Is a lot of scientific research just… crap?

posted at 2:01 pm on January 19, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

To be fair, I suppose the use of “crap” in the title might be a bit strong, but if you’re interested in seeing society get the most it can out of scientific research it’s an important question. What set me off on this particular jag this weekend was a very long and well assembled piece by Dr. James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. In it, he analyzes some of the findings in a recent Economist article which looked into the number of published scientific papers which apparently weren’t worth the virtual paper they weren’t printed on.

Over the past few years various researchers have made systematic attempts to replicate some of the more widely cited priming experiments. Many of these replications have failed. In April, for instance, a paper in PLoS ONE, a journal, reported that nine separate experiments had not managed to reproduce the results of a famous study from 1998 purporting to show that thinking about a professor before taking an intelligence test leads to a higher score than imagining a football hooligan.

A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. Months earlier Florian Prinz and his colleagues at Bayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical giant, reported in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, a sister journal, that they had successfully reproduced the published results in just a quarter of 67 seminal studies.

I suppose the question here isn’t so much one of how so many respected scientists can get something wrong, (who doesn’t make mistakes from time to time?) but how the errors make it into mainstream publication and acceptance, lasting for ages. Dr. Joyner has some experience in the area of analytical statistics and offers some sensible answers.

The use of statistics to make academic research, even in “soft” fields like psychology and political science, more “scientific” has become the norm over the last half century. Unfortunately, most of us in those fields—and for that matter, most chemists, physicists, and physicians—don’t truly understand the increasingly complicated statistics we’re employing. That is, we roughly understand what they’re supposed to do but not the math behind them. And that makes us oblivious to errors.

Joyner identifies a few major items where these problems could be alleviated to some degree if the will existed to do it. Three of them break down as follows:

- The pressure to publish something … anything with your name on it is incredibly intense if you want to advance in your field. This problem has been a known issue for a long time, leading to the Publish or Perish dynamic in academia, and it opens the door to all sorts of errors.

- The perceived need to employ statistical mathematics to support research, particularly in the “soft sciences” leads to problems when attempting to force fit rather hazy measurements into the hard discipline of mathematics.

- Too many of the people involved in a variety of areas of research don’t have a full – or in some cases, even a fundamental – grasp of the difficult mathematics required to truly prove a hypothesis. And there is little incentive for those who do understand it to go through the strenuous, time consuming work of reproducing experiments or thoroughly dissecting their math just to further the career work of somebody else.

The second two of these problems are highlighted in a story which Ed pointed out to me this morning. It deals with Nick Brown, a man who embarked on what was basically an amateur exploration of psychology in his retirement years. He wound up not only challenging some accepted, published information in that field, but essentially overturning the opinions of the entire scientific community.

The majority of the cases that Joyner is discussing deal with fields of hard science which are at least terrestrial in nature and lend themselves to solid testing in the laboratory. None of this gets into the massive bodies of work which are regularly published in less measurable fields, particularly astrophysics and it’s related, nearly science fictional relatives. One of the hot topics there is the entire question of so called dark matter and dark energy, just for one example, which has led some scientists to already begin asking if these things are real at all. A lot of this may rise from the question of whether or not we really even understand what gravity is and how it is propagated. (We still have scientists being featured on Science Channel shows who think that gravity may be so weak in comparison to the other three primal forces because it’s leaking through to or from other dimensions we can’t perceive.)

The chief argument in favor of the current way of doing things is basically that it will all come out in the wash. Presumably, a significant experimental error, once published, will be exposed as later work attempts to verify or build upon it. But as Joyner notes, there is very little effort being put into challenging these sorts of things once they are published, become embedded in the “common knowledge” and start generating money for people. All of this should give us pause, and prompt more people to be willing to stand up and speak out when we’re told something that just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test. It may turn out to be valid after all, but it’s always worth asking the question.


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KOOLAID2 on January 19, 2014 at 6:15 PM

AGW comes to mind…right after the studies that scared America about: coffee, eggs, apples, margarine, caffeine etc

Don L on January 19, 2014 at 6:15 PM

It’s incredible that the libs (or some on “our” side like Chris Christie) try to say that Republicans are anti-science on climate change, when all we are doing is pointing out the glaring scientific failings, and political motivations, of the left wing warmists. Proof that it is they that are anti-science is not in the pudding but in how they openly and explicitly advocate dishonesty and lying in pursuit of “scientific” objectives. Clearly, this is not what objective science is supposed to be about:
“We have to offer up scary scenarios… each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.” -Stephen Schneider, lead ipcc author, 1989
“I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of.. how dangerous it is.” -Al Gore
“It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.” -Paul Watson, Greenpeace
“The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.” -Daniel Botkin, ex Chair of Enironmental Studies, UCSB
“We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing.” -leftist Senator Tim Wirth, 1993
“Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.” -Sir John Houghton, first chairman of IPCC

anotherJoe on January 19, 2014 at 6:28 PM

anotherJoe on January 19, 2014 at 6:28 PM

A+

Unfortunately, the Low-IQ nonpartisans of the world will simply stick their fingers in their ears and pretend those quotes were never uttered.

A timely reminder, Leftists: Science is not inherently good or evil, rather it reflects the intentions of those who use it.

Del Dolemonte on January 19, 2014 at 6:38 PM

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 5:51 PM

There is a lot of scientific literature and a good bit of anecdotal evidence that suggests that B vitamins (which are necessary for the formation of some neurotransmitters) may help ADD/ADHD. For example, niacin (B-3) has been (apparently successfully) used to treat scizophrenia to varying degrees.

Linus Pauling, and the Linus Pauling Institute out of Oregon State University, seem to indicate that many diseases are the result of insufficient intake of certain vitamins. Essential vitamins are called essential because humans cannot produce them metabolically and so they are necessarily taken in in food.

Even just two days ago, an MD wrote an article stating that though the medical establishment says that vitamins don’t work, nevertheless, doctors prescribe them to treat various conditions. Pauling says that heart disease, and atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis in general, are caused by, essentially, a faint condition of scurvy (vit-C deficiency). And vit-C and L-lysine megadoses reverse this condition and in smaller doses help prevent arteriosclerosis.

Vit-C and lysine, as well as B-vitamins, also seem to help a variety of other conditions, and targeted use of various vitamins are helpful against osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney stones and the list goes on and on.

Last but not least, it has been reported in medical literature for 40 years that vitamin-C and niacin lower cholesterol. But instead we’ve been told to take Lipitor (which can have significant side effects) instead.

Maybe it’s worth a look. After all, as the Pauling institute likes to point out, Linus Pauling is the only guy to win two Nobel prizes in two different fields.

flicker on January 19, 2014 at 6:47 PM

Thanks, flicker, I’ll try the niacin. I already tak quite a bit of Vit-C.

I remember several years ago someone suggested sublingual B-12. I tried it with no noticeable effect. And I don;t just take these things for a week or two. I give them at least a couple of months.

Thanks again.

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 7:27 PM

I will also check out Pauling’s work.

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 7:29 PM

Is a lot of scientific research just… crap?

This would make a good research project. But I’m too busy studying why conservatives hate puppies and the spotted owl.

SparkPlug on January 19, 2014 at 7:32 PM

A+
A timely reminder, Leftists: Science is not inherently good or evil, rather it reflects the intentions of those who use it.
Del Dolemonte on January 19, 2014 at 6:38 PM

Thanks! Now if only I could have got the grade when I was in school…

And you’re right about the science. I’d say that science should be inherently non-partisan, but client science ain’t. At best it is like some kind of quasi-science Frankensteinian hybrid of the leftist media and leftist politics, with the “science” part only an adjunct that does the bidding of their financial and intellectual overlords in the media & politics.

Climatology is all geared toward marketing and PR, about convincing the public that a grave threat exists, so they can get their leftist policies enacted (see my quotes above!). Indeed, the story of the rise (and fall) of the hockey stick shows how this quasi-science politicized monster led to the sudden, uncritical, unquestioning acceptance in 1998 of Michael Mann’s bogus hockey stick throughout the entire (leftist) scientific (and media) establishment. This outstanding post, which is the best I have seen on the hockey stick for the layman, tells that tale: http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-rise-and-fall-of-hockey-stick-and.html

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Great link, thanks. I am a big fan of this link, especially the graphic used that makes it so clear that the climate models have failed so completely: http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/06/still-epic-fail-73-climate-models-vs-measurements-running-5-year-means/

anotherJoe on January 19, 2014 at 7:37 PM

Statistical analysis always produces an answer. It is the proper question that often eludes scientists.

jpcpt03 on January 19, 2014 at 7:45 PM

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 7:29 PM

I take 20,000mg of vit-C and 10,000 of L-lysine daily (divided over 5 doses). Added to that I take niacin 250mg each day, two B-complex vitamins, and 25mg of DHEA (I’m older) each day. It seems to help my joints and aches and pains. Though I don’t have heart disease I’ll be taking this for a while to clean out whatever there is to clean out and then eventually I’ll drop down to 6,000mg, or so, of vit-C per day as maintenance.

I’m not a stickler for it, but it’s supposed to improve health generally.

flicker on January 19, 2014 at 7:46 PM

Statistical analysis always produces an answer. It is the proper question that often eludes scientists.

jpcpt03 on January 19, 2014 at 7:45 PM

If the answer is 42, what’s the proper question?

flicker on January 19, 2014 at 7:55 PM

To answer the posted headline; . . . . . . . . . . . . yes.
.
Okay, next ? !

listens2glenn on January 19, 2014 at 8:14 PM

Add er all is banned by the mod.

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 5:52 PM

Why?

Solaratov on January 19, 2014 at 8:33 PM

Why?

Solaratov on January 19, 2014 at 8:33 PM

Beats me.

It’s like C_N_N. they post articles from them but if we have an artcle this that combination of letters or the url, the mod blicks it.

if I cite their URL I use http://tinyurl.com/create.php?url=about%3Ablank .

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 8:42 PM

with that

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 8:42 PM

blocks it

davidk on January 19, 2014 at 8:43 PM

So glad to see this issue getting some space.

Our sources of quality information are corrupt to the point where it’s hard to know what to trust.

Mainstream fact checking is another obvious example (trying to help correct that with Zebra Fact Check).

crowtreboot on January 19, 2014 at 8:45 PM

Don’t forget also that every major case of scientific fraud in the last 30 years has involved research that was published and peer reviewed by one of the leading journals. The peer review process is broken. One single fraudster was able to get away with dozens of phony studies, publishing nearly a study a month (the average university researcher publishes one every 18 months), all peer reviewed, all faked, none caught.

The probable reason for this is that with the emphasis on publishing, continued funding often depends upon publication. No one wants the reputation as the guy who blocks someone else’s funding.

Almost all this bad research is funded by government. Like government funding and subsidy of higher education, it has had the opposite of the intended effect.

Government needs to get out of the business, altogether.

Adjoran on January 19, 2014 at 9:47 PM

You Know What’s REALLYCRAP“?

…..pretty much everything written by these posters…..except maybe MKH at times….

…..but especially everything by this guy……

williamg on January 19, 2014 at 10:00 PM

“We have to offer up scary scenarios… each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.” -Stephen Schneider, lead ipcc author, 1989

anotherJoe on January 19, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Peer reviewed. Got the thumbs up.

Buddahpundit on January 19, 2014 at 11:02 PM

Hahahahah!

Oh, how apropos.

I’m currently working on my Masters and this quarter I’m taking a class on statistics…

The backdrop for me in this comment is three-fold. I’m getting a degree in GIS. The course-work is all online. I’ve never taken any class-work in statistics before.

The class I’m taking? Advanced Statistics. In theory I should have taken an intro stat class as a prereq. In a nutshell my advisor gave me an answer/non-answer that amounted to, they don’t care, don’t worry, the onus is on you, etc.

My degree certainly won’t be a rubber stamped, bought degree, but this course and some of the others I’ve taken make one feel that way… and this university is NOT cheap. ~$2500 per class. I’m going to walk away with around $30k in debt for this degree… I took out ~$18k for my undergrad…

So, my stats homework? I’m being graded for work done, not necessarily based on what I’ve done right or wrong… “We’re all adults here” was the response by my professor, with the weight on my shoulder to do extra work and figure out problems once I learn which mistakes I made (he provides the answers to the problems the day after the homework is due). Other than the weekly homework assignment, I have a powerpoint collaboration to do with a classmate summarizing a chapter in our textbook and some relevant websites and at the end, a ten + page paper on a particular topic related to GIS and statistics… Oh Joy. Discussions and one or two other things will be counted for grades too.

I have long felt that a great many research topics are dumb and as an undergrad and now grad student, the opinion has only gotten worse. Sure, sometimes some individuals may strike the nail on the head with a good topic and some good research, but by and large, most students I daresay I just trying to graduate and get the piece of paper in their hand.

To me, what makes the issue worse is that with so many people in college, it’s got to make finding topics for theses and dissertations difficult. I have a friend who had to scrap his dissertation and tons of research after he was almost done because his advisor told him the idea had probably already done – the subtle point made that it was a top secret study. So, he had to start over…

Much of what I want to do, I really think could have been/be taught at a trade school. I don’t really see the need for most undergrad and grad students to do these major theses, dissertations or capstones or whatever they want to call them. Teach us the basics and a bit more about what we need to know for the area we’re interested in learning about, give us a bit more information that’s related to make us well-rounded and send us on our way.

I’m going to finish this class and probably pass it – I must pass it with at least a B+ (I can have no more than two B’s in the graduate program and only one can be a solid B, the other has to be a B+ – you cannot have two solid B’s or even one B-)… that says two things about the university… they want the best and/or they just want to look good. Quite a lot of my grading could only be done subjectively…

I’m not going to use statistics much in my capstone outside of telling software particular numbers and deciding certain things to do. I’m certainly not going to understand the deep mechanics of the math behind it all, though I will have a cursory understanding.

I just need the piece of paper so that I can start a new career and actually understand and know at least a little about something about what I’m supposed to do.

The modern university system is just a big business.

I’d love to see a bubble burst.

Universities need to go back to being a rare deal.

And they’re going to go more and more to an online model… which will only dilute the academics even more.

I say this all with the vociferous claim that I’ve been no slouch, but I can also say that math is my weakest subject. I took remedial algebra in my undergrad 5 times before I finally passed it… I’m working hard on this degree. I typically put in three or four hours a night between reading chapters and doing other homework. I’ve earned my A’s, certainly a few, maybe not so much a couple…

Logus on January 19, 2014 at 11:24 PM

Have you ever wondered why a star forms right at that place where it’s forming? Before it even starts to form, it is necessary that it be right at that place that it will form. It’s like it has to be exactly right there because it is necessary for its relation to everything else that it be right at that place. The clouds of matter go to that place and create a star. I wonder what it looks like before the matter fills it up.

Buddahpundit on January 20, 2014 at 12:49 AM

There are lies, damnable lies, and statistics.

Even when not intentionally misusing data in a statistical way, many researchers have little clue how to properly apply or analyze sample data to approach a scientific conclusion.

And then there is that other major flaw in “analytical” research, conflating correlation with causation. An increased presence of CO2 being measurable when atmospheric temperatures increase, is not proof that increased CO2 is the source of increasing temperatures. On the contrary, enhanced CO2 concentrations enrich the photosynthesis of plant life in the area, which ALWAYS lowers mean temperature. Also, anytime someone has bothered to be thorough, they have discovered that the rising CO2 concentration FOLLOWS the temperature increase, preventing it from being causal.

But that’s just real science, and the leftists can’t have that getting in the way of their agenda.

Freelancer on January 20, 2014 at 1:56 AM

Is a lot of scientific research just… crap?

YES:

landlines on January 20, 2014 at 2:18 AM

Statistical analysis always produces an answer. It is the proper question that often eludes scientists.

jpcpt03 on January 19, 2014 at 7:45 PM

If the answer is 42, what’s the proper question?

flicker on January 19, 2014 at 7:55 PM

Jackie Robinson

jpcpt03 on January 20, 2014 at 5:36 AM

Regardless of whether or not science is crap, it is essential to keep in mind that many important contributions were made by women and minorities, especially Muslims. At least that’s what the textbooks from the past 20 years have been insisting.

PaddyORyan on January 20, 2014 at 8:31 AM

Statistical analysis always produces an answer. It is the proper question that often eludes scientists.

jpcpt03 on January 19, 2014 at 7:45 PM

And I would add that statistical analysis can apparently be tweaked to produce whatever answer that you are looking for regardless of what question is asked.

A statistician showed that the famous AGW “hockey stick” graph, for example, was generated by statistical methods that produced a hockey stick graph even if totally random white noise was the input.

Nomas on January 20, 2014 at 8:32 AM

I am troubled by much of this discussion. I strongly disagree with a lot of the opinions expressed. As a person with a PhD in Organic Chemistry, I have done the work and seen the bastardization of my work by others who have tried to reproduce it. We write articles in journals and try to be as complete as possible but there have to be things that are left out as they are considered basic knowledge to somebody working in that field.

As an example, I synthesized polymerizable compounds for drug delivery and several years after completing my PhD, I received a notice that another lab had been trying to reproduce my results but couldn’t. After spending a lot of time going through the very technical details of what and how they were doing things, I finally asked if they were in a controlled lighting environment (normal white lights cause the polymerization and a coated bulb was needed in the lab to prevent this). Of course their answer was no, even though they knew the wavelengths that caused polymerization. For anybody working in the field, it was the most basic knowledge but for those trying to reproduce the work because they were new to the field, it was something they hadn’t considered.

You do the best job you can with the information you have but there are always variables that you don’t catch or have to simplify. To lump everything as crap does a disservice to the many people who work to improve life everyday.

Are there bad scientists? Absolutely, but there are bad people in every field.

Phatbastage on January 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Yeah, a lot is crap, but it can be fun too!

NavyMustang on January 20, 2014 at 9:23 AM

OK, Jazz. Time for the woodshed.

TL;DR: Jazz is spouting nonsense here at the end. It’s not a surprise (the topic is challenging), but this is the danger of using knowledge from popularizations to try and draw conclusions. Especially TV popularizations that emphasize controversy. And in these fields, the whole Economist stats argument is invalid — stats are crucial for these fields where the signal/noise ratio can be billions to one.

particularly astrophysics and it’s related, nearly science fictional relatives. One of the hot topics there is the entire question of so called dark matter and dark energy, just for one example, which has led some scientists to already begin asking if these things are real at all.

Here’s the deal. Something is out there making measurable differences in the expansion of the Universe and cohesion of rotating galaxies. We don’t know what it is, but something’s there. It’s classed into two bins — dark matter (sources of gravitational pull that does not form stars/galaxies and is not made of baryonic matter) and dark energy (essentially a rough constant that sums the energy that must be available in the universe to account for its measured rate of expansion (and acceleration!)

What’s dark matter made of? No idea. Active field of research at the Large Hadron Collider. No candidates so far — we have come up with a boatload of conceivable models, and are in the process of destroying them one after another (a bit discouraging, sometimes — we’d LOVE to see something verifiable).

Nobody of intelligence is questioning whether there’s something that holds galaxies together. The ongoing questions are *what* is doing the holding. Something is clearly there. What is it? No idea.

A lot of this may rise from the question of whether or not we really even understand what gravity is and how it is propagated. (We still have scientists being featured on Science Channel shows who think that gravity may be so weak in comparison to the other three primal forces because it’s leaking through to or from other dimensions we can’t perceive.)

Gravity is a real problem, and that’s not sci-fi either. The problem? It’s almost immeasurably weak. Here’s how weak — compared to the electromagnetic force (which holds you together against gravity), gravitation is 10^38 times weaker. Meaning — if you plotted the relative strengths of the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces on a proportional plot with any visible separation (1 mm) between the strengths of the stronger three, the other end of the plot would have to be 10^35 meters away. The edge of the visible universe is 10^24 m away — which means the plot would have to be as long as 10^11 universe-widths long!

Why aren’t we sure about the nature of gravitation? Because it’s unbelievably weak and hard to measure. What we do know is that when we take planet-sized masses, the mechanics are incredibly regular. When we’re dealing with galaxies, they cohere in non-gravitational ways (meaning there’s more mass around than can be accounted for with luminous matter. And we see dark-matter masses that distort galaxies, so we know there’s something other than a misunderstanding of gravity at astrophysical scales.

These branches of physics are some of the most reliable in science. The questions are some of the hardest. Statistics are VERY well applied, because (simply put), we can’t do anything in this field without the very best stats available. Specialists in every collaboration work endlessly on getting them exactly right.

Prufrock on January 20, 2014 at 9:25 AM

A lot of ‘scientific reearch’ is evidence based research which has no science basis. Yes, they are crap.

TerryW on January 20, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Prufrock on January 20, 2014 at 9:25 AM

You take Jazz to the woodshed with a lot of “We don’t know” and “no idea?”

Jazz’ conclusion:

All of this should give us pause, and prompt more people to be willing to stand up and speak out when we’re told something that just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test. It may turn out to be valid after all, but it’s always worth asking the question.

seems just basic wisdom for not just science but all areas of life.

Many of the debates, arguments, flame wars here on Hot Air are based on something someone said that doesn’t smell right to someone else.

Nobody of intelligence is questioning whether there’s something that holds galaxies together. The ongoing questions are *what* is doing the holding. Something is clearly there. What is it? No idea.

No idea? Paul the Apostle has an idea:

[Jesus] is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17

Of course, this will not past the smell test for a lot of people. I can hear the cries of “God in the gaps.” But before people get their scientific knickers in a knot, let me cite information from an article that points out where the Bible anticipated “modern” science.

The Bible Science now Science then
The earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22). The earth is a sphere. The earth was a flat disk.
Incalculable number of stars (Jeremiah 33:22). Incalculable number of stars. Only 1,100 stars.
Free float of earth in space (Job 26:7). Free float of earth in space. Earth sat on a large animal.
Creation made of invisible elements (Hebrews 11:3). Creation made of invisible elements (atoms). Science was ignorant on the subject.
Each star is different (1 Corinthians 15:41). Each star is different. All stars were the same.
Light moves (Job 38:19,20). Light moves. Light was fixed in place.
Air has weight (Job 28:25). Air has weight. Air was weightless.
Winds blow in cyclones (Ecclesiastes 1:6). Winds blow in cyclones. Winds blew straight.
Blood is the source of life and health (Leviticus 17:11). Blood is the source of life and health. Sick people must be bled.
Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains (2 Samuel 22:16; Jonah 2:6). Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains. The ocean floor was flat.
Ocean contains springs (Job 38:16). Ocean contains springs. Ocean fed only by rivers and rain.
When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water (Leviticus 15:13). When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. Hands washed in still water.

http://www.conservativenewsandviews.com/2014/01/10/creation/fools-longer-conscious-shame/

God in the gaps?

Nobody of intelligence is questioning whether there’s something that holds galaxies together. The ongoing questions are *what* is doing the holding. Something is clearly there. What is it? No idea.

davidk on January 20, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Research is designed to make money…not to find “truth”.

Most research ends up with common sense “Men think about sex x number of times a day research says”…well duh…

Children raised in a home with out a male influence, more likely to commit crimes…well duh…

The climate is changing…

Most research confirms what my 8th grade educated grandfather knew…

right2bright on January 20, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Nobody of intelligence is questioning whether there’s something that holds galaxies together. The ongoing questions are *what* is doing the holding. Something is clearly there. What is it? No idea.

Clearly it’s the ether holding the Universe together; and phlogiston explains why chemical reactions take place; inside of every human sperm is a miniscule baby all ready to go, just waiting for a womb in which to be implanted; mosquitoes arise spontaneously from the mud in swamps; malaria comes from breathing the dank air of bogs; plague occurs because the Jews are obviously poisoning the wells.

Have you ever had polio or smallpox? Do you not fly because every plane crashes? Do the lights not come on when you flick the switch? No computers or cars work? All of these things are based upon mere theories, some of which were ridiculed by various scientists at one time or another.

Georg Ohm was at first regarded as a crackpot by the establishment (namely because of his attempts to provide mathematical proofs to his theories), and so was Svante Arrhenius. The scientists who were indeed wrong are largely forgotten. We mustn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 20, 2014 at 12:52 PM

Most research confirms what my 8th grade educated grandfather knew…

right2bright on January 20, 2014 at 12:31 PM

A lot of research is also nothing more than educational projects, often using NSF and other government funds – which would explain why so many studies keep coming out going back ad forth over whether some substance is good or bad for you.

A few years ago, I managed a contractor team supporting research projects at USAF Academy. They have millions in DoD and NSF funding going through there every year – all of it involving cadets as part of their education – and that happens at pretty much EVERY university in this county.

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Just as with anything else… FOLLOW THE MONEY.

How much research is provided by grants? How do you get grant money? Are there the same opportunities to obtain grants for disproving AGW as approving AGW? If not, why?

AGW is a political ploy for power by controlling the underlying narrative. The blind devotion to failed computer models is a sign of this. Ask what would happen to those same “scientists” (more like flat-earthers) if the grant funding dried up…

dominigan on January 20, 2014 at 1:07 PM

How much research is provided by grants? How do you get grant money? Are there the same opportunities to obtain grants for disproving AGW as approving AGW? If not, why?

dominigan on January 20, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Many millions.
You have to write up a research project synopsis and send it from/through a university department to the NSF or other organization with research money. If they like your idea, you get funding.
Same opportunities for anti-AGW research – NO. See comment above – they have to LIKE your idea in order to approve funding.

BTW – the company I worked for supporting USAFA started out as a minority owned small business with SBA 8a certification. As soon as we lost our official 8a status, USAFA stopped using us and gave our contract work to a different 8a company. In federal contracting, being a certified minority-owned (8A) company is EVERYTHING.
Middle-aged white men with companies need not apply.

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 1:16 PM

Nobody of intelligence is questioning whether there’s something that holds galaxies together. The ongoing questions are *what* is doing the holding. Something is clearly there. What is it? No idea.

Hopeandchangeium. Haven’t you been paying attention?

BobMbx on January 20, 2014 at 1:29 PM

The problem, as with so many of our societies’ current ills, is the corruption of our University system. There are any number of problems, but here are just a few:

Universities have marketed themselves as “good-employment” enablers. You constantly hear the refrain – “if you get a college degree, you’ll make X amount more.” As more employers started requiring college degrees for certain work because, at first, our economy was shifting from industrial based to information based, Universities saw an opportunity to expand. But what started as a desired trait for competence purposes became a desired trait for marketing purposes (all our workers are college educated) and then a matter of tradition (we only hire college grads, whether we need college grads or not). The Universities knew that this was happening and that all of these workers didn’t need college degrees, or if they did, didn’t need them from research intensive Universities, but they did nothing about it. Why, because credentialing creates a market for their product (and in some cases, they believed their own hype that a college degree from a research University was necessary for every job). So, almost every College and University started bringing in more and more students, while simultaneously developing “research” programs.

The Universities also took over the work of more practical areas of knowledge and turned them into “research” intensive programs. Law and accounting are perfect examples – both areas of study should be heavy in the practical education and light in the research (only a few professors doing it). But the Universities turned these areas of education into research intensive fields as well – so now you have faculty of law and busines who have NEVER practiced law or business. The result is that you get very educated know-nothing graduates looking for jobs in fields where good judgement is valued as highly as technical mastery. But, the University can say it has a law school or med school or business school attached to it that publishes in journals and is a “thought leader” (we really should kill that term).

The final piece of this idiocy I’ll point out is the damage done to our Universities by the publish or perish model. Although none of the faculty will admit it, this requirement also a marketing ploy – “our professors publish X number of articles in a year in reputable journals.” Even small liberal arts colleges are now requiring this type of “research.” The problems with this are numerous. The requirement forces the creation of too many articles, thereby damaging quality control on a whole. Faculty are constantly scrambling to publish their next “insight,” leaving prescious little time for improvement of teaching methods and pedagogy, not to mention reviewing other people’s articles in a peer review process. It also encourages faculty to concentrate on granular minutia, which causes such faculty to focus on such topics in their courses – and overemphasizing otherwise less important information (or information that is, in reality, a small piece to a larger puzzle).

All of this is to increase the prestige of the University – not further science, not instill critical thinking skills, not teach technical competence and certainly not encourage “the life of the mind” in students. Our current University system is a disaster. When the credential of a man or woman is more important than their ability, as it has become in American society, then we have a major problem. That problem can be laid at no one’s feet other than our Universities. Why conservatives continue to give donations and charitable gifts to these institutions (whether as a pledge or in their wills and trusts), I will never understand.

studentofhistory on January 20, 2014 at 1:41 PM

I think a lot of the problem is the use of statistics to make social science studies seem more “scientific”. We do this for a couple reasons. I think the main one is to dazzle reviewers — if they don’t understand the process we’re using (because it was invented after they got their PhDs), but we write it up as if we did it competently, with lots of citations of others who’ve used it, then they will tend to give it a pass.

The false impression it gives is that we have really proven “laws” or “theories” akin to those in the hard sciences, when in fact all we have done is identify probabilistic correlations. Knowing that 51% of people will behave in a certain way doesn’t allow us to predict anything, but the statistics will show that we’ve identified a sort of law-of-physics for human behavior. And we’re trained to do this, not trained to avoid such error.

joe_doufu on January 20, 2014 at 1:46 PM

I read something similar in a biostats blog a few months back. A team stuck a dead fish in an fMRI scanner and, using common techniques in the field, concluded that the dead fish had brain activity characteristic of living human beings. The team knew that they were misusing statistics; they underwent the project to illustrate that many other teams were unwittingly misuing statistics. The team won an IgNobel for their work. (Full paper here: http://prefrontal.org/files/posters/Bennett-Salmon-2009.pdf)

Suppose you wanted to design an experiment to prove pan troglodytes possesses human intelligence. You stick a deck of playing cards in front of a chimpanzee and ask it to remove a specific card, say the ace of spades. The probability of a success due to chance is 1/52, so if it pulls out the ace of spaces you, with 95% certainty, fail to reject the null hypothesis that it understood your command. Nothing strange here; this is basic inferential statistics.

Now suppose that, instead of testing to see if pan troglodytes can understand human commands, you want to test which chimpanzees have human intelligence. So you sit 100 chimps at school desks arranged in a 10×10 grid, give each a deck of playing cards, and repeat the experiment. The naïve expectation is that, since the probability of each individual chimpanzee choosing the correct card by chance is 1/52, any chimpanzee that does choose the correct card has human intelligence. But the error here is that, if your 1/52 experiment is repeated 100 times, you should expect 100/52 ~ 2 chimpanzees will succeed due purely to chance. This is the error made intentionally in the dead fish experiment, and inadvertently by numerous other researchers.

To correct for the fact that you’re replicating the experiment 100 times, you need to ensure that the likelihood of a false positive in any individual experiment is 5%/100. Thus, you could modify the above experiment to require each participant to pull out two different cards in a row, say the ace of spades followed by the 4 of hearts. The likelihood of an individual success due to chance now is (1/52) * (1/51) or 1/2652, and the likelihood of any success among your 100 chimpanzees is now about 1/27, which means that for the experiment as a whole to demonstrate a single individual success there is less than 5% likelihood of it being due to chance.

The researchers aren’t doing it wrong intentionally; rather, it is difficult to be expert in neruoscience and functional MRI and statistics. What is needed is more biostatisticians working in the trenches of research.

This xkcd comic deals with the same issue: http://xkcd.com/882/.

hicsuget on January 20, 2014 at 1:50 PM

studentofhistory on January 20, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Well, as far as the value of a university education in the real world:
- son #1 (age 23) graduated last spring with a BS in Business – makes in the $30K range, but between us we still owe almost $70K for that education.
- son #2 (age 21) barely got through HS and never went to college, now a salaried Assistant Manager in a restaurant, makes about the same salary as son #1, but we don’t owe anybody anything for education.
- my wife has a BA in Business and a Masters in Library Science, currently unemployed (by choice), but after 15 years with the local library was only up to about $13 / hour on a half time basis.
- I have a BS in Engineering and do fairly well in the DoD world.

Overall, I highly question the value of a college for many, if not most people.

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Is a lot of scientific research just… crap?

This has been obvious ever since Kinsey “proved” in a terribly flawed study that 10% of all adults are homosexual (in reality, the number is less than 3%). Yet many still consider Kinsey (who sexually abused many children in his “study”) to be honorable. Hollywood even made a film about him.

Alar, DDT, global warming, Darwinism, studies on health effects of various foods…
Lots of stuff we think we know, we don’t know.

itsnotaboutme on January 20, 2014 at 5:18 PM

Regardless of whether or not science is crap, it is essential to keep in mind that many important contributions were made by women and minorities, especially Muslims. At least that’s what the textbooks from the past 20 years have been insisting.

PaddyORyan on January 20, 2014 at 8:31 AM

You are obviously confused about the concept of “science.”

It has NOTHING TO DO with the ethnic/sexual/politically-correct background of the researcher. Science is simply an orderly and structured search for truth. The number and/or ethnicity of the folks who advocate a theory is totally irrelevant: truth stands whether it is outvoted or not, and falsehoods eventually are exposed due to the inability of their application to predict future results and/or their inability to be replicated.

Statistics are not proof, but are possibly a tool for steering research. Counting believers is a political exercise which has nothing whatsoever to do with science.

landlines on January 20, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Yet many still consider Kinsey (who sexually abused many children in his “study”) to be honorable. Hollywood even made a film about him.

itsnotaboutme on January 20, 2014 at 5:18 PM

And an ongoing TV series on HBO or Starz – one of those “premium” channels – VERY heavily “dramatized” – i.e. lots of fake stuff and inaccuracies.

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 5:30 PM

landlines on January 20, 2014 at 5:23 PM

I’m fairly confidant Paddy was being sarcastic….

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM

I’m fairly confidant Paddy was being sarcastic….

dentarthurdent on January 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM

I certainly hope that is the case.

I tend to take things more literally during business hours…

landlines on January 20, 2014 at 6:33 PM

I don’t have dementia–I just know too much: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10584927/Brains-of-elderly-slow-because-they-know-so-much.html

SCIENCE!

davidk on January 20, 2014 at 6:39 PM

At a prestigious Texas nursing school, it is taught that well over 50% of all medical research is fraudulent. Obviously, it’s common knowledge, at least in the medical industry, that a majority of science is in fact junk science.

It wasn’t so long ago (2012 election season) that we got an earful (or an eyeful for those that read about it) of a junk science statistic that sadly was repeated by pretty much everyone (even here at Hot Air) in the media. At the time, I used my access to a local college’s online library to fact check the stat.

The CDC.gov tells us, “More than 32,000 pregnancies result from rape every year.” The evidence for that statistic is from a study by a handful of “scientists” (an M.D. and 3 Ph.D.s), whose findings were published in a 1996 copy of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Did anyone in the media look up the article? No, no one did, except those of us that truly cared (and frankly, thought the statistic sounded too absurd to believe). Here’s what I found:

“The study involved a 3-year longitudinal telephone survey of a large national probability sample.”

and

“This study is not without limitations. By its nature, a telephone survey is limited to the 94% of the population living in households with telephones. Other limitations inherent in this type of data collection include the retrospective nature of collecting lifetime information and the inability to confirm the factuality of responses.”

NO CORROBORATION of the information taken via phone interviews was ever attempted. It was all merely the opinion (or in some cases, possible fabrication) of the women interviewed. And yet, this twenty-year old telephone opinion survey is still the basis of the oft repeated statistic that there are over 32,000 rape-related pregnancies every year in America.

And for that JUNK “science,” Todd Akin was politically lynched.

TXJenny on January 20, 2014 at 6:45 PM

First:

http://www.wattsupwiththat.com

AGW/Global Warming/Climate Change/ Weather hockey sticks ect.

Total trash, fraud, commie one world tax and redistribution of your wealth America.

Second:

Take a look at the “rag sheets published by the three national research labs, Sandia, Los Alamos and Livermore.

Very heavy on how the earth is warming ect. lots of other do good commie crap being hawked by the people running the Energy Dept. lots of total Greenpeace lies comming out of the EPA.

Ya, lots of bull crap research to people on the commie dole.

It is a mortal danger to U.S. all.

APACHEWHOKNOWS on January 20, 2014 at 7:11 PM

Now that the conversation has quieted down a bit, to the physicists out there, is the following statement right-but-taboo, right, partly-right/partly-wrong, wrong or so-bad-its-not-even-wrong?

“If we compare the BB[Big Bang]/gravitational model to what we actually see in outer space as well as in our labs, we are confronted with something much different from, and much stronger than, gravity. This is plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter, different from gas in that one or more electrons have been stripped off some or all of the atoms. Plasmas are involved with very strong electromagnetic fields. Plasma filaments quickly produce all the forms of matter we see in space without the need for dark anything. This also must be examined.”

You can google the quote to find its origin but I’d be most interested in (1) if it makes any sense out of context, and (2) if it does make any sense, is there anything to it.

Thanks.

flicker on January 20, 2014 at 9:17 PM

I have a question for the physicists out there, too.

If a Black Hole is a singularity where matter is so compressed that nothing, not even light can ever escape…

And, the Universe started as a singularity containing all the matter (or energy, because they should be the same thing [E=mc2]) in the universe, why did it explode and Black Holes don’t? What’s the difference?

I’d think that the Universe singularity, containing so much more mass, would just stay a Black Hole-like singularity.

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 12:25 AM

And for that JUNK “science,” Todd Akin was politically lynched.

TXJenny on January 20, 2014 at 6:45 PM

He was not done by the number being 32,000. He was not done in by that study at all.

He was done in by his awesome ignorance.

fadetogray on January 21, 2014 at 5:25 AM

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 12:25 AM

I’ve wondered the same thing. The answer I’ve gotten from physicists is: Well, obviously it did.

And how small was the universe before it expanded and what was it composed of? It can only be so small; smaller than 10^-33 cm (the Plank length), space loses locality. And I take it space, time and matter didn’t exist in this state, only energy, so what caused this energy to start expanding (which, come to think of it, was your question)?

And where did this energy come from?

And what did the functional laws of physics (the physical actuality of the natural world, not just our theories about it) derive from? If there was just nothing but energy, there must have been pre-existing rules of how the universe was going to work at the very beginning of the Big Bang. How did that happen?

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 8:35 AM

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Yeah. I’ve wondered those things myself.

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Phatbastage on January 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Concur 100%, and I’m glad you posted the contrary POV. What bothered me most about a post assaulting scientific research and the misuse of statistics was its dependence on a couple of statistics. The ability of Amgen scientists to reproduce “only” 6 of 53 study results tells us absolutely nothing in isolation. The original studies may be flawed, but so may have been the reproduction efforts, or any number of other factors.

I completely sympathize with the premise of the post– lots of research is crap. That’s what happens to something when supply is artificially stimulated, and when the value of such crap may personally benefit the producer (if he/she gets away with it).

But the case presented doesn’t lead us to anything that is either measurable or actionable. As ever, “Proof By Four Good Examples” can be good reading, but is nearly always poor science.

SomeCallMeJohn on January 21, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Yes, after I wrote that I was thinking: Something existed, neither big nor small, because there was no dimensionality, no “locality” neither here nor over there; unbelievably powerful energy, capable of creating from itself the enitre known universe; timeless, that is, apart from time and “before” time existed, so, without any beginning as such; and capable of creating a universe that is structured and logical and follows certain “laws” inherent to the original energy.

This is very similar to the Biblical descriptions, or deductions from Biblical texts, of the nature of the God of the Bible. But for some reason, not necessarily inarguable reasons, the thought of a self-existent God, all-powerful, who existed without beginning, and who is rational and operates consistant with His own character and nature, is commonly thought to be the height of ignorance, superstition and folly.

I wonder why that is.

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 4:50 PM

And, the Universe started as a singularity containing all the matter (or energy, because they should be the same thing [E=mc2]) in the universe, why did it explode and Black Holes don’t? What’s the difference?

I’d think that the Universe singularity, containing so much more mass, would just stay a Black Hole-like singularity.

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 12:25 AM

OK – so we currently have a universe that contains black holes.
So there is matter and energy outside of the existing black holes.
So if the entire universe supposedly WAS a black hole – What was outside of that black hole?

dentarthurdent on January 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM

OK – so we currently have a universe that contains black holes.
So there is matter and energy outside of the existing black holes.
So if the entire universe supposedly WAS a black hole – What was outside of that black hole?

dentarthurdent on January 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM

Exactly. I have never understood the conventional take on this that until we see and can identify some of that other stuff that was outside before the Bang, we must assume there was not only no stuff out there, but there was no ‘there’ at all ….. even though we can see other, smaller black holes all around us that have ‘there’ outside of them.

It seems obvious the scientific position should be, “There could be infinite mass (an infinite universe), given that we still don’t have a good model of gravity. Heck, we don’t even know what gravity is.”

Easy.

But that isn’t what they teach in physics class. So I majored in Political Science where the professors are rational./

fadetogray on January 21, 2014 at 6:18 PM

So if the entire universe supposedly WAS a black hole – What was outside of that black hole?

dentarthurdent on January 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM

From what I understand, The entire universe at the moment just as the big bang started was a single point. There was no outside. Just that point. No space. No time. But, instead of collapsing into a Black Hole (assuming it wasn’t one at that point) it explodes into an entire universe. Space and time would, from my limited understanding, expand with the leading edge of the universe. Essentially, there is no outside.

Heh. It would be without form and void. :-)

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 6:44 PM

trigon on January 21, 2014 at 6:44 PM

It is my understanding that both time and space were created by the Big bang. The Big Bang came out of a small but extraordinary powerful packet of energy. Energy does not require any size that I know of. Smaller than a certain size, locality or dimensionality does not exist. So if the original energy was smaller than the Planck length, it would not require any space to exist in.

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 PM

And of course, at this point it would be neither big nor small.

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 7:03 PM

Energy does not require any size that I know of. Smaller than a certain size, locality or dimensionality does not exist. So if the original energy was smaller than the Planck length, it would not require any space to exist in.

flicker on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 PM

No, I don’t see size being an issue. But, if energy equals mass (Einstein), then there is still all that mass contained in a singularity. So, why doesn’t it just collapse into a huge black hole? Or, never explode? Is there a difference between mass or energy if it’s contained within a singularity? An energy singularity can explode, but a mass singularity can’t? Maybe that’s it, but I still don’t quite get it.

trigon on January 22, 2014 at 12:25 AM

I’m not a physicist either, but matter can materialize from energy. I don’t believe any physicist says nowadays that the center of the big bang had any matter in it at all. The physicist I give greatest credence to says that matter formed from energy as the zero-point energy increased with the universe’s expansion. But I’d have to go back and re-read to be exactly sure about that.

To my knowledge, the initial explosion itself has never been satisfactorily explained by anyone from a natural-cause theory. Except that someone recently mockingly said that Stephen Hawking said that if gravity exists, then strings and everything else can come into existence out of nothing. Where gravity apart from anything else in the universe came from, I can’t figure. Why would it, as a weak force, be self-existent?

Strings are just an unproven theory. Gravity is too weak to explain galactic coherence. ZPE and plasma have empirical evidence to demonstrate them and are extremely strong.

But the cause of it all? Either the universe came out of nothing. Or it came out of a self-existent timeless, dimensionless packet of immense energy. Or it was a direct creation by a self-existent timeless, dimensionless God who created the original packet and then literally stretched out the heavens.

Where did all the concerned scientists on this thread go? They should be able to set us straight.

flicker on January 22, 2014 at 5:20 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixty-five percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the nation’s system of government and how well it works, the highest percentage in Gallup’s trend since 2001. Dissatisfaction is up five points since last year, and has edged above the previous high from 2012 (64%).

Here is an outstanding example of how statistics provides an answer , It is just the proper question that eludes us. In my opinion the Gallup pole misrepresents the trends and opinions in the market place. First I really doubt that 65% of the US population even knows how the Gov’t System Works much less can be (A) Satisfied, (B) Dissatisfied. With that said how can they determine what the US is dissatisfied with? The Gov’t system or the interpretors of our government system.

jpcpt03 on January 23, 2014 at 12:08 AM

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