio or television. As usual for some good coverage see how Jon Stewart covered it on The Daily Show,
Two points raised there are also mentioned by Robin Wright in The New Yorker news-desk,
- Netanyahu has made a career out of crusading against Iran. In 1992, as a member of parliament, he predicted that Iran was three to five years away from producing a nuclear weapon, and appealed for its program to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S." He cited the same time frame three years later, in his book "Fighting Terrorism."
- Netanyahu has long supported American military intervention. In 2002, he testified before Congress in favor of invading Iraq, and predicted that ousting Saddam Hussein would have "enormous positive reverberations on the region" and ripen Iran for revolt against the theocracy. "It's not a question of whether you'd like to see a regime change in Iran but how to achieve it," he said. Today, Iran holds more sway over Iraq than any other country.
What are the odd of someone like Charlie Rose, who gets to interview Netanyahu, ever asking him about his past comments and poor record of predictions?
Sat Feb 28 21:36:48 EST 2015
Items of Interest
Various web links I found to be of interest recently:
A Skeptic's View of Pharmaceutical Progress
To obtain a balanced view of pharmaceutical progress (or lack thereof), we need to step back, define a few terms and concepts, and make explicit certain assumptions.
There is also no doubt that some companies have flagrantly covered up negative data. In some cases, after being "caught" the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines or, in one recent case, settled with harmed patients for $5 billion (Singer 2009).
Almost everyone outside the industry feels an excessive amount of money is spent on misleading advertising--especially for drugs like those in table 5 that would not sell themselves. Also, the use of ghost writers and excessive payments to thought leaders, florid conflicts of interest, and payments to practicing physicians to encourage specific drug use clearly occur (see table 1). These practices should be outlawed (Stein-brook 2009).
Finally, scientifically worthless seeding studies (i.e., studies that do not test a hypothesis but are meant to familiarize physicians with the drug with the intent of increasing sales) may be on the wane, as is publishing only positive data and encouraging biased talks and literature. The press, academicians, journals, and public have wisely cracked down and lampooned such practices endlessly.
However, I submit that incredible good has been done by the drugs and vaccines in tables 3 and 4 (and many others not mentioned because of space limitations, like erythropoetin for certain types of anemia).
See the full article for more of the positives (based on facts). Overall, I think a good skeptical nuanced analysis.
Three part series by
blogger George Johnson.
"These results do not allow us to make any judgment regarding possible levels of risk at levels of exposure typical for water fluoridation in the U.S. On the other hand, neither can it be concluded that no risk is present."
Which is the problem with all of these issues: you can never prove a negative. And that opens the door for truthiness with numbers. Scienciness.
Should Unprovable Physics Be Considered Philosophy?
In some large part, science is powerful not because of ideas but because of how it treats ideas. Science asks, prove it. The distinction is what separates science from philosophy: falsifiable claims and experimentation.
. . . String theory and the multiverse are concepts that by definition defy experimentation, and yet a small movement within cosmology is attempting to make the case that they should be exempt. At stake, according to Ellis and Silk, is the integrity of science itself.
. . . The scientific high-ground is at stake, with an ocean of pseudoscientists ready to flood the landscape, taking the public with them. The answer, according to th current paper, lies in a simple question. What observational or experimental evidence is there that would convince a theorist that their theory is wrong? If there is none, then the theory is not a scientific theory.
The Key to Science (and Life) Is Being Wrong
In order to recognize wrongness, scientists must maintain some level of detachment from their cherished theories and be open to the ideas of others in their respective fields.
... Wrongness is something we all secretly or openly dread. According to self-described "Wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz, in the abstract, we all understand that we're fallible but on the personal level, we leave little to no room for being wrong.
The Dark Science Of Interrogation
How to find out anything from anyone
Hundreds of studies have shown that interrogators would be just as well off flipping a coin
The Value of Violence
Ginsberg's book is a direct challenge to the optimism of the celebrated cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker, whose 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argued that violence is playing a diminishing role in human affairs. Ginsberg counters that violence is essential both to transformational change and to the preservation of political and social order.Also see Ginsberg's article Why Violence Works in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Preference for Potential
Paper from Stanford University and Harvard Business School
When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., "this person has won an award for his work"), references to potential (e.g., "this person could win an award for his work") appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing. We document this preference for potential in laboratory and field experiments, using targets ranging from athletes to comedians to graduate school applicants and measures ranging from salary allocations to online ad clicks to admission decisions.