Tuesday 26 October 2010

The Hindu Times

Hello, hello. It's good to be back.

My source of news these past three weeks has been The Goa Herald and BBC World. Have I missed anything? I heard that tolerant, crime-free Sweden has a racist serial killer on the loose, that the French strikers in Paris have shown considerably more commitment than the French strikers at the World Cup. And my own football club finds itself managerless and second to bottom in the bloody Championship. Can all this possibly be true?

What of India? I'll spare you my banal observations. Suffice to say it's not the place to go if you don't like curry (hello Patrick Basham!), the streets are filled with delicious cows and the smoking ban is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

More—much more—to be said later today. I have some catching up to do. Meanwhile, via Dick Puddlecote's link tank, I see The Atlantic has an interview with arch-rationalist John Ioannidis (mentioned before on this blog), whose classic paper 'Why most published research findings are false' should be on the national curriculum.

“The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them.

We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”


Though scientists and science journalists are constantly talking up the value of the peer-review process, researchers admit among themselves that biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through it. Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.”

Please go read...


Anonymous said...

Swedish racist serial killer hasn't figured much, if at all, in the UK news. His existence doesn't surprise me. After watching Wallander I've gathered that the main concerns of the average Swede are those of the average British person. Immigration and paedophile murderers.

Carl V Phillips said...

Hi, Chris. Welcome back.
Before you get too excited about Ioannidis's 'Why most published research findings are false', read Sander Greenland's response to it. The "analysis" in that paper consists of an error (or intentional statistical contrivance). As you can figure from my writings, I agree that a substantial fraction (it would take some nearly impossible systematic research to decide if that was "most" or not) of published health science papers are, in some important way or another, false (but not generally for the reason claimed in that paper). We need to be much more worried about publication bias than about statistical issues.