Since most of us are ill inclined to labor until Monday next, I don’t want to post anything of momentous importance until then—accepting, as we must, that all that appears in this space is, at a bare minimum, monumentally important and routinely Earth-shattering. Here, then, are some things upon which to stew while we await the new year. Expanded articles on each topic will appear once we are all re-ensconced in our cubicles.
The Decline Effect of the Scientific Method
Drop everything and click over to Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker piece on The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? This eminently quotable article well summarizes what I have been raving about for years: that scientists are too damn certain of themselves. (Not me, natch’.)
Except for climatology, whose worst-case predictions are too good to be false, the grim situation in other fields is best described by biologist Richard Palmer, “We cannot escape the troubling conclusion that some—perhaps many—cherished generalities are at best exaggerated in their biological significance and at worst a collective illusion nurtured by strong a-priori beliefs often repeated.”
Amen, brother Palmer!
Our man John Ioannidis is there with words of eternal truth:
[T]he main problem is that too many researchers engage in what he calls “significance chasing,” or finding ways to interpret the data so that it passes the statistical test of significance—the ninety-five-per-cent boundary invented by Ronald Fisher. “The scientists are so eager to pass this magical test that they start playing around with the numbers, trying to find anything that seems worthy.”
I’ll have much more to say on this next week. Thanks to longtime reader Nate Winchester for the link.
Conservatives’ Brains Are More Primitive
Ronald Reagan was fond of telling this joke about that former paradise on Earth, the Enforced Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (E-USSR).
A guy walks into a police station and asks if they have found a parrot. The desk sergeant says, “No, comrade. Why?” The guy says he lost one, but that if the police found one, “I want you to know that I don’t agree with a word that bird says.”
The obvious hilarity is that any loyal socialist citizen caught disagreeing with the wisdom of his masters was thought to have contracted a disease, which (of course) meant undergoing a harsh treatment to remove the cause of the disease. Big Brother must be loved!
The E-USSR failed, mainly because they ran short of bullets with which to cure diseased dissidents. But imagine if Stalin had access to modern science! Then he could have ferreted out the mentally afflicted before they became problematic.
What joy Stalin would have felt where he to read of a new study conducted by neuroscientists at University College London, which reports that, “Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala – a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion while their political opponents from the opposite end of the spectrum had thicker anterior cingulates.”
[Geraint Rees director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience said,] “The amygdala is a part of the brain which is very old and very ancient and thought to be very primitive and to do with the detection of emotions. The right amygdala was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative.
“It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes.”
Yes, dear readers, “right-wingers” are both more primitive and more apt to rely on emotions (read: they are less reasonable) than those of the enlightened left. Thus, the poor souls who argue against, say, socialism as a cure-all, can’t help themselves. Their brains are just different; they are to be pitied! Or cured?
The neuroscientists who discovered these, what were already obvious, facts used a magnetic magneto-phrenology imaging (MRI-P) device. These miracles tools can look inside any brain and can confirm any hypothesis a researcher might have. Marry them with the kind of statistical methods outlined in the previous article, and there is nothing they cannot prove.
As Rees said, his findings must be true because he found “a strong correlation that reaches all our scientific tests of significance”. It’s science!