Category Archives: General Science

Chupacabra!

They’ve found one.

Well, not really. It’s a hairless raccoon. As she notes, dogs don’t eat with their hands. And the guy who thinks that coons don’t growl apparently doesn’t have much experience with them. We saw one on the island in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, at night, with a big crowd of viewers of the holiday boat parade. It was a spooky-looking creature.

Cosmos

Chad Orzell has some problems with the reboot. So do I and while it’s not his main concern, he puts his finger on it:

The bit where he called out young-Earth creationism for the impoverished scale of its vision was cute, too, though I’m not sure it was all that necessary or useful (in that the people who believe that won’t be watching, and wouldn’t be convinced), but then the show has clearly established a pattern of throwing red meat to the anti-religious from time to time.

Yes, if by “from time to time” he means every episode so far. I’m not traditionally religious, but I find it gratuitous and off putting. The writers and Tyson seem to get some sort of righteous satisfaction from putting a rhetorical thumb in the eyes of believers. It does not advance science, or their own secular religious cause.

Sexually Predatory Cetaceans

Sometimes they can love you to death.

There’s an underwater hotel down in Florida for divers, with windows. They had to put curtains on them, because guests were complaining about the dolphins watching them engaged in amorous activity.

[Update a few minutes later]

You should read all. It’s quite an interesting article on Delphinadae behavior in human history.

Is Science Self Correcting?

Scientists wish, but it’s not. At least in the short term:

Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think.

Various factors contribute to the problem. Statistical mistakes are widespread. The peer reviewers who evaluate papers before journals commit to publishing them are much worse at spotting mistakes than they or others appreciate. Professional pressure, competition and ambition push scientists to publish more quickly than would be wise. A career structure which lays great stress on publishing copious papers exacerbates all these problems. “There is no cost to getting things wrong,” says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia who has taken an interest in his discipline’s persistent errors. “The cost is not getting them published.”

Yup. And peer review is not much of a quality control, when it becomes “pal review.”

This partially explains why there’s so much crap science in climate research. Probably for nutrition as well.

Read the whole thing. Undue faith in the current process of evaluating and correcting junk science will be appropriately reduced.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Statisticians have ways to deal with such problems. But most scientists are not statisticians.

Professor Hockey Stick certainly isn’t. Which is why it was so easy for people who do understand statistics to publicly pull his Nobel-winning pants down. And of course, Paul Krugman isn’t, either.

[Update a couple minutes later]

OK, one more excerpt, just to demonstrate why you should RTWT:

The idea that there are a lot of uncorrected flaws in published studies may seem hard to square with the fact that almost all of them will have been through peer-review. This sort of scrutiny by disinterested experts—acting out of a sense of professional obligation, rather than for pay—is often said to make the scientific literature particularly reliable. In practice it is poor at detecting many types of error.

John Bohannon, a biologist at Harvard, recently submitted a pseudonymous paper on the effects of a chemical derived from lichen on cancer cells to 304 journals describing themselves as using peer review. An unusual move; but it was an unusual paper, concocted wholesale and stuffed with clangers in study design, analysis and interpretation of results. Receiving this dog’s dinner from a fictitious researcher at a made up university, 157 of the journals accepted it for publication.

Dr Bohannon’s sting was directed at the lower tier of academic journals. But in a classic 1998 study Fiona Godlee, editor of the prestigious British Medical Journal, sent an article containing eight deliberate mistakes in study design, analysis and interpretation to more than 200 of the BMJ’s regular reviewers. Not one picked out all the mistakes. On average, they reported fewer than two; some did not spot any.

And yet some people think that we should base multi-trillion-dollar policy decisions on this crap.

Peer Review

“…is sick and collapsing under its own weight.”

The biggest problem, he says, is the anonymity granted to reviewers, who are often competing fiercely for priority with authors they are reviewing. “What would be their reason to do it quickly?” Tracz asks. “Why would they not steal” ideas or data?

Anonymous review, Tracz notes, is the primary reason why months pass between submission and publication of findings. “Delayed publishing is criminal; it’s nonsensical,” he says. “It’s an artifact from an irrational, almost religious belief” in the peer-review system.

Climaquiddick was a particularly egregious case of it, but the whole system is broken. And this is what leads to so much crap science, not just in climate, but in nutrition and other areas. It doesn’t get properly reviewed or argued.

Denali

Heading into the park for the day. I’m check back in tonight. If you don’t hear from me, send out a search party. #Joking

[Monday-morning update]

Hope no one sent out a search party. We got in, not that late, but WordPress was playing its little game with me that doesn’t allow me to log in to post or edit comments.

We went all the way to the end of the road in Kantishna. Fall is happening rapidly up here — you can almost see the leaves on the alders and birches turning yellow in real time, and winter will be here very soon — there was a fresh dusting of snow on the lower peaks on Saturday. It didn’t rain on our trip out and back, but it was cloudy. We saw most of the mountain, in terms of mass (everything below about 12,000 feet), but not the upper reaches.

We sighted several bears, one of which — a big blonde grizzly — was right by the roadside, then wandered around the back of the bus over to the other side, too busy eating blueberries and low-bush cranberries to pay much attention to us. It looked pretty plump and ready to hibernate to me, but it obviously had a different opinion. I may post video later.

Also saw ptarmigan, grouse, ducks of several varieties, a golden eagle and falcon, ground squirrels, red squirrel, several caribou. What didn’t we see? What we most expected to — a moose. Except for one that I might have seen running the opposite direction to the bus through the dwarf spruce, that we didn’t have time to look for at the end of the day.

Today we head up to Fairbanks, and then down to Copper Center, where the red salmon are still running, presumably with accompanying bears.