Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
We’ve looked before at the methodological problems that beset (too) much science, and at the work of John Ioannidis, who’s done more than anyone else to uncover them (see here and here). Ioannidis is back… and the news is troubling:
Over the past decade, scientists have increasingly become ashamed at the failings of their own profession: due to a lack of self-policing and quality control, a large proportion of studies have not been replicable, scientific frauds have flourished for years without being caught, and the pressure to publish novel findings—instead of simply good science—has become the commanding mantra. In what might be one of the worst such failings, a new study suggests that even systematic reviews and meta-analyses—typically considered the highest form of scientific evidence—are now in doubt.
The study comes from a single author: John Ioannidis, a highly respected researcher at Stanford University, who has built his reputation showing other scientists what they get wrong. In his latest work, Ioannidis contends that “the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, or conflicted.”Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are statistically rigorous studies that synthesize the scientific literature on a given topic. If you aren’t a scientist or a policymaker, you may have never heard of them. But you have almost certainly been affected by them.
If you’ve ever taken a medicine for any ailment, you’ve likely been given the prescription based on systematic reviews of evidence for that medication. If you’ve ever been advised to use a standing desk to improve your health, it’s because experts used meta-analyses of past studies to make that recommendation. And government policies increasingly rely on conclusions stemming from evidence found in such reviews. “We put a lot of weight and trust on them to understand what we know and how to make decisions,” Ioannidis says…
More at “The man who made scientists question themselves has just exposed huge flaws in evidence used to give drug prescriptions.” See also “The Inevitable Evolution of Bad Science” and “Trouble at the Lab.”
And lest we think “hard scientists” alone in their misery, consider the plight of economists: “The Emperor’s New Paunch.”
*Daniel J. Boorstin
As we check, check, and check again, we might send disingenuous birthday greetings to Trofim Denisovich Lysenko; he was born on this date in 1898. A Soviet biologist and agronomist, he believed the Mendelian theory of heredity to be wrong, and developed his own, allowing for “soft inheritance”– the heretability of learned behavior. (He believed that in one generation of a hybridized crop, the desired individual could be selected and mated again and continue to produce the same desired product, without worrying about separation/segregation in future breeds.–he assumed that after a lifetime of developing (acquiring) the best set of traits to survive, those must be passed down to the next generation.)
In many way Lysenko’s theories recall Lamarck’s “organic evolution” and its concept of “soft evolution” (the passage of learned traits), though Lysenko denied any connection. He followed I. V. Michurin’s fanciful idea that plants could be forced to adapt to any environmental conditions, for example converting summer wheat to winter wheat by storing the seeds in ice. With Stalin’s support for two decades, he actively obstructed the course of Soviet biology and caused the imprisonment and death of many of the country’s eminent biologists who disagreed with him.
Interestingly, some current research suggests that heretable learning– or a semblance of it– may in fact be happening, by virtue of epigenetics… though nothing vaguely resembling Lysenko’s theory.
Linotype typecasting machines revolutionized publishing when they were invented in 1886, and remained the industry standard for nearly a century after. The first commercially successful mechanical typesetter, the Linotype significantly sped up the printing process, allowing for larger and more local daily newspapers. In Farewell, etaoin shrdlu (the latter portion of the title taken from the nonsense words created by running your fingers down the letters of the machine’s first two rows), the former New York Times proofreader David Loeb Weiss bids a loving farewell to the Linotype by chronicling its final day of use at the Times on 1 July 1978. An evenhanded treatment of the unremitting march of technological progress, Weiss’s film about an outmoded craft is stylistically vintage yet also immediate in its investigation of modernity…
* Thomas Edison, speaking of the linotype machine
As we agree with John O’Hara that “hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm,” we might spare a thought for a communicator of a very different sort, Arthur Duer “Harpo” Marx; he died on this date in 1964. A comedian, actor, mime, and musician, he was the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers. Harpo was a master of both the clown and pantomime traditions; he wore a curly reddish blonde wig, never spoke during performances, and of course, played the harp in each of the Marx Brothers’ films. A man of wide and varied friendships, he was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable.
Originally published in 1876, this book is remarkable not only for being the first major work in contemporary chromotherapy, but also for its unique appearance. True to the ideas held within — that blue light is bearer of unique and special properties — the book is entirely printed with blue ink on blue paper. Its author, a retired US Civil War general named Augustus James Pleasonton, proposed that isolating blue wavelengths from the sun could benefit the growth of both flora and fauna, and also help to eradicate disease in humans. The science was shaky at best…
As we step away from the monitor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1772 that the soon-to-be state of New Jersey passed the first law in the US to license medical practitioners, except those who do not charge for their services, or whose activity is bleeding patients or pulling teeth. There is to this day no federal medical licensing law.
Nearly everyone interested in records will have, at some point heard the news that there is a Brazilian who owns millions of records. Fewer seem to know, however, that Zero Freitas, a São Paulo-based businessman now in his sixties, plans to turn his collection into a public archive of the world’s music, with special focus on the Americas. Having amassed over six million records, he manages a collection similar to the entire Discogs database. Given the magnitude of this enterprise, Freitas deals with serious logistical challenges and, above all, time constraints. But he strongly believes it is worth his while. After all, no less than a vinyl library of global proportions is at stake…
An interview with master collector Zero Freitas: “Inside the World’s Biggest Record Collection.”
* Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
As we drop the needle, we might send harmonious birthday greetings to Jean-Philippe Rameau; he was born on this date in 1683. One of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era, he replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered (with François Couperin) the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time.
50+ examples: “Evolution of Horror Movie Poster Designs: 1922 – 2009.”
* Robert Anton Wilson
As we prepare to shriek, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that a secret executive order issued by President Harry Truman established Majestic 12, a secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials empaneled to investigate UFO activity in the aftermath of the Roswell incident— or so many UFO conspiracy theorists believe. The purported documentary evidence of Majestic 12 has been judged fake by both the FBI and the Air Force (e.g., here)… but then, they would wouldn’t they…
This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library’s website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.
The RoSPA displayed a series of its 20th-century posters in a 2012 exhibition, after rediscovering a small archive of them in an outbuilding. In the exhibition notes,RoSPA curators noted that the society, which dates back to World War I, focused on road safety and pedestrian awareness in the 1920s and 1930s (much like analogous American safety organizations).
From the redoubtable Rebecca Onion: “Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters.”
* Vladimir Nabokov,
As we put safety first, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Great New England Hurricane (AKA, The Long Island Express) dissipated. It had made landfall on Long Island on September 21. With impact felt from New Jersey all the way north to Canada, the storm was estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current value).