-- headline, Astronomy Magazine (January 16, 2014)
Stephen Hawking: 'There are no black holes'
-- headline, Nature (24 January 2014)
And speaking of black holes...
Among those many things you never thought would explode...
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It's not that it's a jelly-filled donut. It's that it was not there a moment before. TOF imagines a giggling gaggle of Martians lined up behind the rover tossing stuff out in front of it just for slaps and giggles. Quick! Rotate the camera! We might catch them!
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We had an information revolution, and information was overthrown:
I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.
– Tom Nicholls
which leads us to the all-time best description ever of the Internet:
...another meaningless piece of “information,” arguably searchable in the steaming electronic pile. -- Dave Warren
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Not to be out-done, biology too marches on, though in a curious direction, by which "Scientific" American announces that biology has no subject matter. To wit:
- It's real hard to define "life."
- So there isn't any.
The notion is that when complexity (whatever that might be) reaches a high enough level, then *magically* life (whatever that might be) will "emerge."
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It is now clear that the majority – perhaps the vast majority – of neuroscience findings are as spurious as brain waves in a dead fish...Why, one may ask? Bad statistics, on small sample sizes, or enthusiastic over-interpretation of a really-truly scientificalistic measuring machine. It's not that the numbers are meaningless. John Lukacs said in another context, it's that they might not mean what you think they do.
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We are often told that science is "self-correcting." Bogus or erroneous findings are discovered when the experiments or analyses are replicated. Problems arise when data are withheld or when the experiment requires a superconducting supercollider, which not many folks have tucked away in the campus lab. But the deeper problem is that journals don't like to publish duplications of experiments (under the assumption that they won't deliver anything new) and professors don't get to hold press conferences if all they've done is confirm someone else's findings. In the context of publish or perish, this comes down firmly in the perish column. (Compare the Jesuits confirming Galileo's findings. They held a big freaking party. In some ways, the 17th century was more advanced than we are.)
And when replication studies are done, more often then not they fail to replicate. This is especially acute in soft sciences like psychology, but it is also the case in pharmaceutical trials:
A few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology.Some researchers have concluded that "most published results are false." Yes, there is a recursive irony in that announcement. But ironically, it has been holding up. The publish or perish syndrome leads to a lot of published dreck based on inadequate studies improperly analyzed, and which are never followed up on by fellow scientists. Peer review turns out to be a weak reed.
The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test — that the original results couldn't be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.
But what they found was startling: Of the 53 landmark papers, only six could be proved valid.
"Even knowing the limitations of preclinical research," observed C. Glenn Begley, then Amgen's head of global cancer research, "this was a shocking result."
Unfortunately, it wasn't unique. A group at Bayer HealthCare in Germany similarly found that only 25% of published papers on which it was basing R&D projects could be validated, suggesting that projects in which the firm had sunk huge resources should be abandoned.
Apparently, when science needs to be corrected, it is the capitalistic business firm with real money at stake that does the corrections. Even as recently as forty years ago, this was not so, and it is some comfort to know that physics remains more self-correcting than biology, medicine, or the social "sciences." Perhaps it has to do with whether the object of the science has a mind of its own.