Fri Oct 12 18:00:38 EDT 2012

Problems in Science Research

Although the scientific method is our best method for discovering the truth, there are some problems.
  • Misconduct is the main cause of life-sciences retractions:
    A survey published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that two-thirds of retracted life-sciences papers were stricken from the scientific record because of misconduct such as fraud or suspected fraud -- and that journals sometimes soft-pedal the reason.
    The analysis revealed that fraud or suspected fraud was responsible for 43% of the retractions. Other types of misconduct - duplicate publication and plagiarism - accounted for 14% and 10% of retractions, respectively. Only 21% of the papers were retracted because of error

  • Social-priming research needs "daisy chain" of replication.
    In light of the fact that classic priming studies claiming subtle cues can unconsciously influence our thoughts or behaviour cannot be replicated, Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman wants psychologists to spend more time replicating each others' work.

    This is related to a general problem with scientific research, in that interesting news worthy results get a lot of attention while follow up studies that have negative results are ignored. See Replication studies: Bad copy

Perhaps these offer some explanation for the problems:
  • Why do people love to say that correlation does not imply causation?
    Quoting the last two paragraphs:
    I wonder if it has to do with what the foible represents. When we mistake correlation for causation, we find a cause that isn't there. Once upon a time, perhaps, these sorts of errors - false positives - were not so bad at all. If you ate a berry and got sick, you'd have been wise to imbue your data with some meaning. (Better safe than sorry.) Same goes for a red-hot coal: one touch and you've got all the correlations that you need. When the world is strange and scary, when nature bullies and confounds us, it's far worse to miss a link than it is to make one up. A false negative yields the greatest risk.

    Now conditions are reversed. We're the bullies over nature and less afraid of poison berries. When we make a claim about causation, it's not so we can hide out from the world but so we can intervene in it. A false positive means approving drugs that have no effect, or imposing regulations that make no difference, or wasting money in schemes to limit unemployment. As science grows more powerful and government more technocratic, the stakes of correlation-of counterfeit relationships and bogus findings-grow ever larger. The false positive is now more onerous than it's ever been. And all we have to fight it is a catchphrase.

  • Does Biology Make us Liars?
    Oren Harman in The New Republic, October 2012, reviews the new book by author Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life saying,
    Deception is rife in humans for the same reason it is in nature: there are inbuilt clashes of interest, whether it be sexual strategy when it comes to females and males, parental investment when it comes to mothers and fathers, or resource allocation when it comes to parents and offspring.
    And concerning self-deception,
    Trick yourself to trick another: what better way to conceal the truth? Self-deception is not a defensive measure meant only to make us feel better; it is a weapon instilled in us by natural selection to help deceive others for our own good.

Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments
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