By inadequacies, we mean:
- Exaggeration (E)
- Irreproducible results (IR)
- Inadequate data (ID)
- Begging the question (BQ)
- Confusing correlation with causation (CCC)
- Plagiarism (P)
- Ill-conceived experiments (ICE)
- Ill-defined concepts (IDC)
- Conflicts of interest (CI)
- Scientists behaving badly (SBB)
- The numbers don’t add up (2 + 2 = 5)
- Purely ornamental mathematics (POM)
- Appalling prose (AP)
- Why did someone publish this? (WDSPT)
- Just plain dumb (JPD)
- Don’t touch our funding (DTF)
- We told you so (WTYS)
- Too close to call (TCC)
- Could be (CB)
- Stating the Obvious (SO)
- All of the Above (AA)
We welcome some readers’ submissions:
Any Day Now
Some philosophers, mystics and other confabulatores nocturne pontificate about the impossibility of ever understanding the true nature of consciousness, of subjectivity. Yet there is little rationale for buying into such defeatist talk and every reason to look forward to the day, not that far off, when science will come to a naturalized, quantitative and predictive understanding of consciousness and its place in the universe
When Metaphors Mate
Determinists believe all roads lead to the Singularity, a glorious merger between man and machine. Constructivists aren’t so sure: it depends on who’s writing the code. In some sense, the debate about intelligent machines has become a hologram of mortal outcomes—a utopia from one perspective, an apocalypse from another. Conversations about technology are almost always conversations about history. What’s at stake is the trajectory of modernity. Is it marching upward, plunging downward, or bending back on itself? Three new books reckon with this question through the lens of emerging technologies. Taken collectively, they offer a medley of the recurring, and often conflicting, narratives about technology and progress.
It’s All in Ayn Rand
“We take a very simple model of choice that’s been developed for predicting perceptual decisions—like whether a dot is moving left or right—and adapt it to capture generosity,” says lead author Cendri Hutcherson, who did the work as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology and now directs the Decision Neuroscience Lab at the University of Toronto. “With this simple model, we are able to explain a huge host of previously confusing patterns about how people make altruistic choices.”
Suppose the Glass is Half-Empty. Now Follow Us on This
That still leaves huge uncertainties in calculating the probability for advanced life to evolve on habitable planets. It’s here that Frank and Sullivan flip the question around. Rather than guessing at the odds of advanced life developing, they calculate the odds against it occurring in order for humanity to be the only advanced civilization in the entire history of the observable universe. With that, Frank and Sullivan then calculated the line between a Universe where humanity has been the sole experiment in civilization and one where others have come before us.
“Of course, we have no idea how likely it is that an intelligent technological species will evolve on a given habitable planet,” says Frank. But using our method we can tell exactly how low that probability would have to be for us to be the ONLY civilization the Universe has produced. We call that the pessimism line. If the actual probability is greater than the pessimism line, then a technological species and civilization has likely happened before.”
Using this approach, Frank and Sullivan calculate how unlikely advanced life must be if there has never been another example among the universe’s ten billion trillion stars, or even among our own Milky Way galaxy’s hundred billion.
The result? By applying the new exoplanet data to the universe’s 2 × 10 to the 22nd power stars, Frank and Sullivan find that human civilization is likely to be unique in the cosmos only if the odds of a civilization developing on a habitable planet are less than about one in 10 billion trillion, or one part in 10 to the 22th power.
Its Crummy on Account of the Fact that We Like Crummy
Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings. Such poor methods persist despite perennial calls for improvement, suggesting that they result from something more than just misunderstanding. The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favour them, leading to the natural selection of bad science. This dynamic requires no conscious strategizing—no deliberate cheating nor loafing—by scientists, only that publication is a principal factor for career advancement. Some normative methods of analysis have almost certainly been selected to further publication instead of discovery. In order to improve the culture of science, a shift must be made away from correcting misunderstandings and towards rewarding understanding. We support this argument with empirical evidence and computational modelling. We first present a 60-year meta-analysis of statistical power in the behavioural sciences and show that power has not improved despite repeated demonstrations of the necessity of increasing power. To demonstrate the logical consequences of structural incentives, we then present a dynamic model of scientific communities in which competing laboratories investigate novel or previously published hypotheses using culturally transmitted research methods. As in the real world, successful labs produce more ‘progeny,’ such that their methods are more often copied and their students are more likely to start labs of their own. Selection for high output leads to poorer methods and increasingly high false discovery rates. We additionally show that replication slows but does not stop the process of methodological deterioration. Improving the quality of research requires change at the institutional level.
Maybe in the History of the Universe
Nearly 20 years ago, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice, a married couple at Case Western Reserve University, devised a foundational experiment on self-control. “Chocolate chip cookies were baked in the room in a small oven,” they wrote in a paper that has been cited more than 3,000 times. “As a result, the laboratory was filled with the delicious aroma of fresh chocolate and baking.”
In the history of psychology, there has never been a more important chocolate-y aroma.
Glaciers Don’t Have a Gender, but They’re Hot Anyway
The good news is that people are talking about glaciers! But there’s much more to the story than just the glaciers. People and societies impose their values on glaciers when they discuss, debate, and study them—which is what we mean when we say that ice is not just ice. Glaciers become the platform to express people’s own views about politics, economics, cultural values, and social relations (such as gender relations). The attention during the last week proves our point clearly: that glaciers are, in fact, highly politicized sites of contestation. Glaciers don’t have a gender. But the rhetoric about ice tells us a great deal about what people think of science and gender.
I’d Like You to Meet My Number One Lady
Little research to date has examined how those who serve as intermediaries between clients and prostitutes (i.e., pimps) are influenced by targeted police interventions. While earlier work noted that displacement from risky online venues (i.e., Backpage and Craigslist) occurs, this study relies on data gathered from interviews with a purposive sample of pimps in the cities of Atlanta and Chicago to examine further the effects of targeted enforcement on where pimps advertise online and use of technological tools to reduce risk of detection. Pimps who advertised on the Internet were not different from those who used nonvirtual advertising, suggesting similar markets in the virtual and nonvirtual illicit sex trade. The vast majority of pimps who utilized the Internet for business continued to use Craigslist and/or Backpage to advertise and developed additional tactics to leverage their use. Some pimps broadened their presence on the Internet to other locations (specialized websites), moved to the deep web, and utilized different technological tools to reduce their risk of detection. Last, pimps adopted more interactive marketing strategies that permitted them to remain where their customers were familiar, but tap into sections of websites that previously had not been utilized.
What Eight Years of Writing the Bad Science Column Have Taught Me? Nothing, Really
Real scientists can behave as badly as anyone else. Science isn’t about authority, or white coats, it’s about following a method. That method is built on core principles: precision and transparency; being clear about your methods; being honest about your results; and drawing a clear line between the results, on the one hand, and your judgment calls about how those results support a hypothesis. Anyone blurring these lines is iffy.
I’d Prefer to Live My Life Under Percodan
Love alone is untouchable, one of the last frontiers where the ability to manipulate or shun an experience seems to be asking for too much—but why? As Earp points out, love is in many ways a chemical reaction, and when love causes intense suffering or conflicts deeply with other values, people who want a chemical solution should, providing they give informed consent, have one. Access to anti-love drugs could bring some of us closer to one of the core values of Western society: personal autonomy, and a future where we control our lives and become the people we most want to be.
A State of Clear
The brain constructs packets of information, virtual models, that describe things in the world. Anything useful to monitor and predict, the brain can construct a model of it. These simulations change continuously as new information comes in, and they’re used to guide ongoing behavior. For example, the visual system constructs rich, detailed models of the objects in the visual world—a desk, a car, another person. But the brain doesn’t just model concrete objects in the external world. It also models its own internal processes. It constructs simulations of its own cognition.
Follow-up Study on Nose-Picking
We test the theory that shame evolved as a defense against being devalued by others. By hypothesis, shame is a neurocomputational program tailored by selection to orchestrate cognition, motivation, physiology, and behavior in the service of: (i) deterring the individual from making choices where the prospective costs of devaluation exceed the benefits, (ii) preventing negative information about the self from reaching others, and (iii) minimizing the adverse effects of devaluation when it occurs. Because the unnecessary activation of a defense is costly, the shame system should estimate the magnitude of the devaluative threat and use those estimates to cost-effectively calibrate its activation: Traits or actions that elicit more negative evaluations from others should elicit more shame. As predicted, shame closely tracks the threat of devaluation in the United States (r = .69), India (r = .79), and Israel (r = .67). Moreover, shame in each country strongly tracks devaluation in the others, suggesting that shame and devaluation are informed by a common species-wide logic of social valuation. The shame-devaluation link is also specific: Sadness and anxiety—emotions that coactivate with shame—fail to track devaluation. To our knowledge, this constitutes the first empirical demonstration of a close, specific match between shame and devaluation within and across cultures.
Full Disclosure: Author a Midget
The taller a person is, the more likely he or she is to support conservative political positions, support a conservative party and actually vote for conservative politicians, according to a new study using data from Britain.
“If you take two people with nearly identical characteristics—except one is taller than the other—on average the taller person will be more politically conservative,” said Sara Watson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of political science at The Ohio State University.
In this paper, the impact of holding umbrella on the uni- and bi-directional flow has been investigated via experiment and modeling. In the experiments, pedestrians are required to walk clockwise/anti-clockwise in a ring-shaped corridor under normal situation and holding umbrella situation. No matter in uni- or bi-directional flow, the flow rate under holding umbrella situation decreases comparing with that in normal situation. In bidirectional flow, pedestrians segregate into two opposite moving streams very quickly under normal situation, and clockwise/anti-clockwise walking pedestrians are always in the inner/outer lane due to right-walking preference. Under holding umbrella situation, spontaneous lane formation has also occurred. However, when holding umbrella, pedestrians may separate into more than two lanes. Moreover, the merge of lanes have been observed, and clockwise/anti-clockwise pedestrians are not always in the inner/outer lane. To model the flow dynamics, an improved force-based model has been proposed. The contact force between umbrellas has been taken into account. Simulation results are in agreement with the experimental ones.
Episcopalian, Most Likely
Mysterious chimpanzee behaviour may be evidence of ‘sacred’ rituals.