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)

We welcome some readers’ submissions:

Yeah, Yeah

From Sky News:

Billions of stars in our galaxy could have as many as three planets orbiting them that could support life.
Astronomers used data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope which has already confirmed that 1,000 planets are orbiting stars in the Milky Way – with another 3,000 possibles.
  • TCC

Plus Size Research

From The New York Times:

Most important, fat talk is not a harmless social-bonding ritual. According to an analysis of several studies that my colleagues and I published in 2012 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, fat talk was linked with body shame, body dissatisfaction and eating-disordered behavior. Fat talk does not motivate women to make healthier choices or take care of their bodies; in fact, the feelings of shame it brings about tend to encourage the opposite.
  • JPD


From Aeon:

At the level of states, Vincenzo Bove, Associate Professor in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick in the UK, and colleagues recently found that foreign nations are much more likely to intervene in a civil war when the country at war with itself also has valuable oil reserves.

Diffusion and the Dribble Down Effect


Diffusion of knowledge is expected to be huge when agents are open minded. The report concerns a more difficult diffusion case when communities are made of stubborn agents. Communities having markedly different opinions are for example the Neocreationist and Intelligent Design Proponents (IDP), on one hand, and the Darwinian Evolution Defenders (DED), on the other hand. The case of knowledge diffusion within such communities is studied here on a network based on an adjacency matrix built from time ordered selected quotations of agents, whence for inter- and intra-communities. The network is intrinsically directed and not necessarily reciprocal. Thus, the adjacency matrices have complex eigenvalues, the eigenvectors present complex components. A quantification of the slow-down or speed-up effects of information diffusion in such temporal networks, with non-Markovian contact sequences, can be made by comparing the real time dependent (directed) network to its counterpart, the time aggregated (undirected) network – which has real eigenvalues. In order to do so, small world networks which both contain an odd number of nodes are studied and compared to similar networks with an even number of nodes.
It is found that (i) the diffusion of knowledge is more difficult on the largest networks, (ii) the network size influences the slowing-down or speeding-up diffusion process. Interestingly, it is observed that (iii) the diffusion of knowledge is slower in IDP and faster in DED communities. It is suggested that the finding can be “rationalized,” if some “scientific quality” and “publication habit” is attributed to the agents, as common sense would guess. This finding offers some opening discussion toward tying scientific knowledge to belief.
  • AP
  • JPD

Your Cheatin’ Heart

From the New York Times:

Brendan P. Zietsch, a psychologist at the University of Queensland, Australia, has tried to determine whether some people are just more inclined toward infidelity. In a study of nearly 7,400 Finnish twins and their siblings who had all been in a relationship for at least one year, Dr. Zietsch looked at the link between promiscuity and specific variants of vasopressin and oxytocin receptor genes. Vasopressin is a hormone that has powerful effects on social behaviors like trust, empathy and sexual bonding in humans and other animals. So it makes sense that mutations in the vasopressin receptor gene — which can alter its function — could affect human sexual behavior.
He found that 9.8 percent of men and 6.4 percent of women reported that they had two or more sexual partners in the previous year. His study, published last year in Evolution and Human Behavior, found a significant association between five different variants of the vasopressin gene and infidelity in women only and no relationship between the oxytocin genes and sexual behavior for either sex. That was impressive: Forty percent of the variation in promiscuous behavior in women could be attributed to genes. That is surprising since, as Dr. Zietsch points out, there are so many other factors that are necessary for promiscuous encounters, like circumstance and the availability of a willing and able partner. Although this is the largest and best study on this, it’s not clear why there was no relationship between the vasopressin gene and promiscuous behavior in men.
  • JPD

Radical Definitely, Simple, Not so Much


“My view is that this has been a kind of catastrophe – we’ve lost our way,” he says. “What we need are ideas as simple and radical as in the start of the 20th century with quantum mechanics.”
  • TCC

Data is Oil and Vice Versa

From Les Echos:

Le 3ème âge des machines arrive. Ce sera une informatique quantique et cognitive pour effectuer les traitements Big Data en mode cloud. Ce troisième âge sera la suite de la Data Science, cette nouvelle science pluridisciplinaire dont on commence à se servir pour collecter, traiter et valoriser les mégadonnées (alias le Big Data). La Data Science est en quelque sorte la pétrochimie du digital, celle qui raffine les Big Data brutes en données utiles pour prédire les événements clés du business. Grâce à elle, on sait par avance le produit qu’un client choisira d’acheter. Pour parvenir à une telle prouesse, la Data Science a recours à des algorithmes tout à fait extraordinaires d’apprentissage automatique, des algorithmes qui ont la faculté de se réorganiser pour améliorer leurs prédictions.
  • E

Batty for Lashes

From ABC Science:

Long lashes may make your eyes stand out, but researchers have discovered the ideal lash length that protects your eyes from dust and damage.
The study, published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, found that eyelashes of a length around one-third the width of the eye set up a protective zone of still air over the eyeball’s surface.
Lead author Dr David Hu says he began to question the function of eyelashes after spending hours gazing at his newborn daughter’s eyes.
“For a long time there were quite a few hypotheses about what eyelashes were for,” says Hu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Some Restrictions Apply

From Nautilus:

“Darwin’s theory surely is the most important intellectual achievement of his time, perhaps of all time,” says evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner of the University of Zurich. “But the biggest mystery about evolution eluded his theory. And he couldn’t even get close to solving it.”
  • JPD

Nature Adores a Moron

From The Conversation:

How then should scientists respond to science denial? The answer lies in a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory”. Inoculation is an idea that changed history: stop a virus from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of the virus. This simple concept has saved millions of lives.
In the psychological domain, inoculation theory applies the concept of inoculation to knowledge. When we teach science, we typically restrict ourselves to just explaining the science. This is like giving people vitamins. We’re providing the information required for a healthier understanding. But vitamins don’t necessarily grant immunity against a virus.
  • WTYS

Paradox? What Paradox?

From the Proceedings of the International Conference on Autonomous Agents (2001):

Emergent self-organization in multi-agent systems appears to contradict the second law of thermodynamics. This paradox has been explained in terms of a coupling between the macro level that hosts self-organization (and an apparent reduction in entropy), and the micro level (where random processes greatly increase entropy). Metaphorically, the micro level serves as an entropy “sink,” permitting overall system entropy to increase while sequestering this increase from the interactions where self-organization is desired. We make this metaphor precise by constructing a simple example of pheromone-based coordination, defining a way to measure the Shannon entropy at the macro (agent) and micro (pheromone) levels, and exhibiting an entropy-based view of the coordination.
  • IDC
  • JPD

Rogue Hormones

From Nature:

It is widely known that financial markets can become dangerously unstable, yet it is unclear why. Recent research has highlighted the possibility that endogenous hormones, in particular testosterone and cortisol, may critically influence traders’ financial decision making. Here we show that cortisol, a hormone that modulates the response to physical or psychological stress, predicts instability in financial markets. Specifically, we recorded salivary levels of cortisol and testosterone in people participating in an experimental asset market (N = 142) and found that individual and aggregate levels of endogenous cortisol predict subsequent risk-taking and price instability. We then administered either cortisol (single oral dose of 100 mg hydrocortisone, N = 34) or testosterone (three doses of 10 g transdermal 1% testosterone gel over 48 hours, N = 41) to young males before they played an asset trading game. We found that both cortisol and testosterone shifted investment towards riskier assets. Cortisol appears to affect risk preferences directly, whereas testosterone operates by inducing increased optimism about future price changes. Our results suggest that changes in both cortisol and testosterone could play a destabilizing role in financial markets through increased risk taking behaviour, acting via different behavioural pathways.
  • TCC

No Gain for Pain

From Psychological Review:

Discovering the function of phenomenal states remains a formidable scientific challenge. Research on consciously penetrable conflicts (e.g., “pain-for-gain” scenarios) and impenetrable conflicts (as in the pupillary reflex, ventriloquism, and the McGurk effect [H. McGurk & J. MacDonald, 1976]) reveals that these states integrate diverse kinds of information to yield adaptive action. Supramodular interaction theory proposes that phenomenal states play an essential role in permitting interactions among supramodular response systems—agentic, independent, multimodal, information-processing structures defined by their concerns (e.g., instrumental action vs. certain bodily needs). Unlike unconscious processes (e.g., pupillary reflex), these processes may conflict with skeletal muscle plans, as described by the principle of parallel responses into skeletal muscle (PRISM). Without phenomenal states, these systems would be encapsulated and incapable of collectively influencing skeletomotor action.
  • CB

What Do You Mean I’m Wasting My Life at Hooters? This Is Research

From Science Daily:

A psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin sheds new light on today’s standards of beauty, attributing modern men’s preferences for women with a curvy backside to prehistoric influences.
The study, published online in Evolution and Human Behavior, investigated men’s mate preference for women with a “theoretically optimal angle of lumbar curvature,” a 45.5 degree curve from back to buttocks allowing ancestral women to better support, provide for, and carry out multiple pregnancies.
“What’s fascinating about this research is that it is yet another scientific illustration of a close fit between a sex-differentiated feature of human morphology—in this case lumbar curvature—and an evolved standard of attractiveness,” said the study’s co-author David Buss, a UT Austin psychology professor. “This adds to a growing body of evidence that beauty is not entirely arbitrary, or ‘in the eyes of the beholder’ as many in mainstream social science believed, but rather has a coherent adaptive logic.”
  • E
  • SBB

Defies Easy Explanation? Well, No…

From Nature:

Just like the human brain itself, the European Commission’s billion-euro Human Brain Project (HBP) defies easy explanation. Launched 18 months ago, the massive project is complex and, to most observers, confusing. Many people — both scientists and non-scientists — have thus accepted a description of the project that emerged from its leaders and its publicity machine: the aim of simulating the entire human brain in a supercomputer and so find cures for psychiatric and neurological disorders.
  • SO

All of Human History? Just Look at Newark


Cities are increasingly the fundamental socio-economic units of human societies worldwide, but we still lack a unified characterization of urbanization that captures the social processes realized by cities across time and space. This is especially important for understanding the role of cities in the history of human civilization and for determining whether studies of ancient cities are relevant for contemporary science and policy. As a step in this direction, we develop a theory of settlement scaling in archaeology, deriving the relationship between population and settled area from a consideration of the interplay between social and infrastructural networks. We then test these models on settlement data from the Pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico to show that this ancient settlement system displays spatial scaling properties analogous to those observed in modern cities. Our data derive from over 1,500 settlements occupied over two millennia and spanning four major cultural periods characterized by different levels of agricultural productivity, political centralization and market development. We show that, in agreement with theory, total settlement area increases with population size, on average, according to a scale invariant relation with an exponent in the range 2/3 ≤ α ≤ 5/6 . As a consequence, we are able to infer aggregate socio-economic properties of ancient societies from archaeological measures of settlement organization. Our findings, from an urban settlement system that evolved independently from its old-world counterparts, suggest that principles of settlement organization are very general and may apply to the entire range of human history.
  • E
  • ID

Maverick Astronomer

From The Guardian:

The comet landed on by the spacecraft Philae could well be home to an abundance of alien microbial life, according to leading astronomers.
Features of the comet, named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, such as its organic-rich black crust, are most likely explained by the presence of living organisms beneath an icy surface, the scientists have said.
Maverick astronomer and astrobiologist Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, who was involved in the mission planning 15 years ago, believes people should be more open to the possibility of alien life.
  • E

On the Other Hand

From Ars Technica:

Sometimes, scientists announce things that are breathtakingly stupid.
  • SO