William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Lancet Editor: Half Of Science Is Wrong. An Underestimate?

I don't think we can save him!

I don’t think we can save him!

Half of science may be wrong? That may be an underestimate. But at least Richard Horton, the editor in chief of The Lancet, is in the right ballpark.

Ballpark? That might be the wrong metaphor. It implies a game with rules, winners and losers. Science may have been like that, once, but it’s now, far too often, a mechanism to provide support and cover for faddish politics and speculations.

The slide into the abyss is not new. Writing in 2003 in Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences1 Steve Goldberg said there “was a time when you could assume that an intelligent person looking for the truth was guided by the most basic of scientific intuitions: nature will give you a lift only if you are going her way.” That time is no more.

Particularly in sociology “we find large and increasing numbers of ideologues who act as if nature is not something to be discovered no matter what she should turn out to be, but a handmaiden whose purpose is to satisfy one’s psychological and ideological needs.” (It’s worth noting that Goldberg is a self-declared liberal.)

The situation is no better in medicine. Horton:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.

Horton was at a “reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research” conference at which a colleague told him a fundamental truth: “poor methods get results”.

They do. They are also lucrative and career enhancing. Need I mention that welter of putrid “studies” which “show” the horrors that await us once global warming strikes? I’ll mention them regardless. It’s not just the nauseating “World Ends: Poor, Women, and People of Color Hardest Hit” nonsense, but our friends of the forest will feel the pain, too. Any animal which is cute, photogenic, cuddly, or delicious is promised to teeter on the precipice of extinction, but those which prick, bite, poison, main and kill or are pestilential will thrive. Global warming is selective.

Horton: “The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world.” It is for good reason that that most valuable word endemicity is not dissimilar to enema.

Horton admitted journal editors “aid and abet the worst behaviours”. Why do they do this? Because of that idiot-pleasing quantification called an “impact factor”. No, it is not a measure of physical force, which would make sense, but a ridiculous pseudo-measure of how “influential” a journal is. Influence, I need hardly add, is value-free word. A Senator threatening to subpoena her enemies for producing research “designed to confuse the public” is influential. Right, Barbie?

Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale

End hypothesis testing now. Ban it. Purge it. Eliminate it. Consign it to the ever-growing fetid pile of failed intellectual ideas, along with socialism, empiricism, equality, atheism, and car alarms.

How to fix the system is a good question. Horton has a semi-workable idea: “remove incentives altogether.” Scientists, if you don’t already know, are expected to publish, publish, publish, which allows them to seek grants, more grants, and even more grants which pays their salary and provides overhead for their deans to lavish on their fiefdoms. But unless we ban scientists from publishing anything more than, say, one book or paper a year, this fix won’t stick.

One idea that is terrible is: “emphasise collaboration, not competition.” Good grief, no. If we enforced collaboration men would flee science faster than a democrat running from a Fox News camera.

The conclusion of the symposium was that something must be done. Indeed, all seemed to agree that it was within our power to do that something. But as to precisely what to do or how to do it, there were no firm answers. Those who have the power to act seem to think somebody else should act first.

Ask me, I don’t think the system can be fixed. We have to let it burn itself out, like a tire fire.


1I’m shocked this essential book is no longer in print, except via Kindle. Finding even used copies is difficult.

Thanks to Nate West, Ken, and Dave Morris and anybody I might have forgotten who brought this article to our attention.


Junk Science and Cheap Moralism on the Tiber: The Church And Global Warming


Today’s post is at The Stream.org.

Junk Science and Cheap Moralism on the Tiber: The Vatican’s top science officer lashes out at critics, defending his alliance with abortion advocates and failing to answer basic questions.

The Vatican has interested itself in global warming, going so far as to stage an invitation-only exhibition on the matter, and to release through the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences the curious document “Climate Change and The Common Good.” The document’s main author is the Chancellor of the Academies, Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo…

An article about the man behind the Vatican’s global warming push. He has been jetting around the world telling people global warming will cause abortions, so he has teamed with the UN and Jeffrey Sachs who want to provide more abortions. Go there to read the rest and see if you can make sense of it.

The Stream? Brand New-ish site, still trying to find their audience. Here’s their tag:

The national daily championing freedom, smaller government and human dignity. Offering both original content and the best from across the web, The Stream challenges the worst in the mainstream media while offering a rich and lively source for breaking news, inspiration, analysis and entertainment.


They’ve edited and reprinted my article Gay-conversion Therapy Bans And The Origin Of Homosexual under the New & Improved! title “They Enshrined ‘Homosexual’ as an Identity; Next They Will Ban Gay ‘Conversion’ Therapy“.

Go over and see what else they have. Regular readers will enjoy John Zmirak.

Reminder I’ll be speaking at Heartland’s climate conference in DC in June.


What Went Wrong In Ireland, And What Will Go Wrong Here


What went awry in Ireland was not the result of the vote, a result which was, of course, the wrong decision. The offense was something much deeper, something basic. It was the vote itself.

That a people could think, could even let themselves imagine, voting for something fundamental and unchangeable as marriage was a collosal breach of civil order, an act that must presage greater disorders to come. And this would still be so had the vote gone the other way.

Voting whether to call marriage something other than it is, is like voting whether to expand triangularity to include objects with more than three sides (in the name of equality), or like voting to kill citizens whose lives have fallen below some utilitarian threshold (via, say, abortion). It’s like voting to call black white or up down or for anything which is impossible but which is desired. It’s like voting that everybody gets to go to heaven.

That people cannot see this is the cause of the problem. Of course it is! Folks in democracies have fallen victim to the propaganda that voting is a good, and since voting is a good, it is always good, and since it is always good, anything, anything at all, can and should, eventually, be voted upon. “Truth” can be discovered by voting. The “wisdom” of the crowds!

This must lead to tyranny. It already has. To be forced to call a thing which it is not is tyrannical.

Voting is a good and does have it uses, but under only very limited circumstances, such as in small groups where all share a common goal and where the consequences of a decision are largely uncertain, and when there is no leader to assume responsibility. Leadership removes the burden of voting. Captains do not ask the crew which direction to steer. Voting leads to shipwrecks.

Most people do not have the capacity to understand the uncertainties and complexities of major decisions, though they are easily manipulated into thinking they do. Most do grasp the consequences of simple decisions. A group of (similarly ranked) colleagues deciding where to go to lunch might successfully vote. But a nation of every citizen eighteen and up deciding fundamental questions of life and of death? Guaranteed eventual disaster.

Worse, egalitarianism insists that an ever greater fraction of people get to vote and get to vote on more things.

Now if you were among the minority in Ireland, you are likely already convinced about the dangers of voting. But if you are with the majority celebrating “equality”, that most dreadful condition, you might not be. Voting, after all, got you what you wanted. Consider California. That State voted to ban gmarriage (remember Prop 8?). Was that the right vote? Did voting, forever after, reach the truth?

If you say yes, because you’re determined to hold onto the principle of voting, then you cannot say California came to the wrong conclusion. You must agree that it was the right decision. Which means you must change your own belief and say with the majority, “Same sex marriage is wrong.”

But if you say California came to the wrong conclusion, you must then agree that voting can be dangerous. And if voting is dangerous, its use should be restricted.

And that’s what gmarriage supporters did. They eliminated the vote by appealing to State leaders, who by fiat ushered in gmarriage. Believe it or not, this is a better situation than if the citizens of California originally voted for gmarriage, because leadership in some form has been exercised. But it is still bad because the original vote imbued in (all) citizens the illusion they could decide Truth. (Of course, the situation in California is even worse than I paint it, because the leadership erred and now citizens must recognize four-sided “triangles.”)

Voting saps the energy of losers—I speak here of voting on Truth, on foundations, and not on situations where there is a general understanding of uncertainties—which is good when the vote has reached the correct decision, but awful when the wrong decision is made. The losers say to themselves, “The outcome is sad, but we must abide by the will of the people.” But there is no such thing. Thinking there is, and thinking voting is always good, in time compiles error upon error, until, as the man said, the center cannot hold.

Solution? If you’ve understood the argument above, you already know.


Something To Cheer The Irish (And The Rest Of Us)


Given the state of the world, and because this is a long weekend with scarcely anyone around, this picture. It is Bubba Anderson, a (then) girl who went to the same high school as Yours Truly, though a couple of years behind me.

She was a track star and the Otsego County Fair Queen in 1987. This is her official picture. The look upon her face could cheer even an Irish ‘No’ voter.

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