Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

There is, apparently, plenty of cash in pseudo-scientific woo.  Just ask Gwyneth Paltrow, but there are other purveyors of all manner of nitwittery.  Excerpt:

Misleading research is costly to society directly because much of it is supported by the federal government, and indirectly, when it gives rise to unwise, harmful public policy.

Social science studies are notorious offenders. A landmark study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in August reported the results of efforts to replicate 21 social science studies published in the prestigious journals Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015. 

The multi-national team actually “conducted high-powered replications of the 21 experimental social science studies — using sample sizes around five times larger than the original sample sizes” and found that “62% of the replications show an effect in the same direction as the original studies.” One out of the four Nature papers and seven of the seventeen Science papers evaluated did not replicate, a shocking result for two prestigious scientific journals. The authors noted two kinds of flaws in the original studies: false positives and inflated effect sizes.

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. Smart editors. Peer review. Competition from other labs. But when we see that university research claims – published in the crème de la crème of scientific journals, no less — are so often wrong, there must be systematic problems. One of them is outright fraud – “advocacy research” that has methodological flaws or intentionally misinterprets the results.

Science, first off, isn’t a “thing,” or even, really, an occupation.  It’s a method of examining data and arriving at conclusions.  In my consulting business, I spend a lot of time teaching organizations how to examine data and follow it to a conclusion – and I always push them to forget any of their preconceived notions and assumptions; to follow the data where it leads, to form conclusions, and to test those conclusions.

A renowned scientist with his assistants.

The problem is that plenty of folks think of the word “scientist” and get some vague idea of a guy like the Professor in Gilligan’s Island, who could make a cold fusion reactor from three lengths of vine and a coconut.   That allows some who work in scientific disciplines to speak freely on topics they know little about, while maintaining a cloak of respectability.  Take Dr. Neal DeGrasse Tyson, who is an awesome cosmologist; but I once saw him opining about economics, a subject about which he clearly lacks a notion of the difference between ass and face.

And plenty of folks with barely a nodding acquaintance with the scientific disciplines know just enough to sell horseshit to the gullible.  That’s too bad, because while I honestly feel there comes a point where fools and their money deserve to be parted, all too often it’s the very young, the very old, the ignorant and the desperate that are taken advantage of by these charlatans.