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A 6-Step Infographic For Ending Pseudoscience
Don't believe every science study you read, because sometimes not even their authors believe them. Here are the issues corrupting good, honest science – and how to fix them.
It’s a dirty little secret in the science community that most published scientific studies aren’t 100% true. As Nobel Prize-winning biologist Thomas Sudhof told PLOS, there are a host of problems with science journals. He summarizes those five problems as:
1. Hidden conflicts of interest between the journal and its reviewers
2. Trivial accountability measures for journals and reviewers
3. Expensive publishing costs and limited journals for authors to publish in
4. A murky, hodge-podge peer-review process
5. Experiments with unreproducible results
Once these studies are published they get into the media's unreliable little hands, some of whom are genuinely confused by the science, and others who are genuinely sensationalizing science for publicity gains. Depending on the day and the news outlet, coffee will either kill you or be the secret to eternal life (depending of course through which orifice you administer it). Owning a certain pet can make you infertile. Smelling farts can prevent cancer. Eating chocolate can turn you into a Nobel Prize winner. Watching pornography could make men better weightlifters. The list could, and unfortunately does, go on.
It’s perhaps best said by John Oliver in his excellent report on sham science studies: “In science, you don’t just get to cherry-pick the parts that justify what you were going to do anyway. That’s religion. You’re thinking of religion,” he says.
Much of the information gets dumbed down or selectively sensationalized as it passes from news source to news source, and some of it was dodgy from the start due to publicity-hungry scientists, which you can kind of understand (but not entirely forgive) as their continued funding depends on finding things that are spectacular, even if a little fictional. And yet it appears grant money is pissing down over Aston University in England, where a study concluded that toast falling off a table will tend to fall butter-side down. This important information was published in the European Journal of Physics.
The five problems Sudhof described above are big. All of them need to be fixed. When they are, papers published in scientific journals would not only be more honest; they’d be more varied. More kinds of research would be published – smaller experiments, overlooked topics, and even experiments that had unfavorable or negative results. All of those outcomes would make scientific papers more approachable to the general public. It would also cut down on the amount of pseudoscience that attempts to explain the actual science and ends up confusing everyone.
So is there a way to fix those 5 problems? You bet! At least from the scientific end (the media is another kettle of fish). Sudhof offers 6 easy tips scientists can use to fix their publication problems and get the public interested in their work:
Credit: Laurie Vazquez/Big Think
1. Post research to preprint servers before publication, giving researchers time to improve their work
When a scientist runs an experiment and has a significant result to report, their first step is to write it all up. Their second step is to find a journal to publish in. This is an enormous pain for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that every journal uses a different submission format. Journals collect and publish materials in different ways; streamlining the editorial process by putting all the journals on the same publishing system would let researchers focus more on honing their results, instead of futzing with formatting. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s bioRxiv is already doing this. Hopefully more platforms follow.
2. Clarifying review forms to give workable feedback to authors
Because each journal has its own submission format, they’ve also got their own publishing process. That means they use different methods to review papers, and those methods are often forms that are “cumbersome or insufficient to provide thoughtful and constructive feedback to authors,” Sudhof explains. Streamlining those forms would cut down on the amount of back and forth between the researcher and the journal, again allowing them to focus more on clarifying their work than formatting it.
3. Reviewer and editor training that puts burgeoning and established reviewers on the same playing field
Journals have a variety of people reviewing proposed publications. Some of them were trained decades ago. Some of them are brand-new to reviewing. None of them have a standardized review process that tells them what to look for. Investing in training allows them to assess papers fairly and give constructive feedback to the researcher.
4. Reduce the complexity of experiments to make the results easier to reproduce
“Many experiments are by design impossible to repeat,” Sudhof writes. “Many current experiments are so complex that differences in outcome can always be attributed to differences in experimental conditions (as is the case for many recent neuroscience studies because of the complexity of the nervous system). If an experiment depends on multiple variables that cannot be reliably held constant, the scientific community should not accept the conclusions from such an experiment as true or false.”
5. Validate the methods of the experiment
Sudhof again: “Too often, papers in premier journals are published without sufficient experimental controls—they take up too much space in precious journal real estate!—or with reagents that have not been vetted after they were acquired.”
6. Publish ALL results, not just ones that support the conclusion you want to make
Journals are a business, and as such they tend to publish results that will encourage people to buy them. In this case, that means focusing on experiments with positive results. Sudhof takes particular issue with this, citing the “near impossibility of actually publishing negative results, owing to the reluctance of journals—largely motivated by economic pressures—to devote precious space to such papers, and to the reluctance of authors to acknowledge mistakes.” However, not all journals are like that. PLOS ONE lets scientists publish “negative, null and inconclusive” results, not just ones that support the experiment. That allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the experiment, and can even provide more helpful data than positive results. Hopefully more journals follow suit.
By taking these 6 steps, scientists would make their results clearer to the public. That would make discoveries easier to understand, help increase scientific curiosity, and cut down misinformation. It would also force scientists to communicate in plain English, which would make a serious dent in the amount of pseudoscience we hear on a daily basis. Physicist and renowned skeptic Richard Feynman explained it to us this way: “'Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.” Pseudoscience explanations are larded with jargon and often can’t be explained in plain English; without the jargon, the explanation falls apart at the seams. Actual science can – and should – do better.
Plus, the sooner pseudoscience goes away, the happier – and smarter – we’ll all be. The ball’s in your court, scientists. Run with it.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.