Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Methods and Conclusions

This is not an April Fool's joke!

Intriguing article from Science Daily yesterday. I am not going to focus on the title ("Hundreds Of Natural-selection Studies Could Be Wrong, Study Demonstrates").

Rather, I am going to examine methods and conclusions.

Many people have an odd view of scientists and science. They think scientists are pure and noble (read Slashdot comments if you are in doubt). Seeking only the truth through holy procedures.

Scientists are people (aka fallen and sinful).

People motivated by greed and ego, pride and stubbornness. Naive ideologues and sinister schemers.

Most papers are published by graduate students and their professors. These people are measured by their output in number of papers and the quality of the conference ("publish or perish"). Corporate researchers are graded similarly (that was my job for six years).

I'm not saying there is a huge conspiracy to promote evolution.

But there is definitely not anything pure or holy in any field of research.

You do what it takes to get published.

The conference committees have certain expectations (things "look right" or "look wrong"). You don't mess around with what works. You don't question everything that came before you. You find the one small tweak on existing papers, and hope you get it done before your competitors (any good idea has been thought of multiple times, and the other guy is not more than a year behind you; probably only six months - if you're lucky).

In most fields, there is real world testing that happens after the research. Bridges fall down, microprocessors turn out with bad performance and high temperature. Rockets explode on the launch pad.

From the article:
"biologists should pair experimental data with their statistical data whenever possible. Scientists [evolutionary biologists?] usually do not use experimental data because such experiments can be difficult to conduct and because they are very time-consuming"

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