More weird science

According to this article in The New Yorker, when scientists replicate an experiment, the results–proven initially–sometimes change with time.  Drugs that at first are shown to be effective often are shown to be ineffective when tested later.   The article cites one experiment whose results varied when it was performed in different locations.  In many different scientific fields, effects  decline with time.

While Karl Popper imagined falsification occurring with a single, definitive experiment—Galileo refuted Aristotelian mechanics in an afternoon—the process turns out to be much messier than that. Many scientific theories continue to be considered true even after failing numerous experimental tests. Verbal overshadowing might exhibit the decline effect, but it remains extensively relied upon within the field. The same holds for any number of phenomena, from the disappearing benefits of second-generation antipsychotics to the weak coupling ratio exhibited by decaying neutrons, which appears to have fallen by more than ten standard deviations between 1969 and 2001. Even the law of gravity hasn’t always been perfect at predicting real-world phenomena. (In one test, physicists measuring gravity by means of deep boreholes in the Nevada desert found a two-and-a-half-per-cent discrepancy between the theoretical predictions and the actual data.) Despite these findings, second-generation antipsychotics are still widely prescribed, and our model of the neutron hasn’t changed. The law of gravity remains the same.

Such anomalies demonstrate the slipperiness of empiricism. Although many scientific ideas generate conflicting results and suffer from falling effect sizes, they continue to get cited in the textbooks and drive standard medical practice. Why? Because these ideas seem true. Because they make sense. Because we can’t bear to let them go. And this is why the decline effect is so troubling. Not because it reveals the human fallibility of science, in which data are tweaked and beliefs shape perceptions. (Such shortcomings aren’t surprising, at least for scientists.) And not because it reveals that many of our most exciting theories are fleeting fads and will soon be rejected. (That idea has been around since Thomas Kuhn.) The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.

The decline effect and the scientific method : The New Yorker.

HT:James Kushiner

They thought she was Jewish

Earlier I had blogged about how my former colleague Kristine Luken, a Christian missionary in Israel, was murdered.  Her killers have been arrested:

Four Palestinian men have been indicted in the stabbing death of American woman Kristine Luken who the suspects say was killed because they thought she was Jewish.

Luken, 44, was a Christian missionary working in Israel.

Four more Palestinians, all from the West Bank, have been arrested for providing logistical support to the alleged killers, but have yet to be indicted.

Luken was stabbed to death while hiking in a forest outside Jerusalem with a friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, Dec. 17, 2010.

Israeli police tell ABC News they arrested two men who confessed to the murder within 48 hours of the attack, but kept the arrests secret because they realized that more suspects were involved, and that the group was responsible for a wave of violent crimes.

“The cell’s activity had an initial criminal orientation,” Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said. But after the killing of Hamas leader El Mabhouh in Dubai, for which Hamas holds Israel responsible, “the cell decides to kill in revenge for [that],” Rosenfeld said.

El Mabhouh was a senior Hamas military commander. He was assassinated Jan. 10, 2010, shortly after checking into a five-star hotel in Dubai under a fake name. No one has been arrested in the killing.

The indictment states that two suspects, Kifah Ghneimat and Iyad Fatafa, “decided to enter Israel illegally in order to kill Jews.”

In a forest inside Israel but adjacent to the West Bank they encountered Luken and Wilson. Wilson “tried to convince them they were not Jewish, in order to convince them not to hurt them,” according to the indictment, but one of the suspects grasped at a Star of David necklace around her neck, saying, “What’s this?”

The suspects then stabbed both women repeatedly, killing Luken, according to the indictment. Wilson, badly wounded, played dead, eventually reaching another group of hikers before she collapsed and was taken to a hospital with multiple stab wounds in her chest.

via Palestinians Charged With Murder of American Kristine Luken – ABC News.

Actually, Kristine at least WAS Jewish.   She was a Jewish convert to Christianity.

Cop drones

The small unmanned aircraft that are proving to be such a powerful weapon in our nation’s military operations are coming to a community near you.  The police are going to get their hands on them.  They have already been used in some limited cases against truly bad guys, but so far the FAA has to approve each use of them and only for “emergency” purposes.  But in 2013 the FAA expects to loosen the requirements, allowing the police to use them routinely.  Speeders, beware.

Some civil liberty folks are concerned.  Do they have a basis for their objection?   Short of a totalitarian take-over that would monitor citizens’ every move, do you see a problem with this?

Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate.

“Something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical”

A professor passed over for a job because he questioned evolution sued for religious discrimination.  The university has settled:

The University of Kentucky will pay $125,000 to an astronomy professor who sued the school for religious discrimination.

A motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington said that both UK and C. Martin Gaskell, a research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin, now want the lawsuit thrown out. It had been scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 8.

The lawsuit had provided fodder for Internet news and blog sites discussing religious faith versus academic reasoning.

Gaskell claimed that he was passed over for a job as director of UK’s MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution. He was being represented in the case by attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice.

Gaskell was a top candidate for the job, according to court filings, but some UK professors called him “something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical” in department e-mail messages.

via UK settles religious-discrimination suit for $125,000 | Education | Kentucky.com.

I suspect Prof. Gaskell maintains his beliefs are scientific rather than religious, but surely the University was discriminating against him on the grounds of religion.  The very possibility that he was “potentially evangelical”  was enough for the school to blackball him.

HT:  Kirk

State of the Union

I usually consider it my patriotic duty to watch the President’s State of the Union Address. I couldn’t this time. Tell me about it.

Cyber-skepticism

The British newspaper The Guardian pulls together a number of books that are criticizing our brave new cyber-world:

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist.

“A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological,” MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.

Turkle’s book, published in the UK next month, has caused a sensation in America, which is usually more obsessed with the merits of social networking. . . .

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

But Turkle’s book is far from the only work of its kind. An intellectual backlash in America is calling for a rejection of some of the values and methods of modern communications. . . .

The list of attacks on social media is a long one and comes from all corners of academia and popular culture. A recent bestseller in the US, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, suggested that use of the internet was altering the way we think to make us less capable of digesting large and complex amounts of information, such as books and magazine articles. The book was based on an essay that Carr wrote in the Atlantic magazine. It was just as emphatic and was headlined: Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Another strand of thought in the field of cyber-scepticism is found in The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov. He argues that social media has bred a generation of “slacktivists”. It has made people lazy and enshrined the illusion that clicking a mouse is a form of activism equal to real world donations of money and time.

Other books include The Dumbest Generation by Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein – in which he claims “the intellectual future of the US looks dim”– and We Have Met the Enemy by Daniel Akst, which describes the problems of self-control in the modern world, of which the proliferation of communication tools is a key component.

The backlash has crossed the Atlantic. In Cyburbia, published in Britain last year, James Harkin surveyed the modern technological world and found some dangerous possibilities. While Harkin was no pure cyber-sceptic, he found many reasons to be worried as well as pleased about the new technological era.

via Social networking under fresh attack as tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US | Media | The Observer.

If you want to read any of these, download them on your Kindle from the Amazon box on this blog.  Oh, I guess we are dependent on the internet even as we criticize it.  But don’t these books make some valid points?


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