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Deltoid vs The Thunderer

March 13th, 2010 35 comments

My recent scuffle with the Oz, is one of a long line in which a paper which was once (long ago, and only for a few years, but still) Australia’s best has had it out with bloggers, mostly coming off second-best. After being shredded in its fight with the psephbloggers in 2007, and having long since abandoned any claims to credibility, the Oz is not much of a scalp to hang on your belt these days.

A much more interesting match-up is between Tim Lambert’s Deltoid and the Times of London, as represented by their laughably mis-titled ‘Science’ reporter Jonathan Leake. With more than 200 years as the world’s best known newspaper of record, the Times ought to be a shoo-in. But Murdoch ownership erodes credibility at a startling rate, and Lambert has Leake dead to rights. I’m betting on a TKO for Deltoid.

Starting with Leakegate (Leake’s role in pushing the anti-science lies associated with ClimateAuditGate), Lambert has pointed out all manner of journalistic malfeasance on Leake’s part. The Times wisely stuck to dignified disregard for a while, but, like the Oz, they couldn’t keep it up. Leake had a fellow reporter call Lambert and claim to be doing a general story on science blogging. She didn’t manage to get much but ran a hatchet job anyway. Now, as Lambert is reporting, Leake is getting banned from all sorts of places for such malfeasance as breaking embargoes. You can read the whole story here.

Categories: Science Tags:

Sleepers

March 7th, 2010 10 comments

My namesake, Tom Quiggin has been in the news lately, debunking the idea that Al Qaeda cultivates sleeper agents and also tracing to its source the urban myth that Osama Bin Laden used a private fortune of $300 million to promote the group.

He’s sent me some reflections on the sloppy research that’s been used to promote some of these ideas, noting

. A disconnect between the statement in the body of the article and the sources in the footnotes which do not back up the statement being made,
2. Strong statements which are made, but which are built on weak foundations or on assumptions which cannot be shown to be valid,
3. Information from two different situations is overlapped or mixed together, leaving the reader with a false impression about the nature of a particular problem or situation,
4. In a limited number of cases, information provided in articles is simply false.

The faults he points out are, I think, found to some extent in every field (I’ve certainly found plenty of instances in economics, though the prevailing flaws are a bit different), but fields like the study of security issues have the added problem that replication and verification are particularly difficult. Processes such as peer review, replication and empirical testing aren’t panaceas, and errors will always slip through, but they work pretty well in the long run.

Categories: Science Tags:

Birds of a feather

March 4th, 2010 32 comments

The similarity between creationist ‘scepticism’ about evolutionary science and rightwing ‘scepticism’ about climate science is obvious to nearly[1] everyone, whether pro-science or anti-science. So, it’s no surprise that creationists have sought to combine the two issues, and that, conversely, opponents of climate science have pushed ‘teach the controversy’ legislation modelled on those of the creationists. Here’s the NYTimes describing the US scene.

In Australia, Quadrant offers the whole package – anti-science climate delusionism, and historical revisionism as well as anti-Darwinism. This recent book review by DM Armstrong , echoing the ‘science is not settled’ line on climate change, says ‘let us not regard the case is closed’, gives a sympathetic reference to Behe, then rather bizarrely goes on to endorse sociobiology. In between he cites Ian Plimer against climate science.

Update An interesting feature of this process is the emergence of anti-vaccination as a cause embraced by the right, pushed by figures such as Glenn Beck and the unofficial leader of the US Republican Party Rush Limbaugh. As a commenter here pointed out, itseemingly started with vaccination of girls against HPV. The final trigger seems to have been the mass vaccination campaign against H1N1 flu, which hit even more hot buttons for these guys – big government, the WHO, preparation against something that might not happen and so on. Anti-vaccination used to be one area of anti-science thought where lefties predominated, and it still has some support on the fringes of the left, but not from anyone comparable in influence to Limbaugh. But it’s rapidly becoming part of rightwing orthodoxy.

In particular, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they will get vaccinated

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2009/10/16/democrats-more-likely-to-get-h1n1-vaccine-than-republicans-2.html

fn1. Except in Australia, where lots of people who will accept just about any anti-science talking point on climate science get unaccountably riled when it is suggested, by consistent thinkers on both sides of the debate, that they ought to accept the parallel talking points on evolution (gaps in the data, alleged frauds by evolutionists, evolution as a religious belief etc etc).

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Two kinds of ignorance

February 25th, 2010 99 comments

Also, in yesterday’s Fin, Geoffrey Barker accused Abbott of going for the bogan vote (paywalled), where bogan is taken to mean ignorant. Leaving aside the class/cultural analysis implicit in the term “bogan”, which I think is wrong, the argument is the same as I made in my post on agnotology, as his characterization of Rudd as a technocrat, not really at ease with the kind of politics that includes demands for authenticity and so on. Coming back to “bogan”, the big issue in agnotology is not ignorance in the ordinary sense of the term (people who don’t know much about political issues, and don’t care to learn – that is certainly part of the stereotypical bogan image, and may perhaps be descriptive of the actual demographic groups commonly associated with the term, though I don’t know of any evidence of this).

The ignorance associated with climate change delusionism and other rightwing factoids is metacognitive and has much more to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect of overestimating one’s own competence. The classic example is the kind of person who eagerly circulates reports that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995. The only information content in such a report is that the person doing the reporting doesn’t understand the concept of statistical significance[1], and therefore is incapable of assessing any issue involving statistical analysis, of which climate change is a prime example.

The stereotypical candidate, in relation to climate change, is that of a 50+ male[2] with a business background in engineering or some similar field where practical judgement is accorded more value than theoretical expertise, and where a willingness to push on regardless is an important element of success. Journalists and opinion columnists[3], accustomed to “mastering a brief” at short notice are also highly susceptible – lawyers who may actually have to master briefs involving technical issues seem mostly to recognise that this is the kind of problem where expert judgement is required, as does the more sensible kind of economist[4]

fn1. Note for pedants. A Bayesian statistician would say that confusion over the concept of significance reflects the logical problems of the concept and the underlying classical theory of statistics. But that only makes sloppy misuse of the concept even worse. I’ll have more to say on this soon, I hope.

fn2. A demographic group to which I belong

fn3. This one, too.

fn4. This one, too, I hope.

Categories: Life in General, Science Tags:

Various links

September 4th, 2009 6 comments

A few things where I’ve had a direct or indirect interest

* This study of media bias by econobloggers Andrew Leigh and Joshua Gans has unsurprisingly attracted interest from the media and econobloggers (Andrew gives some links). The striking (if not particularly surprising) finding is that the ABC as a whole is to the right of most newspapers. One aspect of it was how much the media cited public intellectuals identified as partisan by the fact that they were commonly mentioned in favorable terms in Parliament by one side, but not by the other. Interestingly, I didn’t pass this test. I had about 30 favorable mentions, of which about 30 per cent were from the Coalition.

* My Senate submission on deposit guarantees got a good run in this SMH piece, which opens with a look at the incidence of John Dillinger’s bankrobbing exploits, as described by Johnny Depp. Since been romantically linked with Angelina Jolie, I’m keen for more brushes with fame.

* Back when I was doing my Pure Maths degree, I studied fixed point theorems. One implication of the standard Brouwer fixed point theorem is the hairy ball theorem which implies, among other things, that there must always be a place on earth where the wind isn’t blowing. I said at the time that I aimed to get a research grant to test this theoretical result in practice, by travelling round the world and moving on whenever the wind blew. Today, my fellow-student and major source of technical advice for this blog, Martin Ellison, advises me that I’ve missed my chance. These guys have found the spot, in remotest Antarctica.

Categories: Economic policy, Media, Science Tags:

Is this the same Steven Pinker?

August 5th, 2009 17 comments

A couple of days ago, Jack Strocchi and I were discussing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a book which I thought, when I reviewed it in 2002, was much below the standard of his earlier work, though no worse than the average book about the ‘nature-nurture’ controversy. In particular, I thought his discussion of war and violence was hopelessly confused, putting forward a Hobbesian view of violence as the product of rational self interest as if it was consistent with the genetic determinism that was the central theme of the rest of the book.

Now, via John Horgan at Slate, I’ve happened across this broadcast by Pinker at TED (which, by the way I’ve just discovered and is excellent). The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver. Not only does he present evidence that war and violence are declining in relative importance, his explanation for this seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate. He’s still got a sort of rational self-interest model in there, but now Hobbes is invoked, not for his ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature, but for his argument that the Leviathan of social order will suppress violence to the benefit of all.

But even more striking is this:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

I agree entirely, but we seem to have come a long way from the African savannah here.

Categories: Science Tags:

Skewness (Warning: statnerdery ahead)

July 1st, 2009 19 comments

I’m not all that good at remembering which way various standard distinctions go, especially when I have some underlying doubt about them. In classical hypothesis testing, for example, Type I error involves erroneously rejecting the null hypothesis, while Type II error involves erroneously failing to reject. Since I mostly think in Bayesian terms, I regard the whole classical setup as a fairly arbitrary social convention. One result is that I have to remind myself, fairly regularly, which type of error is which.

I have a different kind of problem with the terminology of skewness. Positive skewness is often called “right skewness”, but it seems to me this is the wrong way around. Suppose I started with a zero-mean symmetrical distribution (say normal) and reduced some of the values near the mode/mean/median. The result would be a distribution with negative mean, mode and median, and positive skewness. In visual terms, the peak of the distribution would be pushed to the left, while the right hand tail would now be long. In ordinary terms, I would say the distribution had been skewed to the left. Any comments?

Categories: Science Tags:

Wow!

May 9th, 2009 78 comments

In the Oz of all places, a demolition of Ian Plimer so scathing, and so convincing, that it’s hard to imagine how he can salvage any kind of academic reputation, other than by a full retraction (which would be a pretty impressive move, admittedly).

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

April 29th, 2009 83 comments

Reading the latest delusionist nonsense at the Oz (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

Readers may recall that what I actually wrote in the Fin last week was

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

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Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience on Monday 27th

April 25th, 2009 1 comment

NEXT BRISSCIENCE TALK 27 April 2009
======================================================
Galileo’s invention of the astronomical telescope and his astounding discoveries: moons, stars, and a new planet
Presented by Professor David Jamieson from The School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.

* Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
* Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
* Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, and Professor Jamieson will be available to answer any questions.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Ghostwritten

December 15th, 2008 36 comments

This New York Times article on the (apparently widespread) practice of drug companies drafting and ghostwriting scientific articles favorable to their products, and then arranging for academics to publish the articles under their own names, focuses, reasonably enough, on the potential for such practices to mislead doctors and other readers.

As an academic, though, I was particularly struck by the stress that the drug company Wyeth laid on the fact that the nominal authors of these articles were not being paid and endorsed the contents. In reality, having someone write articles for you amounts to not doing the job for which, as an academic, you are paid and, if the articles are sufficiently numerous and well-placed, promoted. It would be far more ethical (or less unethical) to pay academics for product endorsements, published as commercial advertisements.

Of course, in a world where a $50 billion (or maybe $17 billion, who can tell?) fraud barely makes the front page, and a $100 million rip-off is buried somewhere behind the shipping news, it seems a bit precious to worry about allegations of goldbricking academics passing off corporate propaganda as their own work. But at least I can understand how this scam works, as opposed to how a massive Ponzi scheme can be operated for decades under the noses of what are supposed to be the world’s most sophisticated fnancial markets and regulators.

Categories: Economics - General, Science Tags:

BrisScience reminder

August 4th, 2008 Comments off

Wolf in a sheep’s labcoat: pseudoscience in the 20th Century – Mike McRae

Monday 4th August 2008
6:30 pm to 7:30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm)
Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Free, no booking required

Categories: Science Tags:

Bris Science tonight

July 7th, 2008 Comments off
.!.

Bris Science is on again, tonight at Brisbane City Hall with rofessor Peter Andrews, Queensland Chief Scientist, talking on Queensland Science: Building a Smarter Future. Details over the fold.

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Categories: Science Tags:

Good news on the research front

June 17th, 2008 27 comments

Fresh from the discovery that red wine is good for you, dedicated researchers have turned their attention to coffee, finding that “coffee drinking does not appear to increase a person’s risk of early death and may cut a person’s chances of dying from heart disease”. Isn’t science wonderful?

Categories: Science Tags:

Defending Rachel Carson: the last word

June 14th, 2008 7 comments

The Prospect article defending Rachel Carson I wrote with Tim Lambert kicked off a lengthy round of blast and counterblast in the blogosphere. Some of the response did little more than illustrate the continuing gullibility of the RWDB segment of the blogosphere, notably including Andrew Bolt and Glenn Reynolds (start here). The more serious discussion began with links from Andrew Leonard at Salon and Brad Plumer at TNR, and a reply from Roger Bate, claiming that we had greatly overstated his links with the tobacco industry (Tim Lambert responded here and Andrew Leonard here and here, with plenty more evidence on this point). A further piece makes the claim (which I have no reason to dispute) that British American Tobacco has now switched sides and is arguing against DDT use in Uganda.

Through all this sound and fury, some progress was made. No one even attempted to defend the claim that the use of DDT against malaria had been banned, or the outrageous lies of Steven Milloy (still employed by Fox News and CEI, despite his exposure as a tobacco industry shill) who blames Rachel Carson for every malaria death since 1972. It even turned out that the much-denounced decision of South Africa to abandon DDT use (reversed when malaria cases increased because of resistance to the pyrethroids used as alternatives) was not primarily due to environmentalist pressure. As Bate noted in his reply, the main factor behind the decision was the unpleasant look and small of DDT sprayed on hut walls, which often led to repainting or replastering. A minor, but still striking point, is that DDT continued to be used for public health purposes in the US (against plague-bearing fleas) even after the 1972 ban on general use of the chemical, and is still available for these purposes if needed.

Update:Absolutely the last word Via Ed Darrell a quiet victory for friends of Rachel Carson with the abandonment by Senator Tom Coburn of a block on the naming, in her honor, of the post office in her birthplace. It appears that the campaign of denigration against Carson (and, by implication, the environmental movement as a whole) has become untenable.
Read more…

Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

Republican War on Science: Science Fights Back

June 12th, 2008 35 comments

Via discussions at Wikipedia, this editorial in the Chemical & Engineering News, weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, The editorial notes

There really is a right-wing effort in the U.S. to discredit widely accepted science, technology, and medical information.

prominently represented by Fox News “junk science” correspondent Steven Milloy,

the tireless antiscience polemicist who started out as an apologist for the tobacco industry and spends most of his time these days claiming that all climate-change research is, of course, junk science. It’s a catchy little phrase that Milloy applies to, well, anything that doesn’t match his right-wing concept of reality

as well as those of Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (responsible for the original Oregon petition much beloved of our local delusionists) and the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JAPS), the source of the most recent version of the petition.

What’s striking about this is that, as scientists go, chemists are not exactly renowned as radical extremists, and not many members of ACS would be involved in climate research. Recognition that the political right is at war with science is spreading beyond those most directly affected (such as researchers in climate change, biology, and epidemiology) to the broader community of scientists (and even, more recently engineers).

In the short run, the political costs of a war on science aren’t that great. There just aren’t enough scientists to make up a big voting bloc. But science, while fallible, is the most reliable source of truth we have, and most people know this. A party at war with science is, in the end, at war with truth, and truth will out.

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight

June 8th, 2008 1 comment
.!.

BrisScience: Friend or Foe? The Ocean’s Response to Climate Change presented
by Dr Ben McNeil

Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
Monday 8 December, 2008
Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the
talk, and Ben will be available to answer any questions.
Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or [email protected]) or Nelle
([email protected]).

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight

June 2nd, 2008 1 comment

THE ACOUSTICS OF MUSICAL WIND INSTRUMENTS – AND OF MUSICIANS
PROFESSOR JOE WOLFE
Monday 2nd June 2008
6.30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm)
Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
This event is free – no booking required
There will be refreshments following the talk and Joe will be available to answer any questions.
For further information or to subscribe to the mailing list visit www.BrisScience.org or contact Joel Gilmore ([email protected]) or Lynelle Ross ([email protected]).
Please forward this announcement to friends and colleagues

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Categories: Science Tags:

The Republican War on Science, yet again

May 7th, 2008 8 comments

Kevin Drum points to this piece by Michael Gerson, denying the existence of a Republican War on Science. As Drum points out, Gerson doesn’t even mention the major battlegrounds like global warming denialism, creationism and intelligent design, and the Gingrich-era shutdown of the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on a much narrower set of issues including stem cell research and abortion.

Moreover far from refuting the claim of a war between Republicanism and science, Gerson spends most of the article fighting on the Republican side. Most obviously the obligatory, and in this case, lengthy discussion of eugenics, tied in Jonah Goldberg fashion to contemporary liberalism.

There’s an even more fundamental problem here. Gerson is so focused on the political/cultural/ethical war he is fighting that he doesn’t even consider the question of whether there are any scientific facts that might be relevant to the question.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight: animals and colour, sex and violence

April 28th, 2008 Comments off

Very late notice, I know, but I thought I’d put in a plug for tonight’s Bris Science lecture at City Hall, on

WHY ARE ANIMALS COLOURFUL? SEX AND VIOLENCE, SEEING AND SIGNALS – Professor Justin Marshall

Details and future events over the page

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Schroedinger’s machines

March 27th, 2008 14 comments

The next in the popular series of BrisScience lectures will be on Monday 31 March. As the title, Schroedinger’s machines indicates, it’s on the fascinating topic of quantum computing. More over page.
Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

The Republican War on Science: Tierney and Bethell

March 6th, 2008 152 comments

One of the big problems with talking about what Chris Mooney has called The Republican War on Science is that, on the Republican side, the case against science is rarely laid out explicitly. On a whole range of issues (evolution, passive smoking, climate change, the breast-cancer abortion link, CFCs and the ozone layer and so on) Republicans attack scientists, reject the conclusions of mainstream science and promote political talking points over peer-reviewed research. But they rarely present a coherent critique that would explain why, on so many different issues, they feel its appropriate to rely on their own politically-based judgements and reject those of mainstream science. And of course many of them are unwilling to admit that they are at war with science, preferring to set up their own alternative set of scientific institutions and experts, journals and so on.

So it’s good to see a clear statement of the Republican critique of science from John Tierney in this NY Times blog piece promoting global warming “skepticism”. The core quote is

climate is so complicated, and cuts across so many scientific disciplines, that it’s impossible to know which discrepancies or which variables are really important.
Considering how many false alarms have been raised previously by scientists (the “population crisis,� the “energy crisis,� the “cancer epidemic� from synthetic chemicals), I wouldn’t be surprised if the predictions of global warming turn out to be wrong or greatly exaggerated. Scientists are prone to herd thinking — informational cascades– and this danger is particularly acute when they have to rely on so many people outside their field to assess a topic as large as climate change.

Both this quote and the rest of Tierney’s article are notable for the way in which he treats science as inseparable from politics, and makes no distinction between scientific research and the kind of newspaper polemic he produces. Like most Republicans, Tierney takes a triumphalist view of the experience of the last thirty years or so, as showing that he and other Republicans have been proved right, and their opponents, including scientists, have been proved wrong. Hence, he argues, he is entitled to prefer his own political judgements to the judgements (inevitably equally political) of scientists.

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Categories: Science Tags:

What I’m Reading: Stem Cell Century

February 24th, 2008 4 comments

Research on human stem cells has been at the centre of one the more ferocious science policy debates in the US, only partially cooled off by recent claims that the necessary cultures can be generated from samples taking from adults, rather than from human embryos destroyed in the process.


“Stem Cell Century: Law and Policy for a Breakthrough Technology”

by Russell Korobkin (with a joint chapter on patents by Stephen Munzer) is a useful guide to the way the debate evolved in the US. There doesn’t seem to have been anything like the same controversy in Oz, although there has been at least one notable example of what might be called common or garden scientific misconduct.

Perhaps because the US stem cell debate is a bit remote for me, I found more interest in the chapters showing how commercial interests in research collided with general scientific ideals of free communications and with donors’ anger when they found that their donated (or appropriated) body tissue had been used to make highly profitable products.Kieran Healy of CT


wrote the book on the latter topic

.

Much of the debate about the relationship between donors and researchers on these issues has been cast in the framework of “informed consent”, which I think is not very helpful here. Neither I think is a focus on property rights over body parts. The real issue is how to finance the provision of public goods like medical research, characterized by highly uncertain returns.

I’ve looked at how to pay for medical research before and generally reached the conclusion that patents are not the best way to go, a view that is strengthened by a reading of Stem Cell Century. Looking at the conflicts discussed here, it seems that they might be less severe if successful research were rewarded by prizes, including ex gratia payments to crucial participants such as tissue donors.

Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, Science Tags:

The monkey and the organgrinder

January 31st, 2008 30 comments

At Wikipedia, the fight against pseudoscience and Republican antiscience across a range of articles from global warming to passive smoking to Intelligent design to AIDS reappraisal, is continuous and bruising.[1]. Editors have learned to detect bogus sources of information almost immediately. One of my fellow-editors at passive smoking pointed me to an interesting letter to Science (paywalled, but I’ve quoted the important nit), shedding unintentional light on the way the disinformation machine operates. It’s from William G. Kelly of the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness the front organization founded by legendary Phillip Morris shill, Jim Tozzi (Kelly is employed by Tozzi’s lobbying outfit, Multinational Business Services

Responding to criticism of the infamous Data Quality Act (for more on this see the Crooked Timber seminar on Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science) Kelly offers a classic non-denial denial, saying

Neither Phillip Morris (a multiproduct company) nor any other tobacco company (or nontobacco company for that matter) played a leadership role in the genesis of the DQA. While working with the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness in Washington, DC, I was personally involved with the development of the DQA, and no industry entity contributed to its formulation.

While we’re at it, can I point out that Henry II was nowhere near Canterbury Cathedral when Thomas Becket met with his unfortunate end. The whole point of having people like Tozzi and Kelly, and groups like CRE is that corporations don’t have to play a leadership role in promoting their own interests in Congress.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Science and antiscience, part 2

January 2nd, 2008 55 comments

All discussion threads eventually wander way off-topic if they are left to run long enough, and that’s certainly happened with my last post on the peppered moth controversy. At Crooked Timber, the debate was mainly about the role of experts and drifted into debate and meta-debate about Iraq and WMDs. On this blog, it’s got even odder, into a discussion of the well-known rightwing talking point “environmentalism is a religion”. A couple of links back to the original post have been missed though.

First up, it’s important to note that the “environmentalism is a religion” gambit is straight out of the creationist playbook. Creationists have long argued that evolution is not a scientific theory but part of a religion of “secular humanism”.

Second, the peppered moth controversy has an exact parallel in the global warming debate, the dispute over the hockey stick graph showing global temperatures at their warmest level for the past thousand years. As with the peppered moth

a striking, though minor, scientific finding, was used to illustrate a well-established scientific theory, and becomes the target of those opposed to the theory, and to science in general, for political or religious reasons. Minor errors in and procedural criticisms of the work supporting the finding are conflated into accusations of fraudulent conspiracy that are then used to attack the theory as a whole. Distorted versions of the whole story circulate around the parallel universe of antiscientific thinktanks, blogs and commentators, rapidly being taken as established fact.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

Science, and antiscience, in action

December 28th, 2007 90 comments

It’s a familiar story. A striking, though minor, scientific finding, is used to illustrate a well-established scientific theory, and becomes the target of those opposed to the theory, and to science in general, for political or religious reasons. Minor errors in and procedural criticisms of the work supporting the finding are conflated into accusations of fraudulent conspiracy that are then used to attack the theory as a whole. Distorted versions of the whole story circulate around the parallel universe of antiscientific thinktanks, blogs and commentators, rapidly being taken as established fact.

This time, the story looks set to have a happy ending. The case of industrial melanism in the peppered moth was long used as a textbook example of evolution (I remember it from high school). Before the Industrial Revolution, the peppered moth was mostly found in a light gray form with little black speckled spots. The light-bodied moths were able to blend in with the light-colored lichens and tree bark, and the less common black moth was more likely to be eaten by birds. As industrial pollution increased, blackening trees, black forms became more prevalent. With more recent declines in pollution, the process is set to be reversed.

But in the late 90s, it turned out that some of the experimental work used to establish the bird predation hypothesis had been unacceptably sloppy, at least by modern standards. Under ferocious attack from creationists, some textbooks stopped mentioning the peppered moth. Claims of fraud proliferated, and the creationists celebrated a famous victory.

Now for the happy ending (which I found via New Scientist (unfortunately paywalled).

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Post-election Science

November 23rd, 2007 4 comments

The last BrisScience Lecture for 2007!

Come and hear Nobel Laureate winner Bill Phillips – featuring cutting edge physics AND liquid nitrogen!

TIME AND EINSTEIN IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE COOLEST STUFF IN THE UNIVERSE

At the beginning of the 20th century Einstein published three revolutionary ideas that changed forever how we view Nature. At the beginning of the 21st century Einstein’s thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes, and hikers to their destinations. Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using Einstein’s ideas to cool the atoms to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, without solidifying. Such atoms enable clocks accurate to better than a second in 60 million years as well as both using and testing some of Einstein’s strangest predictions. This will be a lively, multimedia presentation, including experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today’s most exciting science.
Professor Bill Phillips won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for developments of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. He currently works at NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, USA.

Date: 26 November 2007
Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
THIS IS A FREE EVENT, NO BOOKINGS REQUIRED
Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibbles following the talk, and Bill will be available to answer any questions.
Got Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or [email protected]) or Nelle ([email protected]).

Please forward on this announcement to friends and colleagues. For further information or to subscribe to the mailing list, have a look at www.BrisScience.org or contact Joel Gilmore (0411 267 044, [email protected] or Nelle Ross [email protected]). Looking forward to seeing you on the night!

Categories: Science Tags:

Just so

November 9th, 2007 10 comments

What happens when an Evolutionary Psychology study comes up with a finding that’s the exact opposite of what the researchers obviously expected? Daniel Davies at CT reports.

Where’s Popper (or Lakatos) when you need them?

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience on Water (reminder)

October 15th, 2007 Comments off

The BrisScience lecture series is on again (Monday 15th at City Hall, 6:30 pm), and both the topic and speaker are closer to home than usual. The topic is Water in South East Queensland. The speaker, Professor Paul Greenfield, is about to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland.

More details here and over the fold
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Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

BrisScience on Water

October 8th, 2007 7 comments

The BrisScience lecture series is on again (Monday 15th at City Hall, 6:30 pm), and both the topic and speaker are closer to home than usual. The topic is Water in South East Queensland. The speaker, Professor Paul Greenfield, is about to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland.

More details here and over the fold
Read more…

Categories: Environment, Science Tags: