Scientists Discover Way To Increase Publication Count

publish.perishAnybody who has spent any time in a university library amidst the papers of his specialty knows that the absolute last thing which is needed is more of them. Journals abound and apparently breed—asexually, by dividing—when librarians turn their heads.

The reason is obvious: academics must publish whether they want to or not, whether or not they have anything useful to say, and whether or not anybody reads what they write.

The glut appears across all areas of knowledge, but the effects are different in the humanities and sciences. In the former, the world would be a far better place had many of its practitioners obeyed the ancient truism that silence is golden. Over-supply in the sciences is less troublesome because poor and inconsequential works are ignored. The presence of this chaff only makes it difficult to discover the wheat.

In the humanities (which I take to incorporate the gooier sciences, like education) one can say anything, the more outré the better. Not so in the hard sciences where at least some passing resemblance to the truth is expected.

Too much resemblance, as a matter of fact. Editors, reviews, and authors follow a rigid positivistic philosophy: only good news shall find its way into print! Papers with “statistically significant” effects are vastly likelier to be published than are works which admit there’s nothing to see. Failures with billets are as rare as Republicans in English departments.

Then because traditional statistical methods used are fertile in labeling results positive, even when they are not, there exists a tremendous publication bias. Many false things are believed true.

All this is known and of concern to the seventy-plus signatories to the article Trust in science would be improved by study pre-registration in The Guardian. This open letter proclaims “We must encourage scientific journals to accept studies before the results are in.”

The eminences lament publish and perish and say the “publishing culture is toxic to science.”

Recent studies have shown how intense career pressures encourage life scientists to engage in a range of questionable practices to generate publications — behaviours such as cherry-picking data or analyses that allow clear narratives to be presented, reinventing the aims of a study after it has finished to “predict” unexpected findings, and failing to ensure adequate statistical power. These are not the actions of a small minority; they are common, and result from the environment and incentive structures that most scientists work within.

It’s worse than just that. “[J]ournals incentivise bad practice by favouring the publication of results that are considered to be positive, novel, neat and eye-catching.” Although there is no conceivable universe where the string of letters which comprise “incentivise” should be used when ladies are present, we cannot help but agree that the situation is grim.

The “file-drawer” problem adds to the misery. This is when a study which is not a success or isn’t sexy or part of the consensus rests in a lonely file in the forgotten reaches of a scientist’s computer. Lack of negative results in print gives an over-optimistic picture of scientific progress.

The solution the Guardian writers have is to publish “pre-registration” papers, outlines of the studies which are not yet conducted. Journal which air these outlines must agree to publish the eventual results whatever they may be. Thus “questionable practices to increase ‘publishability'” will be “greatly reduced.”

I doubt it. Authors will still aim for high “impact factor” journals for their “pre-registrations.” The “impact factor”, incidentally, is an “arguably meaningless as an indicator of scientific quality”, though always a matter of bragging rights.

There will be a minor flood of papers pre-registering sketchy theories, and these will be all that is remembered. Some authors will publish their negative results, but many will forget them and move on to more fertile grounds. The bulk of these maybe-so works will be taken as positive evidence even if positive effects are never found or if negative effects are published.

Journalists, by nature not very inquisitive, will tout “If these promised results hold…”, and again these reports will be all that is remembered. Retractions will never appear. What’s to retract?

And worst of all will be the huge increase in papers that must be navigated to get to the good stuff. Pre-registration papers will only be “read”—i.e. their abstracts will be glanced at on PubMed—by other authors looking to pad their bibliographies.

No. The real solution is to judge a fellow by the quality and promise of his work, not by its quantity, and not by even a hint of a numerical rating.


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Thanks to Bryan Davies for pointing us to this.

Krauthammer’s Wrong: NSA Spying Not Equivalent To Policing

We’re spying on you for your own good.
Charles Krauthammer ought to be taken seriously. He said yesterday from his daily perch that he wasn’t concerned about NSA spying on Americans because there hasn’t been any or many complaints or other evidence of abuse, besides the latest. No complaints, no harm.

He compared NSA’s sucking up data to the police carrying guns and using other tools, and that these guns and tools can be used maliciously by those sworn to protect us, and sometimes are, but not to the extent we would disarm cops.

He didn’t use the word “spying.”

The analogy is poor and if considered at length supports the opposite conclusion: NSA ought not to spy on citizens without probable cause. Which is to say, NSA, and every other government agency, ought to follow the Fourth Amendment in its letter and spirit.

If the police suspect a man of crime they must provide sufficient and lengthy evidence to a judge before receiving a search warrant to implement a wire tap (and equivalents). After the warrant is issued, the tap is put in place. Contrariwise, the NSA wire taps everybody first, stores the information, and then swears not to look at it until it receives a warrant from a court with the sole purpose of handing out warrants.

This violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Whether our dear leaders come to this same conclusion and voluntarily renounce the power they have awarded themselves is a separate question. Smart money says no: smarter money says these programs will intensify.

Add to this knowledge that the chief law enforcement officer of the country was discovered lying to both Congress and a judge for political reasons, accusing one of his enemies falsely of treason and spying, a double irony (but unfortunately no record).

Police carry guns because crooks do. Except in a very few enlightened locales, such as blood-stained Chicago, any citizen may arm and protect himself in the absence of police. The armament on both sides is in rough parity, with the police holding a slight edge.

There is no equivalent in this case. No citizen can compete with or evade a Dark Star or PRISM, the 007-enemy-like names our beneficent government chose for its programs (this was also Krauthammer’s observation). All a citizen can do is avoid anything electronic: no cell phone, no computer, no medical records (which the IRS will soon have), no credit card, no car, and no heat signature—drones will track these. Remember drones? Only proles and animals are free.

The best comparison is between Stop & Frisk and NSA surveillance. Under Stop & Frisk, cops patrol high-crime areas and detain and search individuals who meet minimal suspicion standards. Minimal is not none. The visible presence of the police is often a sufficient deterrent. Records of Stop & Frisk cannot be used for personal identification.

The NSA can scan records which are minimally suspicious, too. But to do that, they must first collect information on everybody, including people who meet no standard of suspicion. A person frisked on the street knows what has happened to him. The citizen whose records are pored over remains ignorant. The former can complain of abuse, the latter cannot. This is why there are no complaints of harassment.

Revealingly, the government does not claim electronic snooping does deters, only that it discovers. Perhaps people would feel better were they to learn the spying programs have uncovered innumerable foreign spies and stopped countless attacks. The government is understandably reticent to admit these successes, assuming they exist, fearing its enemies will backward engineer its methods and thus countervail them.

However, there is good reason to think the number of these successes is low. For one, our current administration loves to brag, and it has not about uncovering spies. And the failures have been many. The Boston bombers, the shoe and underwear bombers, Mumbai, Benghazi, England’s bombings; many others including Snowden himself. Contradictorily, these will encourage governments to increase its powers rather than admit its programs don’t work.

I had, in the 1980s, a Top Secret SCI etc. etc. clearance, natural for a USAF Sergeant in cryptography. The clearance came with endless briefings about traitorous spies and the damage they caused. These were mostly useless as training to spot spies, because all we learned was that spies excel at hiding. But because spies existed and the government feared them, it thought it should screen for them using lie detectors.

These were not useless: they were able to produce many accusations, all (or nearly all) false. Real spies pass polygraphs. (Incidentally, the attack is psychological: “There seems to be a problem with question seven, Sergeant Briggs. Can you help me with that?” “Nope.” “Are you sure?” “Yep.” “You are dismissed.” Always the same.)

It’s a good guess the same will and is happening with NSA’s terrorist screening. The failures suggest screening is too blunt a tool to catch bad guys, especially well organized and intelligent adversaries.


Update Recommended reading. Liberty in the Tentacular State.

You Do Too Have Something To Hide

We’re spying on you for your own good.
“Let them look at my phone records. I have nothing to hide. They can read all my emails. There’s nothing there worth reading.”

We hear this primarily from the young, who are said to be used to living openly on-line, and from the old who share this in common with the young: ignorance of history and of human nature. Today, and for the benefit of these mis-, or rather uninformed, people a brief lesson.

No man is innocent in the eyes of his enemy. A zealous prosecutor can take the most harmless of circumstance and through innuendo, contrivance, and brazen lie turn it into at least dark suspicion if not “proof” of heinous crime.

You bought a book on the Middle East because of a noble interest in history? So do terrorists read those books. You made a phone call from nearby a mosque? So do terrorists make these calls. You made a crude and in poor taste joke after an incident? So do terrorists make these quips.

You decided to join a local Tea Party-like organization because of your sincere belief in limited government? Or have you renewed your membership in the NRA? So do “domestic”, “home-grown”, “self-radicalized” terrorists join these groups.

Have you not heard the term railroaded? How about framed? How about falsely accused, hounded, harassed? Is it is merely paranoia and lapsing into extremism to suggest that the government, sated on your secrets, could act in these ways as it has and far too often?

Could the IRS target groups which it perceives as its enemies? Could sealed divorce records be publicly aired? Could a zealous prosecutor who cares only of her public image and is a stranger to truth convict the innocent? Could a government libel and slander a man in order to bamboozle a judge into issuing a warrant against this man?

The powers of my imagination pale, but a story of your culpability can always be weaved by a determined enemy. Anything can be turned against you, and the more information government has on you, the easier it becomes to manufacture “evidence” of your misdeed.

Information is power: it is the lifeblood of politics. Giving bureaucrats and politicians this much power is to tempt them beyond human ability to resist. (Giving power to computer and statistical algorithms used to data mine records is no solution. These cannot be perfect, and it is people who run them.)

It’s probably far too late to remind anybody of these words, taken from the document which at one time dictated the law under which even politicians had to live:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It has now become a “reasonable” search to track your every movement, your every call, perhaps even your every email and on-line transaction. It is now “probable cause” that you are guilty of a crime just because you exist.

“But it’s only meta-data.” Meta-data forsooth! Have you any idea what this is? It tells the time of your call and where you were when you made it. It tells who you made it to, and tells of the people you contacted who they in turn contacted. Do you text? Then they have that information too.

It’s rumored the government even has your emails. Perhaps not the text of these, but the meta-data. Again, this tells much. It tells where you were and on what you wrote them. It tells the time and length. It tells who it went to, and it tells this of everybody.

Even without your exact words spoken or written, this is a dense and nearly complete picture of your behavior. If a bureaucrat cannot find something in this trove that at least casts you in a bad light, then he isn’t trying.

“But what about the children! We demand safety!” I have yet to hear any politician respond to these words of a man of a far superior mind:

https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/342764646220050432

If the government can’t catch terrorists without spying on its own citizens, then tough luck. Let if find some other way. The price we have to pay for this program of extremely limited success is just too high.

https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/343890674057371648

Update Until my server’s DNS problems (not “issues”) are resolved, you might not be able to see the tweets linked. They are, in order:

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin.”

“If NSA algorithms so good at detecting spies, how did Edward Snowden go undetected?”

Update See this from brother statistician John Cook: A statistical problem with “nothing to hide.”

Smartness Is False And Oppresive: Zeus–Update

Zeus says: Smartness ain’t for you.
Aristophanes was right. He said, “Open your mouth and shut your eyes and see what Zeus will send you.” In other words, no need to be smart and think when Zeus was on the job.

Zeus Leonardo, that is. Co-author of “Smartness as Property: A Critical Exploration of Intersections Between Whiteness and Disability Studies” which concludes “that smartness is nothing but false and oppressive, and as such, attempts to theoretically rearticulate or rehabilitate smartness may serve to illuminate, but ultimately fail to dissolve, the normative center of schooling.”

The not-so-Greek Leonardo can be found at Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education, one of the bright centers of educational theory. You know, the stuff fed to teachers and passed on to your children. Blessed be the government.

Zeus tells us “smartness” is an “ideological system” and should not be encouraged, and he must be right because he is at one of the world’s best universities. Unlike many academics and to his eternal credit, Leonardo’s writings indicate he practices what he preaches.

This work, and many others like it, appear in the Teachers College Record, a portal for the school jealously close to Columbia. If you want avant-garde in education, this site is it.

Take the featured article “‘Coming Out Crip’ in Inclusive Education” by Nirmala Erevelles. She frowns that teachers aren’t talking about who—or what—students want to have sex with, particularly disabled students. She doesn’t want any kid feeling that its desires are odd. Even if they’re odd.

Thus the “crippin” theory of “inclusive education”, point one of which is “Claiming disability and a disability identity politics while nonetheless nurturing a necessary contestatory relationship to that identity…” You bet.

She doesn’t like abstinence—but then who does. Apparently she never figured out that liking abstinence is not the point of abstinence. But let that pass. Return instead to the “queer disabled”, a double-whammy category. She quotes “scholar” Alison Kafer: “It is in imagining the stories disabled queers might tell each other about intimacy, touch, desire, and identity that…provides inspiration, guidance, and ground for thinking” [ellipsis original].

If the reader is able to discover a point to Erevelles’s piece other than she really likes to talk about sex, and wishes everybody would like it just as much as she, he is invited to write his discovery below in the comments. A ten-point bonus will be awarded to the first reader who can translate Erevelles’s theme into English.

Switch to “Teaching Bodies in Place” by Jones and Woglom which argues to “engage students in recognizing themselves as full-bodied and cultured beings”. Looks like Joes and Woglom didn’t talk to Erevelles first, who would react in horror to that value-laden phrase “full-bodied.” Nobody’s perfect.

Jones and Woglom did their study on a “community bus ride” to “ask questions about how bodies and places interact with one another to produce sense-making about people, places, and the purposes of education.” Conclusion? Turns out students need to learn their bodies are “central sites for critical change inside and outside institutions.” I wouldn’t have guessed. Would have you?

I didn’t dare read “Emasculation Blues: Black Male Teachers’ Perspectives on Gender and Power in the Teaching Profession” by Ed Brockenbrough. I also cringe in sympathy whenever I see a guy on TV take one to the particulars.

But I couldn’t pass up “Hip-Hop, the ‘Obama Effect,’ and Urban Science Education” by Emdin and Lee who “examined qualitative data illustrating the enactment of hip-hopness or a hip-hop identity in urban science classrooms.” I am not enough of a rhyme master to do a rap on the quantum chromodynamics, but I do recall Tom Lehrer’s The Elements.

Emdin and Lee: “The findings indicate that when teachers bring hip-hop into their science instruction, certain markers of interest and involvement that were previously absent from science classrooms become visible.” They don’t say which, but there you have it.

Here are the words which you can use to discover the “hip-hopness” of QM: strong interaction, color force, top and bottom quarks, gluons, hadrons, protons, neutrons, pions, baryon (this can be used to enhance the ‘Obama Effect’). A full 100 points to the best hippy hoppy rap.

It’s not all bad at Teachers College. For example, there is the article “On Pretending to Listen” by Burbules and Rice. What more useful skill could an attendee of that institution have?


Update Jim data mined this treasure from the same vein:

“The paper suggests that in the transmogrification of old to new eugenic discourses, disability becomes reinscribed as an outlaw ontology reinvesting eugenic discourse in a new language that maintains an ableist normativity.” (The Hunt for Disability: The New Eugenics and the Normalization of School Children)

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Thanks to reader for Jim Fedako for uncovering this site for us.