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)

We welcome some readers’ submissions:

How the Dead Arise

From the New York Times, the Dead:

[A] new analysis, undertaken jointly by the Bicep group and the Planck group, has confirmed that the Bicep signal was mostly, if not all, stardust, and that there is no convincing evidence of the gravitational waves.

The Undead:

No evidence of inflation.
… no detectable signal ...
… a small excess signal ...
… far from the final word ...
I’m not discouraged ...
So yes, we are very excited …
[I]nflation is still alive and well …
Inflation is the most important idea in cosmology since the hot Big Bang …
It is our Helen of Troy, launching a thousand experiments.
  • E
  • SBB

Most Severe, Least Severe—What’s the Difference?

From the World Health Organisation (WHO):

The Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times.

The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed at least 50 million people worldwide. At the time of writing, the death toll from the recent Ebola outbreak is, according to the WHO, 9,177 people.

  • E
  • SBB
  • 2 + 2 = 5
  • DTF

Chewing the Cud

From an edited transcript of a discussion entitled “The Brain or the Universe – Where Does Math Come From?” published by the Kavli Foundation:

A cat is actually a very elaborate arrangement of particles such as electrons, which are purely mathematical objects in the sense that they have no properties other than mathematical properties …
I think many physicists, including myself, agree that there should be some complete description of the universe and the laws of nature. Implicit in that assumption is the universe is intrinsically mathematical …
My argument is that we evolved a brain-based system for detecting and comparing the number of items in groups …
A set of two cups is different from a set of two electrons …
It’s true that without a brain we can’t do math …
I think formal reasoning stems from our frontal lobes of the brain and there are some axioms about numbers that come from the parietal lobes of the brain …
It just means that the actual full reality is bigger than the reality that we can see …
Many wars are due to not understanding another culture’s logic …
There are still some unanswered questions.

How’s That Again?

From the Los Angeles Times:

In the muddy sediments beneath the deep sea, scientists have found ancient communities of bacteria that have remained virtually unchanged for 2.3 billion years.
Researchers say these microscopic organisms are an example of “extreme evolutionary stasis” and represent the greatest lack of evolution ever seen.
They may also, paradoxically, prove that Darwin’s theory of evolution is true.
  • JPD

The Research Frontier

From the Journal of Fluid Mechanics:

While fluid flows are known to promote dissolution of materials, such processes are poorly understood due to the coupled dynamics of the flow and the receding surface. We study this moving boundary problem through experiments in which hard candy bodies dissolve in laminar high-speed water flows. [emphasis added] We find that different initial geometries are sculpted into a similar terminal form before ultimately vanishing, suggesting convergence to a stable shape–flow state. A model linking the flow and solute concentration shows how uniform boundary-layer thickness leads to uniform dissolution, allowing us to obtain an analytical expression for the terminal geometry. Newly derived scaling laws predict that the dissolution rate increases with the square root of the flow speed and that the body volume vanishes quadratically in time, both of which are confirmed by experimental measurements.
  • DTF

Bird Brains


In a new study from the University of Iowa, researchers found that pigeons can categorize and name both natural and manmade objects—and not just a few objects. These birds categorized 128 photographs into 16 categories, and they did so simultaneously.
Ed Wasserman, UI professor of psychology and corresponding author of the study, says the finding suggests a similarity between how pigeons learn the equivalent of words and the way children do.
Wasserman acknowledges the recent pigeon study is not a direct analogue of word learning in children and more work needs to be done.
  • E

What Could Go Wrong?

From Nature:

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are increasingly deployed at large scales and in open environments. Genetic biocontainment strategies are needed to prevent unintended proliferation of GMOs in natural ecosystems. Existing biocontainment methods are insufficient because they impose evolutionary pressure on the organism to eject the safeguard by spontaneous mutagenesis or horizontal gene transfer, or because they can be circumvented by environmentally available compounds. Here we computationally redesign essential enzymes in the first organism possessing an altered genetic code (Escherichia coli strain C321.ΔA) to confer metabolic dependence on non-standard amino acids for survival. The resulting GMOs cannot metabolically bypass their biocontainment mechanisms using known environmental compounds, and they exhibit unprecedented resistance to evolutionary escape through mutagenesis and horizontal gene transfer. [emphasis added] This work provides a foundation for safer GMOs that are isolated from natural ecosystems by a reliance on synthetic metabolites.
  • E

Proves the Common Wisdom

From Science:

Poker is a family of games that exhibit imperfect information, where players do not have full knowledge of past events. Whereas many perfect-information games have been solved (e.g., Connect Four and checkers), no nontrivial imperfect-information game played competitively by humans has previously been solved. Here, we announce that heads-up limit Texas hold’em is now essentially weakly solved. Furthermore, this computation formally proves the common wisdom that the dealer in the game holds a substantial advantage. This result was enabled by a new algorithm, CFR+, which is capable of solving extensive-form games orders of magnitude larger than previously possible.
  • WTYS

From Nothing, Nothing

From the BBC:

People have wrestled with the mystery of why the universe exists for thousands of years.
It had to happen … because “nothing” is inherently unstable.
  • BQ
  • IDC
  • POM
  • JPD

Nah, You Can Go Lower

From the Ottawa Citizen:

I had confessed to plagiarism and other academic fraud.
The editor’s response? “OK, no problem.”
That’s when I knew I had hit the bottom of the barrel in scientific publishing.
  • P
  • SBB

Pick a Card, Any Card


This study joins a nascent wave of experiments that binds the magical arts to the principles of psychological and neural sciences.
  • JPD

Settled Science

From Scientific American (2008):

Our universe may have started not with a big bang but with a big bounce—an implosion that triggered an explosion, all driven by exotic quantum-gravitational effects

From (2015):

The universe may have existed forever, according to a new model that applies quantum correction terms to complement Einstein's theory of general relativity.
  • DTF

Think about the Polar Bears

From NPR:

A new study looks at the future of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and finds that by the end of this century, the region might be ice-free for 2 to 5 months, something that puts bears in grave peril.
  • ID
  • ICE
  • SBB
  • 2 + 2 = 5
  • DTF

Harvard Mathematicians Hard at Work

From BBC News:

Even people in the best relationships have arguments. But mathematicians have found that the way you argue can reveal your chances of success as a couple.
  • JPD

Clears That Right Up


“We consistently find with every new fossil that the earliest mammals were just as diverse in both feeding and locomotor adaptations as modern mammals,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, PhD, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago … “The groundwork for mammalian success today appears to have been laid long ago.”
  • E
  • DTF