Michael Caine Impression-Off

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are two silly blokes (can I say blokes?) who have a show on BBC Two where they visit six picturesque British restaurants and proceed to act like asses.


[via Kottke]

The Ray Winstone quote is, again, spot on.

In case you need a visual for who he is:

[image via TV Tropes]

November 12, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Video. Leave a 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.

Guilty Gamer

You know I love indie video games.

Ultimately this here is a review of some recent indie video games, but it sure doesn’t start that way.

Video games are worth loving, but loving them comes with shame. Not passing regret or social embarrassment, but a sharp-edged physical guilt: the hunch-backed, raw-fingered, burning-eyed pain that comes at the sad and greasy end of an all-night binge. You have ostentatiously, really viciously wasted your life; you might as well have been masturbating for the last nine hours—your hands, at least, would feel better.

Waste is not a byproduct—it’s the point: playing video games is a revolt against life. All art forms, even the polite ones, are escapist in that each answers some fundamental objection to the world and its limits. Novels let you know, granting access to inner lives and narrative arcs otherwise hidden and guessed at. Films let you see, permitting you to stare at the world and its inhabitants as long and as hard and as many times as you want. The gratification provided by video games is particularly sweet because the objection that drives them is more urgent. What they offer is purpose […] To play them is to live in a world with knowable rules and achievable goals: to ask, Dear God, what should I do with my life? And be greeted with a tutorial, a pre-mission briefing, and a shot at a high score.

Well said.

[Read more from Gabriel Winslow-Yost @ n+1]

[Comic about Minecraft via Penny Arcade]

October 7, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Bicycles aint People

Felix Salmon bikes to work everyday. To Reuters HQ. In the heart of New York City.

Let’s take all the different permutations in order. To begin with, there’s the old bike-free status quo, where the possible interactions are pedestrian-pedestrian, pedestrian-motorist, or motorist-motorist. It’s worth thinking about these a bit, because they’re deeply ingrained in us, and they’re responsible for shaping the way we see everything else. […]

The trouble all starts when you drop bicyclists into the mix. At that point, a whole new set of combinations comes into play, and as a city we haven’t worked out how to make them work.

Salmon goes on to present his “Unified Theory of New York Biking,” which is solid no matter where you live.

Kottke weighs in:

If this was a manifesto, I’d sign it.

[Felix Salmon @ Reuters via the Browser]

[image via Doghouse Diaries]

September 14, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

How Long for a Compressed PhD?

David Ng at Boing Boing asks an interesting question:

How long would your Ph.D. have taken if everything worked?

When I meet other scientist types, this can be one of the most interesting questions to throw out there.

We can use mine as an example. […]

6 months.

Fine, fine. Interesting enough premise, but this page really shines in the comments section. Commenter #4 known as “complicity” takes Ng back to school:

The question misunderstands the role and purpose of the PhD. The PhD’s outcome is not the thesis – that’s just a byproduct, an artefact, a recording- but the critical thinking, understanding and knowledge of the person who earns the PhD. You’re not the person who started the PhD; you’re someone else.

So, time for reading, understanding, and developing skills, thought processes and judgement usually needs to be factored in.

The PhD is not just doing the experiments and getting the results; it’s formulating the experiments and understanding why you want to run them, and what the results mean in a broader context.

My PhD took just over five years. Even if all the experiments and programming had worked without error, and other human factors had not occurred to slow things up, a decent number of years would still be needed for developing an understanding the field and formulating the right questions. Less than three years seems unlikely, given my starting point.

In much the same way, undergraduate courses take a number of years, and the person who graduates successfully is very different from the younger person who entered the course.

Often, gaining the necessary maturity can’t be rushed.

[More discussion @ Boing Boing]

[image via PhD Comics]

September 2, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

How Do I Make This More Plain

[via xkcd]

August 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Comics. 3 comments.

All Rescue and no Play

[via Dueling Analogs]

August 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Chicago, Elevated

Wonderful illustrated history lesson about how Chicago was literally lifted out of the “disease-infested swamp” that it was once mired in.

[Lilli Carré @ Chicago Magazine via The Browser]

August 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Art. Leave a comment.