Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

University Course Proposal: “Calling Bullshit”

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Professors Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West from University of Washington have developed a new interdisciplinary course with the compelling title of Calling Bullshit.

From publication bias to fake news, bullshit is everywhere. And it’s important to be able to navigate it, separate delusion from reality, and call out bullshit when we see it. In a post-truth world, we need evidence and facts more than ever, and Professors Bergstrom and West have decided to do something about it.

                      Prof. Jevin West

As they write: “We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combatting it with effective analysis and argument.”

Naturally, if people learn how to detect subtle bullshit that might otherwise go under their radar, that also can make them better at producing bullshit. Bergstrom and West recognize this possibility: “As with biological weapons, there is no such thing as purely defensive bullshit research.” Like them, however, we see far more positives than negatives in educating people to become more effective at distinguishing bullshit from evidence and fact.

                Prof. Carl Bergstrom

“Calling Bullshit” (whose subtitle is “In the Age of Big Data”) isn’t yet part of a course catalog, but Professors Bergstrom and West have assembled a great selection of reading, and hopefully it will be an “official” offering soon. Their aim is to teach people “to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences” — in other words, to spot bullshit.

We encourage everybody to look at the course materials and fight for evidence and reasonable discourse (and for the right to party). Professor Bergstrom is in the Department of Biology and Professor West is in the Information School, so clearly bullshit crosses disciplinary boundaries, and their course promises to be both fascinating and educational.

(Thanks to investigators at the Bansal Lab for bringing this course to our attention.)

Closely related: In 2016, the Ig Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the authors of the paper On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.

Nominative Determinism: Harry Beaver, gynecologist. Also: Bush and Blinder.

Saturday, January 7th, 2017


Three more doctors who benefit/suffer from nominative determinism:

Harry Beaver [pictured here], gynecologist.

Nicol Bush, urologist.

Kevin Blinder, ophthalmologist.

(Thanks to anonymous person for bringing these to our attention.)

Dott on Wacke

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

dottHere Dott opines on wacke, and on graywack. And that’s not all:

Wacke, graywacke and matrix; what approach to immature sandstone classification?Robert H. Dott [pictured here], Journal of Sedimentary Research 34, no. 3 (1964): 625-632.

“It is suggested that sedimentary rock classification systems have become confused because factors of genesis related to tectonics, provenance, depositional process and environment have been included in them. Classification based on description alone is desirable. It is recommended that the term graywacke reflect texture and maturity rather than specific mineral composition. The term arkose is viewed as nearly useless.”

BONUS: Alden gets on About on grwywacke and wacke

Galam’s Work on Galam Models (Reviewed by Galam)

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

In 2008, French physicist Serge Galam wrote a review article about “Galam models,” in which he cited 71 papers, all of which were written or cowritten by him.

                Serge Galam

Galam specializes in a topic known as “social physics” (or “sociophysics” for short), an area of complex systems that concerns the use of ideas and tools from physics to study collective social phenomena. Amidst the modern data deluge, sociophysics has become a very popular research area during the past decades, although the idea dates back multiple centuries and the term was first used more than two hundred years ago by French philosopher August Comte (1798–1857, credited as the founder of sociology).

There are numerous models in the physical study of social phenomena, and Galam reviewed the specific family of them known as “Galam models” in the article Sociophysics: A Review of Galam Models (available in published form at this website). The first sentence of the abstract provides a terse summary of the article’s contents: “We review a series of models of sociophysics introduced by Galam and Galam et al. in the last 25 years.” Below we excerpt the reference list (from the arXiv preprint of the paper) and show about half of the references.

The second half of the 71 references, each authored or coauthored by Serge Galam, in Serge Galam's review article on Galam models.

The second half of the 71 references, each authored or coauthored by S. Galam, in Serge Galam’s review article on Galam models.

Thanks to investigator Renaud Lambiotte for bringing this paper to our attention.

NEXT POST: Mistaken hell on a shoe?

Influential imaginary scientists, in this time of influential imaginary facts

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Why Fake Data When You Can Fake a Scientist?
Making up names and CVs is one of the latest tricks to game scientific metrics

That’s the headline on an article in Nautilus magazine, written by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky. Here’s part of the article:

…The fact is that professional advancement for scientists around the world is becoming more and more challenging in an era of ever-scarcer funding for research and tightening competition for faculty spots. To succeed in the publish-or-perish environment of academia, most scientists hit the lab and play within the rules. Others, though, hatch schemes….

[One] of today’s most direct new frauds is incredibly simple: Make up new people.

Jesus Angel Lemus is a Spanish veterinary researcher who has lost 13 papers to retraction over concerns about the veracity of his data. That part’s not so unusual—even 13 retractions doesn’t put Lemus among the top 30 researchers for retractions. What makes Lemus interesting is that he appears to have created a fictional co-author for five of his articles, one “Javier Grande” (big Xavier, whose vague affiliations, ironically enough, made him a big man on campus at the University of Castilla-La Mancha). It’s difficult to understand why, although bulking up author lists is one way to increase the apparent credibility of a study, particularly if they’re from a prestigious—or prestigious-sounding—institution….