February 22, 2018

DicKtionary – E is for Eugenics – Otmar von Verschuer

Filed under: Germany, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 21 Feb 2018

E for eugenics, pseudo science about race,
Selective breeding of humans can make the world a purer place,
When saying, “that’s scary”, those words are ne’er truer,
Then of the main man today, Otmar von Verschuer.

Hosted by: Indy Neidell
Written by: Spartacus Olsson
Produced and Directed by: Astrid Deinhard
Executive Producers: Bodo Rittenauer, Astrid Deinhard, Indy Neidell, Spartacus Olsson
Camera by: Jonas Klein
Edited by: Spartacus Olsson, Jonas Klein

A TimeGhost chronological documentary produced by OnLion Entertainment GmbH

February 13, 2018

Forensic (junk) science

Filed under: Law, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Nation, Meehan Crist and Tim Requarth report on a solved-by-forensic-science case that opens a lot of valid questions about the “science” part of forensic science:

Today, Genrich is 55 years old and has been in prison for nearly 25 years for crimes he says he didn’t commit. His latest appeal has been taken up by the Innocence Project, in the hopes of not only freeing Genrich, but getting the courts to recognize recent scientific challenges to forensic pattern-matching techniques that affect hundreds of thousands of people at all levels of the criminal-justice system. In our investigation, we comprehensively reviewed the literature on handheld toolmarks published in forensic trade journals, dug through past legal rulings, pored over nearly 7,000 pages of trial transcripts, and conducted dozens of interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic practitioners, judges, academics, and scientists, from Grand Junction to the Department of Justice. What we found was a startling lack of scientific support for forensic pattern-matching techniques such as toolmark analysis; a legal system that has failed to separate nonsense from science even in capital cases; and a consensus among prosecutors all the way up to the attorney general’s office that scientifically dubious forensic techniques should be not only protected, but expanded. With Donald Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions at the helm of the DOJ, the nominal momentum for forensic-science reform spurred by the two major reports is slowing. Genrich’s case reveals a system that makes it nearly impossible to throw unproven forensic science out of courts and may be keeping thousands of innocent people behind bars.


Firearm and toolmark analysis emerged out of a national push in the early 20th century to professionalize police investigative techniques at a moment when Americans were particularly enamored with science. Law enforcement borrowed terms from science, establishing crime “laboratories” staffed by forensic “scientists” who announced “theories” cloaked in their own specialized jargon. But forensic “science” focused on inventing clever ways to solve cases and win convictions; it was never about forming theories and testing them according to basic scientific standards. By adopting the trappings of science, the forensic disciplines co-opted its authority while abandoning its methods.

Amid the swirl of new forensic techniques, the courts realized there had to be a gatekeeping mechanism to filter out quackery. In 1923, the DC Court of Appeals provided that mechanism in Frye v. United States. The judges rejected a doctor’s dubious claim that he could use a polygraph to detect when a person was lying from a rise in their blood pressure. In the ruling, the court said that in order for scientific evidence or expert testimony to be admitted, it must be offered by an experienced practitioner making inferences from a “well-recognized scientific principle” that has “general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.” In Frye, the judges deemed the scientists in the “particular field” relevant to polygraph use to include psychologists and physiologists—not just polygraph practitioners who would, presumably, be biased toward preserving the technique’s reputation. The effectiveness of Frye in keeping dubious science out of the courts depends on whom judges include in their definition of the “relevant scientific community.” But as the decades wore on, and the forensic disciplines gained influence, judges tended to restrict their definition of the “relevant scientific community” to the forensic examiners themselves. Judges began taking advice on what counted as good forensics from the very people who invented the techniques and made a living off of them.

In the American criminal-justice system, where prosecutors regularly battle defense attorneys over what constitutes valid evidence, judges’ rulings on admissibility are the final word. Once a technique has made it into court and survived appeals, subsequent judges, most of whom have no scientific training and little ability to assess the scientific validity of a technique, will continue to allow it by citing precedent. Forensic examiners, in turn, cite precedent in order to claim that their techniques are reliable science. Prosecutors point to guilty verdicts as evidence that the science brought to court was sound. In this circular way, legal rulings — which never really vetted the science to begin with — substitute for scientific proof. This is Frye’s fatal flaw: Nowhere in this process is anyone required to provide empirical evidence that the techniques work as advertised. Frye aimed to keep pseudoscience out of the courts, but instead has helped create the perfect conditions to keep it in.


No human endeavor is perfect, yet many forensic examiners claim “zero” or near-zero error rates. In a widely cited 1984 paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, bite-mark examiners claimed a coincidental match would occur less than one in 10 quadrillion times. But when actually tested, even the most experienced examiners were wrong about one in six times, and in one study they struggled to distinguish a child’s bite mark from an adult’s. In 2009, the chief of the FBI Firearms-Toolmarks Unit wrote that a qualified examiner will “rarely if ever commit a false positive error (misidentification).” In practice, error rates for matching bullets to firearms can be dramatically higher: In 2008, the Detroit Police Department’s crime lab was shuttered when auditors found that its examiners made one error in every 10 cases. The head of the FBI’s fingerprint laboratory testified that its error rate was one in 11 million—because he knew of only one error in the FBI’s 11 million comparisons—but subsequent tests of fingerprint examiners show error rates ranging from one in 680 to one in 24.

February 12, 2018

QotD: Science on the brink

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Present reality is that science is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s the not-so-tongue-in-cheek message in Science on the Verge, a new book by European scientist Andrea Saltelli and seven other contributors. Science on the Verge is a 200-page indictment of what to the lay reader appears to be a monumental deterioration across all fields, from climate science to health research to economics. The mere idea that “most published research results are false” should be cause for alarm. But it is worse than that. The crisis runs through just about everything we take for granted in modern science, from the use of big data to computer models of major parts of our social, economic and natural environment and on to the often absurd uses of statistical methods to fish for predetermined conclusions.

Terence Corcoran, “Science is on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, Financial Post, 2016-06-13.

January 7, 2018

Give your butt a wake-up call with the latest from “Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo”

Filed under: Business, Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow views with alarm yet another potentially dangerous product from Goop:

Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo, home to smoothie dust, vulva steaming, rocks you keep in your vagina, and a raft of rebadged products that are literally identical to the garbage Alex Jones sells to low-information preppers.

Both Goop and Alex Jones are big on “detoxing,” an imaginary remedy that poses a very real health-risk, especially when it involves filling your asshole with coffee.

Coffee enemas are, of course, bullshit, whose history and present are rife with hucksters whose smooth patter is only matched by their depraved indifference for human life.

But as stupid as coffee enemas are, they’re even stupider when accomplished by means of Goop’s, $135 “Implant O’Rama,” manufactured by Implant O’Rama LLC. It’s a $135 glass jar with a couple silicon hoses attached to it.

December 10, 2017

QotD: Failures of scientific consensus

Filed under: Health, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor — southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result — despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology — until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

November 26, 2017

QotD: The dangers of second-hand smoke

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it “impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.” The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science; there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems.” Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

November 23, 2017

QotD: The rise of junk science

Filed under: Education, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

October 31, 2017

QotD: Consensus “science”

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

October 26, 2017

QotD: The nutrition science is settled

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Nutrition science is, in general, a bottomless stew of politics, guesswork, bogus data and poor statistical practice. I would call it “unsavoury” if that weren’t such an inexcusable pun in this context. Anyone who has read the newspaper for 10 or 20 years, watching the endless tide of good-for-you/bad-for-you roll in and out, must know this instinctively.

Colby Cosh, “MSG: The harmless food enhancer everyone still dreads”, National Post, 2016-04-18.

October 19, 2017

QotD: Confirmation bias and anecdata

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

First, identify some linguistic thing everyone believes, or can be persuaded to believe, that women do (for this purpose it doesn’t matter whether they really do it, or whether men do it just as much). You could choose something that’s already been defined as a problem (like uptalk or vocal fry), or, more ambitiously, you could go for something no one’s been paying close attention to (like women over-using the word ‘just’ at work). Pitch a piece on ‘Why this thing women do with language is damaging to women’ to the editor of just about any publication. It’s a perennially popular formula and there’s always a place for it somewhere.

You can establish that the thing is a real thing by using anecdata and exploiting confirmation bias. ‘Have you noticed that thing women do?’ you might begin. If the thing is already a cliché, like uptalk, then you’ll immediately have them nodding; if it’s not then they probably won’t have noticed it, but many of them will think that’s only because they’re not as observant or as keenly attuned to the zeitgeist as you are. Either way, you’re priming them to accept your premise. Then you can follow up with a tedious anecdote involving some everyday scenario your reader can relate to. Like, ‘the other day at my office, a woman made a presentation where she did X a heck of a lot; my interest was piqued and I started counting Xs, which confirmed that women do X far more than men.’

Once people have accepted that there’s something to be noticed, they’ll be susceptible to the phenomenon known as ‘confirmation bias’ — a tendency to notice things that match your expectations (in this case that would be instances of women doing X), while failing to register counter-examples (women not doing X, or men doing X). Soon, everyone will be sharing your article on Facebook with comments like ‘This is so true! I’d never noticed women doing X before, but after I read this piece I heard it everywhere!’

debuk, “How to write a bullshit article about women’s language”, language: a feminist guide, 2015-08-03.

August 14, 2017

QotD: Millenarianism, left and right

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

Anybody remember Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich? This is the guy who predicted that megadeaths from global famine would be the defining feature of the 1970s. Or Jeremy Rifkin, the guy who told us all in 1986 that the Frostban bacterium engineered to protect plants against cold snaps would mess up the Earth’s climate? Or the brigade of self-panickers (Carl Sagan was briefly one of them) who warned us all back around 1980 that an impending Ice Age was about to destroy civilization? Or, hey — how about the ozone hole; remember when we were all going to die of UV-B-induced skin cancer?

It’s easy to laugh at those particular doom-mongers now; there has been plenty of time for their predictions to fail. But we have plenty of apocalypse merchants peddling equally silly scenarios, on equally thin evidence and bogus reasoning, today. And the same ‘sophisticated’ secularists who lapped up Paul Ehrlich’s nonsense are swaying to the Gospel shout of global warming and “peak oil” — just as self-hypnotized, and just as stone-stupid, as an Ozark Mountains cracker at a tent-revival meeting.

Rather than getting to gloat over sinners writhing in a lake of fire, the draw is getting to feel superior to capitalists and Republicans and Americans; they will all surely Get Theirs and starve in their SUVs when the Collapse Comes, while virtuous tree-hugging Birkenstock-wearers, being in a state of grace with Gaia, will retire to renewable-energy-powered communes and build scale models of Swedish socialism out of macrame supplies or something.

The hilarious part is how self-congratulatory the secularist millennarians are about their own superiority over the religious ones, when in fact the secondary gain from these two kinds of delusional system is identical.

Eric S. Raymond, “Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-11-13.

July 20, 2017

Latest warnings about climate change to mean higher wine prices … maybe

Filed under: Environment, Europe, France, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

London’s local Metro newspaper recently published a scary article about rising temperatures in wine regions across the world and the likelihood of driving wine prices much higher. Colour me skeptical, frankly. Also of a doubting disposition, Paul Austin Murphy indulges in a good, old-fashioned fisking of the alarmist article:

Now here, in all its glory, is a supremely tangential link (found in a Metro article called ‘Global warming is now messing with wine, so can you PLEASE STOP WRECKING THE WORLD‘):

    Global warming is “going to up the price of wine across the board”.

Readers may want to know the details about this fatal connection between man-created global warming and the high price of wine. Though — it must be said straight away — this can’t always the case at present. It must surely depend on which wines you like and where you buy your wine from.

Anyway, this is the hard science bit; so pay attention and put your white coats on. Here goes:

    “Researchers have suggested that rising temperatures in Europe are likely to increase the cost of labour in vineyards, noting that as heat rises in August, a month when a significant amount of the harvest is brought in, there’s a 15% drop in the amount of time labourers are able to work.

    “There’s also a drop in productivity, slowing down the wine production process.”

That’s odd. On average heat always rises in August in most European countries. Metro doesn’t really make it clear if these natural — as well as annual — increases have themselves increased. It also says that “[r]esearchers have suggested”. Yes, they’ve suggested. That’s a very loose word. Though it’s obviously a very precise and important word if you like your wine and you’re also against man-caused global warming.

It’s also the case that in several European wine-producing countries, cold weather is much more of a problem for the wine industry than hot weather (France, in particular). A “hot” vintage in France is very often associated with extremely high quality wine from that vintage.

Another study has admitted that this catastrophic effect on wine production hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. Metro says:

    “Andreas Flouris of the School of Exercise Science at the University of Thessaly reckons that the results of the small-scale study could easily repeat in California, across Europe, and in Australia — so all our wine could be set to hike up in price.”

Now if this wine catastrophe hasn’t yet happened in “California, across Europe, and in Australia” — then where, exactly, has it happened? The initial study mentioned that “most European countries” have been effected by it. (Which ones?) This other study says that it hasn’t yet occurred “across Europe.” How do we make sense of these two seemingly contradictory phrases?

It’s not just about cost. (Though, for Metro, it’s mainly about the cost!) This is also about taste. Metro tells us that

    “[i]ncreased heat is also affecting the taste of wine, damaging the quality of grapes across Europe and shortening the growing season”.

All this — if true — will also affect prices. Shorter growing seasons will certainly affect the price of wine — or at least certain wines from certain countries. This is strange. One main reason why the United Kingdom doesn’t produce much wine is its shortage of warm weather. (British wine makes up 1% of the domestic market.) Yet if temperatures keep on increasing, then surely more wine will be produced in England. That will also have a positive effect on the price of wine! Why doesn’t Metro mention that?

Now what’s all this going to do to London’s dinner-party circuit? I mean Metropolitans are already suffering from severe “austerity”. Add 50 pence (or less) to a bottle of wine and then what have you got? Massive poverty among London’s professional political Pharisees (who also like wine).

It’s fascinating that the Metro author tries to imply that hot weather in (parts of) Europe will somehow have a knock-on effect in California and Australia, isn’t it? The two latter wine-producers are known for their consistency between vintages, because they are warm-weather regions where the grapes are generally able to mature to full ripeness every year almost without fail. Cool climate regions (like Ontario, for example) have much greater variation from vintage to vintage because the local weather varies significantly and the grapes are not always able to fully ripen before they have to be picked (this is more true of red than white grapes, which tend to ripen sooner and can be picked earlier than the red grapes).

May 1, 2017

“100% certainty is almost always an indication of a cult rather than any sort of actual truth”

Jay Currie looks at the reaction to a Bret Stephens climate article in the New York Times:

On the science side the greatest threats were the inadequacy of the climate models and the advent of the “hiatus”. The models entirely failed to project any circumstances in which temperature ceased to rise when CO2 continued to rise. However the hiatus created exactly that set of conditions for what is now looking like twenty years. (Right this instant, last year’s El Nino, broke the hiatus. However, rapidly cooling post El Nino temperatures look set to bring the hiatus back into play in the next six months to a year.)

The economic side is even worse. It turns out that renewable energy – windmills and solar – costs a fortune and is profoundly unreliable. Governments which went all in for renewables (see Ontario) found their energy prices hockey sticking and the popularity plummeting without, as it turns out, making even a slight impression on the rise of CO2 concentrations.

The economics of climate change and its “mitigation” are a shambles. And it is beginning to dawn on assorted politicians that they might have been railroaded with science which was not quite ready for prime time.

Which makes it all the more imperative for the Nuccitelli and DeSmog blogs of this world to redouble their attacks on even mildly sceptical positions. Had the alarmists been less certain their edifice could have easily withstood a recalibration of the science and a recalculation of the cost/benefits. But they weren’t. They went all in for a position which claimed to know for certain that CO2 was driving world temperature and that there was no other possible cause for an increase or decrease in that temperature.

The problem with that position is that it was premature and very brittle. As lower sensitivity estimates emerge, as other, non-CO2 driven, temperature controls are discovered, consensus climate science becomes more and more embattled. What had looked like a monopoly on political discourse and media comment begins to fray. The advent of Trump and a merry band of climate change skeptics in the regulatory agencies and in Congress, has pretty much killed any forward motion for the climate alarmists in the US. And the US is where this battle will be won or lost. However, the sheer cost of so called “carbon reduction” schemes in the UK, Germany and the rest of Europe has been staggering and has shown next to no actual benefit so scepticism is rising there too. China has both embarked on an embrace of climate change abatement and the construction of dozens of coal fired electrical generation plants every year.

April 30, 2017

[p-hacking] “is one of the many questionable research practices responsible for the replication crisis in the social sciences”

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

What happens when someone digs into the statistics of highly influential health studies and discovers oddities? We’re in the process of finding out in the case of “rockstar researcher” Brian Wansink and several of his studies under the statistical microscope:

Things began to go bad late last year when Wansink posted some advice for grad students on his blog. The post, which has subsequently been removed (although a cached copy is available), described a grad student who, on Wansink’s instruction, had delved into a data set to look for interesting results. The data came from a study that had sold people coupons for an all-you-can-eat buffet. One group had paid $4 for the coupon, and the other group had paid $8.

The hypothesis had been that people would eat more if they had paid more, but the study had not found that result. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, publishing null results like these is important — failure to do so leads to publication bias, which can lead to a skewed public record that shows (for example) three successful tests of a hypothesis but not the 18 failed ones. But instead of publishing the null result, Wansink wanted to get something more out of the data.

“When [the grad student] arrived,” Wansink wrote, “I gave her a data set of a self-funded, failed study which had null results… I said, ‘This cost us a lot of time and our own money to collect. There’s got to be something here we can salvage because it’s a cool (rich & unique) data set.’ I had three ideas for potential Plan B, C, & D directions (since Plan A had failed).”

The responses to Wansink’s blog post from other researchers were incredulous, because this kind of data analysis is considered an incredibly bad idea. As this very famous xkcd strip explains, trawling through data, running lots of statistical tests, and looking only for significant results is bound to turn up some false positives. This practice of “p-hacking” — hunting for significant p-values in statistical analyses — is one of the many questionable research practices responsible for the replication crisis in the social sciences.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

April 23, 2017

Just how many calories are you burning during your exercise program?

Filed under: Health, Humour, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Register, Alistair Dabbs gets around to talking about the next flying car fantasy after first getting his knob squeezed (it’s not what you think) and then trying to do a bit of measurement:

A short while ago, at the end of another 45 minutes of relentless, sweaty knob-tweaking, one of my fellow gym members asked how many calories she could expect to burn at each class. Aha, I like a challenge, and so I decided to use my access to various wearable tech devices in order to find an answer to this question.

Well, I suppose it was a bright idea: the difficult bit was in implementing it.

Bound up by a host of bands and straps, I looked like a cross between a Running Man baddie and a punk reject hanging around Vivienne Westwood’s shop on the King’s Road in 1976. Yet I am tech gladiator incarnate, I told myself. I am Ali-Stor of Bromlar, son of Al-An, defiler of words, wearer of strap-ons, tweaker of knobs!

Maybe the developers of these fitness trackers thought it would be a good idea too. As it turns out, their implementation leaves a little to be desired. Every device measured and calculated my physical effort in a different way, producing wildly different results.

One heart-and-respiration monitor strapped across my chest reckoned I had burnt around 800 calories during the spin class. Another tracker reported a more modest 500 for the same session, with others suggesting various figures in between.

Best of all was my trusty Fitbit, which told me I’d been sitting down and doing nothing for those 45 minutes. No problem, I can simply use the app to log this period in my exercise record as a spin class and let its online database calculate a typical burn for the period.

172 calories.

Oh thanks a bunch, Fitbit. That’s the same as for a 20-minute stroll between my house and the local train station. Next time I consider attending a spin class, maybe I’ll go full-on and nip out to the newsagent instead. It’ll use up more calories and my tender knob can be left unsqueezed.

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