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Softpanorama Lysenkoism and PseudoScience Bulletin, 2007

[Dec 2007] Anti-Intellectualism, the Right, and Rudy, by Ross Douthat: David Frum, on populism and anti-intellectualism

I actually respect Ron Paul and for this candidate arguments by David Frum who is one of Giuliani's senior policy advisers should be taken with a grain of salt. Ron Paul recently repeated famous quote ""When fascism comes to this country it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis wrote those words in 1935 in It Can't Happen Here. You need certain courage to use them in election campaign... 

Conservatives have drawn strength from populism. But you can overdo any good thing —and I am beginning to think that on this one, we've zoomed the car into the red zone.

For me, the lights started flashing in 2005, during the battle over the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States. Defenders of the president's under-qualified nominee began attacking the concept of qualification. One wrote: "The GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness. Nor does the Supreme Court ideally consist of the nine greatest legal scholars." Harriet Miers, we were told, had a good Christian heart. That was enough ... In the end, it was not quite enough for Ms. Miers. But it may be enough for many voters in 2008.

The currently front-running candidate in Iowa, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, has built his campaign on a plan to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax ... Economists and tax experts virtually unanimously agree that the plan is beyond unworkable -- that it is downright absurd.

... Just a little lower down in the polls is a libertarian candidate named Ron Paul. Paul is best known for his vehemently isolationist foreign policy views. But his core supporters also thrill to his self-taught monetary views, which amount to a rejection of everything taught by modern economists from Alfred Marshall to Milton Friedman.

Huckabee and Paul have not the faintest idea of what they are talking about. The problem is not that their answers are wrong -- that can happen to anyone. The problem is that they don't understand the questions, and are too lazy or too arrogant to learn.

Economist's View Crazy Views on the Economy

Fair points all: ..., and Frum's larger worry about anti-intellectualism in the contemporary Right is one I share in spades. But if you're going to be hard on the current crop of Republican candidates for making bogus claims about public policy, it seems awfully unfair to leave out the candidate given to running ads in which he announces: "I know that reducing taxes produces more revenue. The Democrats don't know that. They don't believe that." (They don't believe it, of course, because in the current fiscal landscape you can't find a serious conservative economist who thinks it's true.) Or penning op-eds in which he explains that "the meaning of fiscal conservatism" includes the principle that "lower taxes can result in higher revenue." Or telling a GOP debate audience, in response to a question about whether we need to raise taxes to fix up our nation's transportation infrastructure, that the way “to do it sometimes is to reduce taxes and raise more money.”

Now it’s true that occasionally Rudy Giuliani hedges his bets (“sometimes,” “can,” and so forth) on this topic, and it’s true as well that he may not actually believe the extreme supply-side talking points he’s spouting, in the way that Huckabee presumably believes in the Fair Tax and Paul in the gold standard. On the other hand, neither of those ideas are likely to serve as the basis for economic policy in the United States any time soon, and both are marginal even within the right-wing coalition; the “tax cuts raise revenue” canard that Giuliani keeps promoting, on the other hand, is a staple of Bush Administration rhetoric and probably the dominant view among movement conservatives. If you’re looking for cases where the Right’s anti-elitism has shaded into outright anti-intellectualism - for cases where, in Frum's words, a GOP politician has deliberately failed to "study the problem, master the evidence, and face criticism" - Giuliani’s frequent channeling of Larry Kudlow seems like at least as telling an example as anything Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are peddling.


In comment to Economist's View Crazy Views on the Economy Ryberg says...

It is unfortunate that Ron Paul is lumped in with Huckabee and Guiliani. His economic theory may be self-taught and is not mainstream but it is well-founded in theory and research. Most accepted economic theory provides a limited role for total debt/credit. It is easy to accept deficits and monetary easing as necessary stimulants with no seeming long-term implications. To Ron Paul, tax cuts imply deficits which imply increased debt which is the long-term beast that is out of control. But it is hard for anyone, including economists, to see this problem when we use an elastic yard stick -- fiat currency. He would have us go to a gold standard because it is a standard. Just because his policies are not likely to be adopted any time soon, especially by you, does not make them crazy ideas. He has been generating a broad following precisely because his ideas are well-founded with more consistency than the other candidates. It's just that his logical conclusions seem inconsistent with your a priori assumptions.


The Baron says...

Mark, while I will admit that all of the candidates have a depressing lack of candidness and truthful insight into the major issues, blaming any one of them on deliberately lying, despite the existence of factual evidence to the contrary, is missing the point.

Just a few short posts ago, there were defenders of John Edwards who were saying that his populist approach was what the other Democratic front runners needed to emulate to win next year's election. Now, here, we have a decrier of populist rhetoric, just because it happens to be untrue. The unfortunate truth is that populist, by definition, means, "what the people believe and want to hear."

Guiliani, and others, are all intelligent people. They know the way to win elections is to tell the people what they want to hear. When the people (those unwashed masses, not the refined and erudite members of this forum) want to hear lies, the person who insists on telling the truth isn't going to get very far. The story of Cassandra and her fate is very telling.

The anti-intellectualism has been pushed in our public education system, our entertainment society, and our instant gratification economy for far too long, and has been driven far too deeply into the public psyche to be discounted now. It is interesting if you talk to people across many generational ranges, how the opinion about the well educated changes. I would say that 80% of the folks I talk to 40 and over, still have respect for people with proven credentials. As you talk to a younger and younger audience, outside of institutions of higher education, you get a more and more anti-intellectual response. When I talk to teens, just about to leave high school, the level of willful ignorance astounds me. These aren't kids who haven't been taught, or just haven't learned. These are kids that know they don't know, not everything, but hardly anything, and not only don't care, they revel in it. My youngest is in high school, and even he comments on how his friends don't have disagreements about issues or information, they get upset when anyone tries to bring facts into an argument. If they don't 'feel' that one side is right, well that's enough for them, and facts are "all just lies and made up stuff anyway."

One of the great truisms of Democracy is that the people get the government they deserve. As more and more of our selfish, anti-fact society takes over the voting booth, I am afraid that we are going to have to suffer through the government that they deserve.

Posted by: The Baron | December 18, 2007 at 06:01 AM

The Corporatization of the University

"Presidents at 12 private universities received more than $1 million in the 2005-6 school year, the most recent period for which data on private institutions is available, up from seven a year earlier, according to an annual survey of presidential pay to be released today by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The number of private college presidents earning more than $500,000 reached 81, up from 70 a year earlier and just three a decade ago. The survey also found that the number of public university presidents making $700,000 or more rose to eight in 2006-7, the reporting period for public institutions. Only two public university presidents made $700,000 in the previous period. The survey did not include E. Gordon Gee, who took over at Ohio State University earlier this year and whose $1 million pay package, before bonuses, is probably the highest of any public institution."

"John W. Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, said rising pay to presidents was consistent with a “corporate mindset” at colleges."

Science Journal - / Most Science Studies Appear to Be Tainted by Sloppy Analysis

Sensationalism under disguise of skeptisism... Too broad generalizations...
September 14, 2007; Page B1

We all make mistakes and, if you believe medical scholar John Ioannidis, scientists make more than their fair share. By his calculations, most published research findings are wrong.

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. "There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," Dr. Ioannidis said. "A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true."

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined.

Take the discovery that the risk of disease may vary between men and women, depending on their genes. Studies have prominently reported such sex differences for hypertension, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, as well as lung cancer and heart attacks. In research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Ioannidis and his colleagues analyzed 432 published research claims concerning gender and genes.

Upon closer scrutiny, almost none of them held up. Only one was replicated.

Statistically speaking, science suffers from an excess of significance. Overeager researchers often tinker too much with the statistical variables of their analysis to coax any meaningful insight from their data sets. "People are messing around with the data to find anything that seems significant, to show they have found something that is new and unusual," Dr. Ioannidis said.

In the U. S., research is a $55-billion-a-year enterprise that stakes its credibility on the reliability of evidence and the work of Dr. Ioannidis strikes a raw nerve. In fact, his 2005 essay "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False" remains the most downloaded technical paper that the journal PLoS Medicine has ever published.

"He has done systematic looks at the published literature and empirically shown us what we know deep inside our hearts," said Muin Khoury, director of the National Office of Public Health Genomics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We need to pay more attention to the replication of published scientific results."

Every new fact discovered through experiment represents a foothold in the unknown. In a wilderness of knowledge, it can be difficult to distinguish error from fraud, sloppiness from deception, eagerness from greed or, increasingly, scientific conviction from partisan passion. As scientific findings become fodder for political policy wars over matters from stem-cell research to global warming, even trivial errors and corrections can have larger consequences.

Still, other researchers warn not to fear all mistakes. Error is as much a part of science as discovery. It is the inevitable byproduct of a search for truth that must proceed by trial and error. "Where you have new areas of knowledge developing, then the science is going to be disputed, subject to errors arising from inadequate data or the failure to recognize new matters," said Yale University science historian Daniel Kevles. Conflicting data and differences of interpretation are common.

To root out mistakes, scientists rely on each other to be vigilant. Even so, findings too rarely are checked by others or independently replicated. Retractions, while more common, are still relatively infrequent. Findings that have been refuted can linger in the scientific literature for years to be cited unwittingly by other researchers, compounding the errors.

Stung by frauds in physics, biology and medicine, research journals recently adopted more stringent safeguards to protect at least against deliberate fabrication of data. But it is hard to admit even honest error. Last month, the Chinese government proposed a new law to allow its scientists to admit failures without penalty. Next week, the first world conference on research integrity convenes in Lisbon.

Overall, technical reviewers are hard-pressed to detect every anomaly. On average, researchers submit about 12,000 papers annually just to the weekly peer-reviewed journal Science. Last year, four papers in Science were retracted. A dozen others were corrected.

No one actually knows how many incorrect research reports remain unchallenged.

Earlier this year, informatics expert Murat Cokol and his colleagues at Columbia University sorted through 9.4 million research papers at the U.S. National Library of Medicine published from 1950 through 2004 in 4,000 journals. By raw count, just 596 had been formally retracted, Dr. Cokol reported.

"The correction isn't the ultimate truth either," Prof. Kevles said.

Email me at


        Slashdot discussion

Re:How is this news?

(Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, @01:33PM (#20655741)

After all, studies show that most studies are wrong.


The fact is, good science is hard work. In fact, it is damn hard work, requiring not only a supremely keen intellect but a very high tolerance for tedium, great attention to detail, and usually a big fat wad of cash. Also, it requires a profound lack of ego (and the ability to cope with failure and keep trying), given that a trememdous amount of effort could (and frequently does) wind up being completely discounted by a peer-review or another study.

The endeavor of scientific research obviously provides us tremendous benefits, and is furthering the evolution of our species at a blindingly fast rate (depending on how you look at it, of course). It is very important, very hard, and very expensive.

There are many, many people who would like to be scientists but really don't have the brain for it (as I stated above, it isn't just intelligence that matters). Unfortunately, a lot of them wind up doing research anyway, and they cause problems. Hopefully there are enough good scientists with enough funding to clean up their mess.


Re:How is this news?

(Score:5, Informative)

by posterlogo (943853) on Tuesday September 18, @12:43PM (#20654691)

"We all know..." What are you basing this on??? As a postdoc, I've committed myself to a massive amount of work and I'm certainly not doing it for pay (which is meager), but a LITTLE amount of respect would be nice. I've published a few studies and it was incredibly hard work to do the kind of careful science that gets published. A small amount of scandals and people like you who swallow any sensationalist piece of news out there really cast things in an unfair light. I encourage you to read more scientific literature and actually try and understand how the scientific process works. Do you really think we live in the kind of technological age as we do in spite of "a good portion of all studies" being "bogus" or "based on nothing"? I find this incredibly insulting.


Fairly common knowlege

(Score:5, Informative) by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday September 18, @12:56PM (#20654985)
(Last Journal: Tuesday June 06, @02:50PM)

It is fairly common knowledge that 3 things factor into tenure (in this order): (1) being published (2) bringing funding into the university and (3) teaching.

1. A good number to shoot for is 15 journal articles in your first 6 years. If you don't have tenure in 6 years chances are you are never going to get it. The point of being published is to get the name of the university out.

2. Should be self-explanatory. You need to bring in $$$ to the university. The more you bring, the more profitable you are and the more they need to keep you around. But publishing is still more important.

3. Teaching, while as students we all feel is important, is actually the least important thing towards tenure. A mediocre or even bad teacher who writes papers (that get accepted by excellent journals) at a rapid pace will get tenure where an excellent teacher who can't write for the life of him will not. This is why you often see people from industry teaching. They teach for the love, tenured professors are there for the research and for the higher level teaching (where it is more a relation of facts, not an educational process).

The 'sloppy analysis' referred to is not 'fraud' as you cite. There is a difference between fraud and sloppy analysis. The rush to put out papers (between 2 and three a year, by this guide, for tenure) causes some slop to occur. As a reference, I've been working on a paper with my advisor and a (yet-to-be-tenured) professor for almost a year already, and we are just submitting it to a major journal. And the paper is based mostly off of my thesis work completed a year ago! A good paper and good research takes time. But please, do not mistake sloppy analysis for fraud. Mistakes are one thing, deception entirely another.

SOURCE: Advice to rocket scientists: A Career Survival Guide for Scientists and Engineers. Dr. Jim Longuski, published by the AIAA in 2004. But again, this is fairly common knowlege and can be found anywhere you look. As a postdoc (I am too) I'm suprised you didn't know ...



(Score:5, Insightful)

by posterlogo (943853) on Tuesday September 18, @12:28PM (#20654317)

It is way off the base to say that "most published research findings are wrong". It is often the case that data analysis and interpretation for particular aspects of a research project (like 1-2 figures in a 7 figure paper) are up for vigorous debate. The scientific community can, in the long run, converge on very robust ideas, and drop those that are flimsy. To misleadingly imply that most research is wrong, which is exactly what the post suggests, is just poor interpretation of flimsy data, ironically.




(Score:5, Insightful)

by posterlogo (943853) on Tuesday September 18, @12:36PM (#20654509)

Furthermore, this epidemiologist primarily studied medically-related publications, and in fact focused mostly on high-profile research that make broad claims, or relied heavily on statistics to support a conclusion. Many research publications at the cell/molecular level do not rely on subtle statistical comparisons to prove a point. This guy is singling out research that is based heavily on correlations (like people with x, y, z are more likely to get a, b, or c diseases). He is only an expert in his own field, and I don't think he is qualified to judge every level of scientific publication, but he certainly doesn't mind the media attention.


Medical research vs. basic research

(Score:4, Informative)

by BWJones (18351) * on Tuesday September 18, @12:28PM (#20654321)
( | Last Journal: Monday September 17, @07:01PM)

It should be noted that "medical research" (epidemiology, clinical studies etc...) is very different from basic research (mechanisms, pathways, etc...) and the threshold for acceptance in journals that cover basic research is much higher than that for medical journals. i.e. There is significantly higher oversight and peer review criticism over basic research than there is medical research and the two fields should not be confused.


No Money in Replicating Results

(Score:3, Insightful)

by cduck (9999) on Tuesday September 18, @12:46PM (#20654753)

I am not a scientist.

That being said, it's my understanding that most scientists work off of grants, and those grants fund novel research. Replicating results is of obvious importance in validating those results, but doing so seems at odds with the funding mechanisms that are the reality for what I would believe to be most researchers.

Are researchers supposed to replicate the experiments of others in their spare time and on their own dime?

(As rhetorical as that might have sounded, I actually welcome those with first-hand experience to respond to it)


strong variation with fields

(Score:4, Interesting)

by call -151 (230520) * on Tuesday September 18, @12:56PM (#20654981)

There are a lot of different attitudes about the role of the anonymous referee, in different fields and in different settings. In computer science and mathematics, where most of my publications are, the role of the referee depends upon a number of things. A few comments relevant to my disciplines:


General lack of math skills


by izomiac (815208) on Tuesday September 18, @06:08PM (#20660839)

Interestingly enough, a couple years ago my Biostats teacher mentioned that about 50% of scientific articles in biological journals contain at least one statistical error. Personally, I think this can be attributed to the general lack of math skills of most Biology majors (not all of course). Biology is a memorization-based science, and most classes require virtually no math skills. In the courses that do have some math, it's never above the algebra level (with the exception of Biostats), and even that is considered quite difficult for a lot of people. Most of my classmates have an amazingly hard time with non-Calculus based physics. My university is even lowering the math required to get a Biology degree (from Calculus II to Calculus I). Even if students do learn it, if you don't use it you tend to forget it. Therefore it doesn't surprise me that many scientists and doctors (which many of my classmates may become) make mathematical errors in journal articles.



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