Thursday, January 20, 2011

How and why to do science...

I just read a very interesting and excellent article, The Truth Wears Off or The decline effect and the scientific method, by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker.

Very, very interesting... about how scientific experiments have issues, results can't be repeated, and the impact of our business way of doing science with grants and competition instead of long-term thinking and planning. How our brain is fooling us sometimes, how small sample sizes can randomly cause significant results, how we first want to prove we are right and how hard it is to think outside the box. Why aren't scientists talking about this more?  It also affects medicine and bad and good practices outside of science; it impacts our lives since we live in a logical, rational science-based society (at least most of us would like to).

Excerpt: "According to Ioannidis, the main problem is that too many researchers engage in what he calls “significance chasing,” or finding ways to interpret the data so that it passes the statistical test of significance—the ninety-five-per-cent boundary invented by Ronald Fisher. “The scientists are so eager to pass this magical test that they start playing around with the numbers, trying to find anything that seems worthy,” Ioannidis says. In recent years, Ioannidis has become increasingly blunt about the pervasiveness of the problem. One of his most cited papers has a deliberately provocative title: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.”

Another article in WIRED talks about the dire straits for taxonomists... and here there simply is too little research and our articles are sometimes not cited at all for 10-50 years because we might be that last existing expert on that plant or animal group (not in my case, but anybody that works with invertebrates, for example).

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