Also this week: evidence that hindsight is indeed 20-20!
Stephen Heard on how he got into blogging. His Scientist Sees Squirrel is the best new ecology/science blog in a long while. If you’re not reading it–well, why the heck not? Interesting to hear that Stephen got into blogging through writing a book. I’m hoping to go in the opposite direction…
The ESA now has a formal code of conduct for their annual meeting.
Often in science, you’ll get a surprising result. It’s a much bigger effect than you were expecting, or in the opposite direction to what standard theory would predict, or whatever. And often, it’s possible to come up with a post-hoc explanation that makes the result seem unsurprising (or at least less surprising) in retrospect. But as Andrew Gelman reminds us, on its own that is a highly unreliable procedure. Because it’s very easy to come up with a plausible-seeming post-hoc explanation for anything. Even fake data that were designed to be surprising. And I’d add that, now that the data have been revealed to be fake, a lot of people are saying that someone should’ve recognized the fraud even before it was published. Which is unfair, and which provides a second illustration of Andrew Gelman’s point. Never forget: everything is obvious once you know the answer. I’ll also add that I disagree with a lesson Andrew seems to draw (not sure if he intends to draw it, though others have). Namely that one should have blanket skepticism about anything published in the highest-impact journals (Nature, Science, PNAS). At least in the fields in which I have expertise, Nature, Science, and PNAS mostly publish good work that doesn’t ring any alarm bells. That the top general science journals publish some flawed papers, or that they (may) publish a greater fraction of flawed papers than more specialized journals (as is sometimes claimed even though it’s not demonstrated by the evidence everyone likes to cite), does not justify dismissing everything they publish out of hand. (Aside: further details about the fakery incident that prompted Andrew Gelman’s comments here, here and here. The demonstration that it is indeed fake is here [I read it, it’s devastating]. A bit of sensible commentary here. This incident is all over the intertubes, so you won’t have to look far to find further commentary and speculation of varying levels of sensibleness.)
Alan Turing has a “new” preprint up on arXiv, concerning the application of probabilistic reasoning to cryptography. I say “new” because it was written during WW II but only recently declassified. HT Andrew Gelman, who has some good comments on Turing’s reasonableness and good judgment. I agree with Gelman that good judgment is a very underrated trait in science. A lot of what Meg, Brian, and I write about is our own hopefully-good judgments about all sorts of stuff.