William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Second Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award!

The valuable award.

The valuable award.

Announcement

In the proud and rarely abused tradition of Honoring Important People, we present the Second Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award! Please help us pass on the news of this momentous distinction by Tweeting, Facebooking, Emailing, Phoning and the like. Alert reporters! Notes in bottles would not be out of place, where this not a gross affront to The Environment.

The winner receives our humble thanks and a copy of the valuable coin-like image above (should they choose to log on to the site and download one). Looks just like the Nobel, eh? Eh?

Eligibility

Only researchers who published peer-reviewed papers in journals of good standing were considered. Mere mistakes weren’t enough, nor banality; nor was fraud of any kind a qualification. Cheaters are considered comedians who do us an essential kind of service, unlike Bad Scientists, who are inherently harmful.

The WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award—or WBSA, as it will soon come to be known—can only be bestowed on researchers who were in earnest, whose results were excruciating, results which could or did serve as a focal point for the propagation or base of error for other scientists or which did or will cause an increase in Sinful Scientism. We’re talking smelly.

Previous Winners

2014: The First Annual Award went to Kathleen H. Corriveau, Eva E. Chen, and Paul L. Harris in an effort our judges (me) called pure putrescence, for their “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds” in the peer-reviewed journal Cognitive Science.

This Year’s Nominees

Culled from a list of hundreds—it was an awfully busy year!—here were 2015’s Bottom Performers:

Please hold your applause until the end…

  • Gine Roll Skjærvø, Frode Fossøy, and Eivin Røskaft for “Solar activity at birth predicted infant survival and women’s fertility in historical Norway” (detailed entry);
  • Karen Aplin for claiming global warming will increase bad music (detailed entry);
  • Mark Urban for claiming global warming will kill 1/6 of all species in “Accelerating extinction risk from climate change” (detailed entry).
  • Jean Decety, Jason M. Cowell, Kang Lee, Randa Mahasneh, Susan Malcolm-Smith, Bilge Selcuk, and Xinyue Zhou for pretending to have proved religious kids are less “altruistic” in “The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World” (detailed entry).
  • Elina Einiö, Jessica Nisén, and Pekka Martikainen for the-answer-is-obviously-no study “Is young fatherhood causally related to midlife mortality? A sibling fixed-effect study in Finland” (detailed entry).
  • Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä for claiming parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment, or the death of a partner in “Parental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression” (detailed entry).
  • Colin Holbrook, Keise Izuma, Choi Deblieck, Daniel M. T. Fessler, and Marco Iacoboni for claiming they can treat belief in God with magnets in “Neuromodulation of Group Prejudice and Religious Belief” (detailed entry).

Drum roll…

The Grand Winner

You knew it!

Our judges (me) were unanimous and agreed that it was no contest. No paper stunk up science more than did Jean Decety et alia’s effort to prove “religiosity” is harmful to children’s “altruism.” So bad was the work that it inspired countless asinine and specious news reports. Like this one: “Religious Kids Are More Selfish and Sadistic, According to Science.”

According to Science!, ladies and gentlemen. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

The study author, Jean Decety, gave his game away when he told Forbes: “It’s not like you have to be highly religious to be a good person. Secularity — like having your laws and rules based on rational thinking, reason rather than holy books — is better for everybody.”

Said lead judge William M. Briggs, “I wept for what became of science when I read this paper. I’ve seen week-old herring that has been savaged by diarrhetic feral cats that looked better than Decety’s work.”

Congratulations to our winners and a hearty thanks for providing us with a smile.

Next Year’s Ceremony

It’s never too early to send in those nominations for the 2016 award!

20 Comments

  1. There is one more sciencey nominee hidden in the first “detailed entry” link!

  2. Good choice Briggs. But magnets would have made it more fun. 😉

  3. I’d have gone with global warming increasing bad music because it was so nonsensical, but it was a close field there!!

    I’ll be on the watch for next year.

    Scotian: Everyone knows ugly women are penalized in every endeavor! We didn’t need a study for that! 🙂

  4. The Holbrook paper should have won, since it was bad not only in psychology, statistics, but worst of all in physics.

  5. Perverting physics is a much more serious fault and difficult to do than perverting statistics, and much harder to do. Perverting statistics is easy–done all the time; not so with physics.

  6. Sheri,

    “I’d have gone with global warming increasing bad music because it was so nonsensical, but it was a close field there!!”

    No, the global warming causes everything trope has been around too long to make that particularly noteworthy.

  7. I think it’s probably true that religion is bad for children, for a host of reasons.

    JMJ

  8. Nice set of finalists – all good examples to be cited in support of the idea that the social sciences aren’t sciences. May I suggest, therefore, that these become the annual Pseudo Science awards?

  9. Haha. I had missed the first one you did! This is a fantastic idea. Really humiliate the idiots who are faking empiricism to push garbage.

    “Neuromodulation of Group Prejudice and Religious Belief”

    Yeah, sounds legit. Somebody definitely didn’t make that up at the local smoothie bar.

    Truly, Briggs, you are as close as the Reactosphere has to a ‘national treasure’.

  10. “I think it’s probably true that…”

    I smile when people start a sentence like that, and the words that follow don’t matter.

    In other words, you don’t know what is true.

    The disparity between those that “think” and those that “know” is never more apparent than in the words used to communicate.

  11. Bob Kurland,
    But physics is already perverted. What is scientific cosmology but a litany of absurdities?. What is many-worlds interpretation?
    Quantum mechanics is still laboring under a fallacy of equivocation that was noted by Stanley Jaki. Too many examples of this sort can be given.
    There is observer-as-creator idealism of Heisenberg and Bohr that is still flourishing among physicists.
    Schodinger’s cat shows that the physicists show no appreciation of biology–they think they can make formal mathematical superpositons out of non-formalizable notions of living and non-living.

    Modern physics is just a huge jungle of obscurity and perverted reasoning,

  12. Bob Kurland: “Perverting physics is a much more serious fault and difficult to do. ”

    Perhaps it’s difficult. But the Monckton et al. paper demonstrated that our host and his colleagues were equal to the challenge.

  13. Joe Born: Apparently, understanding papers is not your strong point.

  14. Sheri: “Apparently, understanding papers is not your strong point.”

    Does that mean you swallowed Monckton et al.’s equation 1?

    Does that mean you accept believe its statement that “the voltage transits from the positive to the negative rail” when the loop gain reaches unity?

    Does that mean you believe the Table 2 heading’s statement that all of the table entries were “derived from” the Roe paper?

    Does that mean that you accept the logic of its Section 9’s claim of skill?

    Does that mean that you see nothing wrong with the “unstable response” legend in its Fig. 5?

    Does that mean you believe that the authors ever demonstrated any relevance to their purported “process engineers’ design limit” or show it was anything other than a figment of Christopher Monckton’s imagination?

    If so, I would be interested in seeing a reasoned defense of any of those points. So far I’ve seen only bluster from the authors.

  15. Sheri:

    One further thing.

    From experience, I don’t expect most people to understand the problems I just mentioned. But they assume that Lord Monckton wouldn’t have responded with such confidence if what I said had been valid.

    If he’s willing to exercise some critical thinking, though, even a layman should be able to see why Equation 1 is ludicrous.

    Tthink of a simple system like a bathtub with a slow drain. If you open the faucet, the tub fills until it reaches a level at which the drain flow, which increases with increasing water depth, equals the flow from the faucet. Think of the faucet flow as the forcing (delta F in the equation) and think of the resultant water level as temperature (delta T in the equation), whose evolution in time after the faucet is initially opened is represented by curves in the Roe diagram, i.e., in the diagram that the Monckton et al. Table 2 values were supposed to represent. (Greater feedback values correspond to a slower drain.)

    Now suppose you suddenly close the faucet. Does the accumulated water disappear instantaneously? Of course not. But that’s what Monckton et al.’s Equation 1 says would happen. Look at the equation: delta F = 0 means delta T = 0.

    If you accept, despite your everyday experience, that the accumulated water would disappear instantaneously, then you’ll see nothing wrong with Equation 1. Otherwise, you should question it and much else that’s in that paper.

  16. Joe Born: You’re right. I can’t just answer this without research. It may take some time but I am curious and will definately look at your questions and see if they make sense to me.
    Note—I don’t believe anything Monckton or anyone else says just because they say it with confidence. That’s not how I work.

  17. Sheri:

    If you do plan to study that paper, you may want to take a glance at my posts here and here.

    They describe a few of the paper’s problems. I must confess, though, that they proved to be pitched at a technical level a little too high for most of the audience.

    Moreover, since at the time I still entertained the illusion that the authors would go back and clean up their mess once they realized how much in error they were, I didn’t focus on the paper’s central problem, which can be seen without dealing with those posts’ issues. The central problem is that, although the authors claim to have “found” a climate sensitivity of about 1 K, their claim is true only to the extent that “found” means “pulled out of thin air.”

    The truth is that the “model” upon which the authors based their “finding” is just this: 0.26 K per W/m^2. That’s it. You multiply a forcing trend by that value to get the resultant temperature trend. That’s the sole basis for the projection in their paper’s signature Fig. 6, the one on which they base their claim of model skill.

    It is said that the paper’s “irreducibly simple” model was “developed over eight years.” Yet anyone who has a modest command of math could come up with a “model” at least as good before breakfast by just putting forcing and temperature data on a spreadsheet. All you have to do is divide an observed temperature trend by the corresponding trend in forcing.

    Of course, Lord Monckton argues that the authors’ approach was different:

    “We took the more scientific approach of using physics, not curve-fitting.”

    I have no doubt that similarly low sensitivity values can be arrived at by what could indeed be justifiably characterized as “using physics.” In the case of the Monckton et al. paper, though, what in the authors’ view apparently passed for “using physics” was merely their unsupported statement that “810,000 years of thermostasis suggest” a [-0.5, +0.1] range for the loop gain fg in the closed-loop-gain equation h = g / (1-fg).

    [If a no-feedback system has a gain g, then its response y to a stimulus x is simply given by y = g x. If you add feedback f y to the system, then x in y = g x is replaced by x + fy. That is, y = g * (x + f y), and isolating y in that equation gives you y = g x / (1 – f g): the closed-loop gain h such that y = h x is given by h = g / (1-fg).]

    Sure, the mean of their postulated range does cause a 1 Cº value to result from an assumed 3.7 W/m^2 doubled-concentration forcing-change value if the IPCC-suggested value of 3.2 W/m^2 per kelvin is used for the reciprocal of open-loop gain g. But what is it about that “thermostasis” that suggests Monckton et al.’s range instead of, say, a range of [-2, -1] and thus a mean sensitivity of 0.5 Cº, or, for that matter, a range of [+0.5, +0.7] and thus a mean sensitivity of 3 Cº? Where are the calculations by which the authors arrived at their range from the observed “thermostasis”?

    They have shown none. The sum total of their support for that range is the bald assertion that “Fig. 5 and 810,000 years of thermostasis suggest” it. (Fig. 5 is just a closed-loop-gain equation-illustrating hyperbola on which they placed the “process engineers’ design limit” that Lord Monckton has flogged for years without providing any basis.) Almost none of the paper’s verbiage that precedes that range’s introduction has anything to do with arriving at it. In other words, the authors just made the range up.

    It’s as though I had said that my “finding” of a 50º F. outside temperature was based on physics because I contend that melting icicles suggest a Celsius range of [8º C., 12º C.]. It’s physics, I suppose, that the 50º Fahrenheit value corresponds to the mean of the [8º, 12º] Celsius range, but why would melting icicles suggest [8º C., 12º C.] rather than, say [1º C., 5º C.]? However true my estimate may ultimately turn out to be, it’s still just conjecture.

    The same is true of the sensitivity value that the authors “found.”

  18. I can’t believe the magnet thing didn’t win.
    To be fair, I haven’t read any of the articles… but I think that’s in the spirit of these kinds of articles, right?

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