Thomas Bayes and the crisis in science

Science is currently said to be suffering a “replicability crisis”. Over the last few years a worrying number of widely accepted findings in psychology, medicine and other disciplines have failed to be confirmed by repetitions of the original experiments. Well-known psychological results that have proved hard to reproduce include the claim that new-born babies imitate their mothers’ facial expressions and that will power is a limited resource that becomes depleted through use. In medicine, the drug companies Bayer and Amgen, frustrated by the slow progress of drug development, discovered that more than three-quarters of the basic science studies they were relying on didn’t stand up when repeated. When the journal Naturepolled 1,500 scientists in 2016, 70 per cent said they had failed to reproduce another scientist’s results.

This crisis of reproducibility has occasioned much wringing of hands. The finger has been pointed at badly designed experiments, not to mention occasional mutterings about rigged data. But the only real surprise is that the problem has taken so long to emerge. The statistical establishment has been reluctant to concede the point, but failures of replication are nothing but the pigeons of significance testing coming home to roost.

What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t)

My claim is that religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder at the majesty of nature, but there are many forms of human suffering that are beyond the reach of any scientific alleviation. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. Unlike previous secular tributes to religion that praise its ethical and civilizing function, I think we need religion because it is a road-tested form of emotional management.

Which approaches to curbing gun violence are effective? How do we know?

Often, the conversation around gun violence becomes a conversation around political identities and ideologies rather than one about truth and how we arrive at it. This website is interesting in that it focuses on what we know through science. It uses appropriate, often cautious, language to come to its conclusions. The site is worth exploring. The table below summarizes the meta analysis of existing research done by the Rand Corporation. Click through the image to find the appropriate page. You can click in the table to see what research and evidence there is to support conclusions about efficacy.

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Here is a link to the main page. Worth exploring for those curious about gun policy but also as an interesting case study on the use of the scientific method to help us understand and evaluate a problem in society.


Gene Editing for Good: How CRISPR Could Transform Global Development

“The technology is making it much easier for scientists to discover better diagnostics, treatments, and other tools to fight diseases that still kill and disable millions of people every year, primarily the poor. It is also accelerating research that could help end extreme poverty by enabling millions of farmers in the developing world to grow crops and raise livestock that are more productive, more nutritious, and hardier.”

For better science, call off the revolutionaries

Good science requires a spirit of collaboration, not domination. The debate in social psychology involves some essential criticism of past scientific practice, but revolutions can also lead to a bandwagon effect, in which bullies pile on and bystanders fearfully turn a blind eye. Especially as more disagreements among researchers surface in social media rather than professional publications, there is an insidious temptation to mistake being critical for being right, and to subordinate humility and decency to a “gloating sense of ‘gotcha,’” as the journal Nature put it.

There is a better way forward: through evolution, not revolution.

How to Counter the Circus of Pseudoscience

“That is also the case for other health professionals whose practice is based on science, like qualified dietitians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. Guidelines are revised, advice is reversed — on blood pressure, diet, hormone replacement, opioid prescribing. This can be immensely frustrating for patients, even though it is what we must do to provide the best possible treatment.”