Author Archives: Ian


Obviously from xkcd. I think I sing all of these to my daughter, including the Katamari Damacy theme. Right now, she can say “ma ma”, “da da”, “ba ba” but not “na na”. When that happens, home will be very musical!

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

This article from PLOS Medicine is a must-read for any biological scientist and a nice follow-up to my post from yesterday. The title (which I’ve used as the title of this post) says it all, but the abstract says it better

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.

Read the whole thing for a fascinating read that doesn’t require a Ph.D. to follow.

What I find truly fascinating is that there’s no specific scope restriction to “biological” or “medical” research per se. Bad science happens in the physical sciences too, and for the same reasons: Human bias. As long as the data pass through human eyes and human minds with human biases, they can be filtered or disposed of as “bad data” instead of refutations of prevailing dogmas or novel discoveries.

A favorite Asimovism of mine is “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”” But if you immediately reject “That’s funny” because of your prejudices, where is the science? Quoth Frank Zappa: Who are the brain police?

Proving the validity of scientific research

This article from the New Yorker is quite possibly the best science article I’ve ever read. A snippet:

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.

Read the whole thing:

Once and for all

God is always faithful to his
promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The
child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but
not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the
Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout
. And it was not a political liberation that he
brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed
death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on
the Cross.

-Pope Benedict XVI

Launch of the Saturn V

Engineering at its finest, and possibly its most expensive: Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 (by Mark Gray). The complexity of the launch operation is beautifully illustrated in this video of the launch of the first mission to the lunar surface. The Saturn V was retired in 1973, concomitant with the elimination of the Apollo program, illustrating an important but overlooked aspect of engineering: someone has to pay for it.

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Mark Gray on Vimeo.


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