Friday links: critiquing your own papers, why scientists lie (?), and more

Also this week: an expulsion from the US National Academy of Sciences, how differential retention contributes to racial/ethnic disparities in US academia, pandemic vs. new PIs, TMBG double feature, and more.

From Jeremy:

What it’s like to start your first research group during a pandemic.

A prominent French microbiologist whose papers have been scrutinized by image sleuth Elizabeth Bik has filed a criminal complaint against Bik. That link is from Nature; here’s Science’s coverage. I haven’t followed Elizabeth Bik’s work, but I know her paper of a few years ago looking systematically for image manipulation and duplication in a bunch of papers in a bunch of journals. That was excellent work. So just based on that, and on my background knowledge of similar past cases, my prior is that this is a case of a researcher trying to silence legitimate scientific criticism.

The US National Academy of Sciences has expelled astronomer Geoff Marcy for sexual harassment. (That’s Nature’s coverage; here’s Science.) To my surprise, there’s no word on another sexual harassment case the Academy began investigating at the same time, that of evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala.

Psychologist Todd Kashdan critiques five of his own papers. I found this an interesting exercise. I should do the same, it would make for a good blog post.

Phil Trans Roy Soc has a special issue on how infectious disease modeling work shaped the British government’s policy response to Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

I just discovered Matt Clancy’s blog, which has accessible and interesting summaries/discussions of the literature on science funding and innovation policy. I feel like this is the literature scientists need to draw on to make the case for government funding of their research. Here’s Matt Clancy on how more science leads to more innovation. Here he is on how free dissemination of knowledge leads to innovation.

How to talk to journalists, and what it’s like to do so. This is very entertaining, and also very good.

New preprint from Allison Shaw et al. on how differential retention contributes to racial/ethnic disparities in US academia. Builds on previous outstanding work by some of the same authors on gender disparities in US academia.

I don’t know anything about this forthcoming book besides what’s in the blurb, but it sounds like my kind of thing.

Liam Bright on why scientists lie. I think I disagree with Liam Bright on this one. I don’t think the linked piece pays enough attention to the fact that scientists who don’t lie are subject to the same incentives as scientists who do lie. Scientists who lie are a product of an interaction between systemic incentives facing all scientists, and factors unique to specific individual scientists. You can’t just look at the “main effect” of systemic incentives and expect to get much insight into how to optimize the frequency with which scientists lie. (Note that I said “optimize”, not “minimize”. The optimal frequency of scientific fraud is not zero.) For data on the prevalence and predictors of scientific misconduct, see here. But I dunno, I’m sure Liam Bright is well aware of everything I just said, so perhaps I’m misunderstanding his point (in which case, my bad).

Tim B. Lee on how social media killed blogging–and how the combination of social media + other platforms is reviving (some aspects of) blogging. Familiar to me, and probably to many of you. But if you’re curious what the intertubes were like before Facebook and Twitter, and why there’s still a niche market for something like that version of the intertubes, click through.

This is a heck of a picture of the Unseen University librarian. 🙂 (Aside: click here in the unlikely event that you want to get that reference but don’t get it already.)

Fish In Barrel Shot. 🙂

And finally, I had a good week and so this fits my mood. I hope it fits yours too:

Have a good weekend. 🙂

Bonus! Here’s They Might Be Giants playing “Birdhouse In Your Soul” back in 1990 on The Tonight Show, with Doc Severinsen and his orchestra. This is just as great as the last video, in a way that’s totally different and yet also exactly the same. Check out Doc’s trumpet solo, and the big horn entrance at 2:14!

Ok, now you can have a good weekend. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Friday links: critiquing your own papers, why scientists lie (?), and more

  1. I want to agree with Bright about why scientists lie. But he gets off to a bad start by calling Brian Wansink a “nutritional scientist”. Wansink was a business school professor of marketing. Not a scientist.

    Also the Platonic preamble in Bright’s essay (about how scientists are not truth-seekers, and instead are mainly motivated to seek high status through achievements, and sometimes cheat to get there) seems to conflict with what the liars and cheats often say about their own malfeasance. Cheaters and fakers when caught will often respond that the cheating or faking doesn’t matter because they know their results are “true”. The data (faked or otherwise) seem to be irrelevant (they tend to say as much in responding to criticism), instead it’s the “truth” of the proposition they are advocating that really matters. This was the view in the end of Wansink: his “research” seemed to rediscover cliches about eating habits, but with a patina of p values.

    I’m curious to see whether the McMaster investigation will tell us what motivated Pruitt: was he seeking status through many high-profile publications (leading to grants & prestigious jobs)? or was he just taking a short-cut to demonstrating the “truth” about social networks in animal societies? Also has anyone checked out Pruitt’s twitter feed lately? Pretty weird.

    • Liam Bright’s a philosopher, hence the philosophical angle from which he approaches the question. Although I’m not sure whether a psychological angle would be more fruitful. I often wonder if we can ever really know what’s going on inside the heads of some serial fraudsters. Maybe they don’t know themselves. Just speaking generally, people (not just fraudsters) don’t always fully understand their own motivations, and are good at finding post hoc rationalizations for their actions.

      I am aware of Pruitt’s return to Twitter and have no comment.

  2. Sweet jams, Jeremy! Fun music, for sure!

    As for liars & science, I believe that the underlying character flaw of lying existed before most of these folks became scientists. I say as much based upon several direct experiences:

    My father, God bless his soul, was a lifelong academic psychologist. He had a very successful career, but he’d lie about the color of the sky, simply for the sake of lying. While he had many wonderful attributes, he was without doubt a pathological liar. That pathology arose out of his lying to either “fit in” with the crowd, or more often to conceal his bad acts. People who behave this way become pathological liars because they cannot keep track of all the stuff they’ve lied about. Ergo, they keep lying about all kinds of stuff in order to keep people guessing…

    I’ve collaborated with several other scientists over the years who were serial liars, too. The worst of these was a very gifted liar. She’d deploy “double-speak” as a means to maintain her sense of pseudomorality- but at the core of it, she was as pathological as they come. I recall the day she was forced to resign from one of her two paid positions. She spent the better part of an hour telling me about her “need to spend more time with family” as her reason for resigning.

    I’d find out later that she was so lax, unorganized & incompetent that she was run out of this botany gig on a rail. But it got far worse as time went on, wherein she lied often about her published results, manipulated data & erroneously applied statistical formulae. It was the most bizarre “science” I’ve ever witnessed. Recently, I ran into her PhD mentor, who explained she showed up in academia as a liar- that science did not make her that way.

    • This does leave me wonder, though, how people with this tendency manage to be successful as often as they do. Vervet monkeys know that someone who consistently lies shouldn’t be believed–though, oddly, only on that specific topic, not in general. (Source: _How Monkeys See the World_.) It’s not clear to me why humans don’t pick up on it and automatically reject the liar.

      • That’s a great question, Mary! And I have not an answer. I became good chums with a very bright man who worked in the same academic department as myself and the lying/conniving woman I mentioned. He confided in me that the etablished faculty “ran out every talented intellectual who ever landed a job in his department, because they were threatened by their competency & success”…

        I believe he was correct- as I witnessed a junior faculty member with multi-million dollar grants and talent out the wahzoo being denied tenure. He said his colleagues did this to vulnerable faculty time and again. It frustrated him to no end, but he said his one vote was not enough to overcome this viciousness.

        Perhaps that plays into perpetuating this vicious cycle?

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