Hell-Lizards & Stinking Insects

[via Married to the Sea]

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November 11, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Comics. 1 comment.

Take Your Medicine with a Grain of Salt

[via Savage Chickens]

The subject of this article, Dr. John Ioannidis, is the medical establishment’s equivalent of an internal affairs investigative unit.  According to his meta-studies, the findings from approximately half of the top 50 cited papers of the past decade are, at best, highly dubious.

Medical research is not especially plagued with wrongness. Other meta-research experts have confirmed that similar issues distort research in all fields of science, from physics to economics (where the highly regarded economists J. Bradford DeLong and Kevin Lang once showed how a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right). And needless to say, things only get worse when it comes to the pop expertise that endlessly spews at us from diet, relationship, investment, and parenting gurus and pundits. But we expect more of scientists, and especially of medical scientists, given that we believe we are staking our lives on their results. The public hardly recognizes how bad a bet this is. The medical community itself might still be largely oblivious to the scope of the problem, if Ioannidis hadn’t forced a confrontation when he published his studies in 2005.

Ioannidis initially thought the community might come out fighting. Instead, it seemed relieved, as if it had been guiltily waiting for someone to blow the whistle, and eager to hear more. David Gorski, a surgeon and researcher at Detroit’s Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, noted in his prominent medical blog that when he presented Ioannidis’s paper on highly cited research at a professional meeting, “not a single one of my surgical colleagues was the least bit surprised or disturbed by its findings.” Ioannidis offers a theory for the relatively calm reception. “I think that people didn’t feel I was only trying to provoke them, because I showed that it was a community problem, instead of pointing fingers at individual examples of bad research,” he says. In a sense, he gave scientists an opportunity to cluck about the wrongness without having to acknowledge that they themselves succumb to it—it was something everyone else did.

To say that Ioannidis’s work has been embraced would be an understatement. His PLoS Medicine paper is the most downloaded in the journal’s history, and it’s not even Ioannidis’s most-cited work—that would be a paper he published in Nature Genetics on the problems with gene-link studies. Other researchers are eager to work with him: he has published papers with 1,328 different co-authors at 538 institutions in 43 countries, he says. Last year he received, by his estimate, invitations to speak at 1,000 conferences and institutions around the world, and he was accepting an average of about five invitations a month until a case last year of excessive-travel-induced vertigo led him to cut back. Even so, in the weeks before I visited him he had addressed an AIDS conference in San Francisco, the European Society for Clinical Investigation, Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the medical schools at Stanford and Tufts.

It comes down to terrible incentives that motivate researchers to overstate their findings coupled with unrealistic expectations from the public.

“If the drugs don’t work and we’re not sure how to treat something, why should we claim differently? Some fear that there may be less funding because we stop claiming we can prove we have miraculous treatments. But if we can’t really provide those miracles, how long will we be able to fool the public anyway? The scientific enterprise is probably the most fantastic achievement in human history, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to overstate what we’re accomplishing.”

We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That’s because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary—as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that’s dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.

“Science is a noble endeavor, but it’s also a low-yield endeavor,” he says. “I’m not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact.”

[David H. Freedman @ the Atlantic via the Browser]

November 10, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Favorite Poemer Delivers Again

[image of Carl Dennis via Bromirski]

Unlike the typical esoteric ephemera you find here, Rockstar Athlete Luke Johnson writes cohesive posts where all the pieces matter.

Here’s a nice poem that probably works better in the context of Luke’s post than my own.  Check him out before he gets too famous.

What, you’re too cool for poetry?  Sit down.

Pioneers

If time were in fact like money,
We could bank a day like this one
That as yet we have no plans for
And spend it later when we were ready,
Along with any interest that’s piled up.
Instead, we’re obliged to live it now.
Should we break it down, as we’ve done
With other days, into desk work and yard work,
Supper and post-supper pastimes,
Or devote it all to making a plan
For one bold enterprise that begins tomorrow?
What would that be exactly? Something more,
It would seem, than merely doing the old work
With a better attitude. Why can’t this day
Be like the one our predecessors devoted
To outfitting a wagon train and heading off
Toward the lush land of the middle border?
How easy then to prove we’re making progress
When another evening means another inch
Marked on the map from here to there.
No need to rush so long as our pace
Is steady, allowing us to arrive
Before the trail is obscured by snow,
The grass buried too deep for the oxen.
Time then to unload our wagons and marvel
How many items have come through intact,
Though an heirloom bowl has a hairline crack
Running rim to rim. However lonely we feel
As the wind ruffles the tall grass, we’ll agree
The spot should begin to feel like home
After a little labor, a little time.
Then we’ll drink a toast to the day long gone
When our journey began, the one that now
We’re letting slip through our fingers
Here where we can’t postpone it.
If anyone claims the loss isn’t real,
Let him step forward now.
Let him try to convince us time is a well
Dug in our own yard and always brimming,
However often we dip our cup.

[Carl Dennis @ Verse Daily via Luke Johnson]

November 9, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . Reading. 1 comment.

Morning Ideas Comic

[via Buttersafe]

November 9, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

I Was a Sneaky Kid

[Mistake Report #51802 via Dude Craft]

November 6, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Funny. Leave a comment.

The Metrics of Attraction Comic

Extraterrestrials just don’t get it.

[via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal]

October 21, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

10 Simple Rules for Editing Wikipedia

New article out from PLoS Computational Biology targeted at interested, yet non-contributing members of the Wikipedia community.

Here are ten rules to live by if you want to be taken seriously when attempting to edit a Wikipedia article:

  1. Register an Account
  2. Learn the Five Pillars
  3. Be Bold, but Not Reckless
  4. Know Your Audience
  5. Do Not Infringe Copyright
  6. Cite, Cite, Cite
  7. Avoid Shameless Self-Promotion
  8. Share Your Expertise, but Don’t Argue From Authority
  9. Write Neutrally and with Due Weight
  10. Ask for Help

Helpful.  Well written.  To the point.

[DW Logan et al. @ PLoS Computational Biology via the Browser]

[image via xkcd]

October 20, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 1 comment.

Don’t Forget to Brush

Brush your turtle twice a day.

Every day.

[via FFFFOUND!]

October 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Funny. Leave a comment.

Knife City Comic

[via The Invisible Hair Suit]

October 11, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Perfect Periodic Table

“Nothing is perfect, not even the best of periodic tables, but this website comes so close.”

Play around with this for a few minutes. I really can’t imagine a better periodic table than this.

[The nearly perfect ptable via the quite correct folks @ Fuck Yeah Chemistry]

October 9, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Smarts. Leave a comment.

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