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Re: [xmca] Wearing out truth

Thanks, Michiel, in return.
If the only thing that is constant is change......

On Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 2:22 PM, Eijck, M.W. van <m.w.v.eijck@tue.nl> wrote:

> Thanks, Mike, for bringing this intriguing article to our attention. This
> is definitely a very interesting crack in the scientific worldview.
> To add some spice to your letter, David, you might want to read about the
> current scientific controversy on changing physical constants:
> http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/62985/title/Changing_one_of_natures_constants
> Michiel
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf
> Of David H Kirshner [dkirsh@lsu.edu]
> Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 7:01 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
> Subject: RE: [xmca] Wearing out truth
> Mike,
> I, too, found the article intriguing--enough so as to write a letter to
> the editor about it.
> No doubt, it's just a matter of time before mine is selected for
> publication out of the hundreds they will undoubtedly receive on this
> article, but in case not, here's the comment for anyone interested.
> David
> Letter to the Editor: New Yorker
> Jonah Lehrer ("The Truth Wears Off," December 13, 2010) provides a
> provocative array of evidence for the "decline effect," the tendency for
> statistically sound scientific studies published in journals of
> psychology, ecology, and medicine to fail replicability tests in a
> gradual decline of effect sizes: "'It was as if nature gave me this
> great result and then tried to take it back'" (p. 53). Though Lehrer
> presents many snippets of possible explanation, he provides no synthesis
> or evaluation of arguments. The most plausible factor is publication
> bias. Because publishable results almost always have to show
> statistically significant results requiring a 95% confidence level, this
> means up to 5% of statistically significant findings could be
> attributable to chance error. But in that case, we'd expect subsequent
> replications to generally show no effect size, not a gradually declining
> sequence of effect sizes. The only possible alternative explanations
> seem to be metaphysical in nature: "'it was like the cosmos was
> habituating to my ideas'" (p. 53).
> Pursuing the metaphysics, a more palatable explanation than a physical
> universe actively interested in what we think would be the solipsistic
> view that the universe we experience is a projection of our own psyche.
> Thus the pattern of decline recorded in Lehrer's report actually would
> index our own declining psychic investment in replicated results. If
> this were the case, we'd expect it to hold, also, for hard science
> results, not just results involving human response, though in a less
> obvious and dramatic form. This could be tested empirically by doing
> repeated micro-measurements on new physical constants as may come to be
> discovered in physics or chemistry. A slight lessening in degree of
> accuracy of measurement of physical constants wouldn't have aroused the
> attention of scientists in the past. However, a pattern of such
> declining resolution could serve to validate the solipsistic thesis that
> the universe out there is what we make it-now wouldn't THAT be
> troubling!
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
> On Behalf Of mike cole
> Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 10:33 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
> Subject: [xmca] Wearing out truth
> If you have not seen these materials, gathered by a colleague, i suggest
> you take a look. Very interesting.
> mike
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Frank Kessel <kesfam@pdq.net>
> Date: Tue, Dec 28, 2010 at 5:06 PM
> Subject: Truth?
> To: Frank Kessel <kesfam@pdq.net>
>  FOLKS: As you may (or may not!) remember, in a message forwarding the
> news about how Republicans plan to (try to) cut/reduce the 'soft'
> behavioral and social sciences from the NSF budget (see below-below), I
> provided the abstract for a recent *New Yorker* article on the
> less-than-firm quality of at least some of our hard(er) science
> findings.  Well, in the 2nd part of his annual "Sidney Awards" columns,
> David Brooks talks about the same article (see below).  Better still, he
> [rovides a link that enables all of us non-subscribers to access the
> whole article. So here 'tis (attached). . .
> Methinks that, along with the earlier-in-the-year article and discussion
> re the limitations of much of WEIRD (psychological) science, this
> presents us with, well, let's simply say a non-trivial challenge ot
> three!  FRANK
> P.S.  In case you don't know, Brooks' "Sidney Awards go to some of the
> best magazine essays of the year. The one-man jury is biased against
> political essays, since politics already gets so much coverage. But the
> jury is biased in favor of pieces that illuminate the ideas and
> conditions undergirding political events" . . . and are named for Sidney
> Hook.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------------------
> In earlier ages, people consulted oracles. We consult studies. We rely
> on scientific findings to guide health care decisions, policy making and
> much else. But in an
> essay<http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer
> >called
> "The Truth Wears Off" in The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer reports on
> something strange.
> He describes a class of antipsychotic drugs, whose effectiveness was
> demonstrated by several large clinical trials. But in a subsequent batch
> of studies, the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to wane
> precipitously.
> This is not an isolated case. "But now all sorts of well-established,
> multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly
> uncertain,"
> Lehrer writes. "It's as if our facts were losing their truth: claims
> that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable."
> The world is fluid. Bias and randomness can creep in from all
> directions.
> For example, between 1966 and 1995 there were 47 acupuncture studies
> conducted in Japan, Taiwan and China, and they all found it to be an
> effective therapy. There were 94 studies in the U.S., Sweden and
> Britain, and only 56 percent showed benefits. The lesson is not to throw
> out studies, but to never underestimate the complexity of the world
> around.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------------
> *From:* Frank Kessel [mailto:kesfam@pdq.net]
> *Sent:* Thursday, December 23, 2010 3:14 PM
> *To:* 'Frank Kessel'
> *Subject:* News for the New Year: Cutting out the social science funding
> from NSF
>  So the battles begin  . . . again = the wacky Wisconsin Senator's
> "Golden Fleece Award" redux . . . but, alas, probably with far greater
> political force.
> As for the, um, certainty of the, uh, hard sciences -- See attached.
> (Will zip over complete article as soon as one or another subscriber
> gains
> access!)
> ------------------------------
> >Representatives Eric Cantor's and John Boehner's 2009
> >proposal<http://republicanleader.house.gov/UploadedFiles/06-04-09_Savin
> >gs_Proposals_For_President.pdf>to President Obama seeking to cut in
> >half the NSF's $198 million allotted
> for awards in behavioral and social science. "Unlike NSF's other hard
> science programs (such as engineering and biological sciences)," Boehner
> and Cantor wrote in 2009, "these soft science programs are often more
> controversial and less directly related to NSF's core mission."
> *Picking on Social Science *
> December 21, 2010  Inside Higher Ed
> A bid to question the merits of federal funding for social and
> behavioral science research may be failing to capture the public's
> attention, even as it signals that larger and more polarizing battles
> over science, federal policy and money could lie ahead.
> On Aug. 13, Rep. Adrian Smith, (R-Nebraska) posted a clip on
> YouTube<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSYTS-nRt4o>announcing the launch
> of YouCut <http://republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut/Review.htm> -- an
> attempt to get citizens to crowdsource ways to cut the federal budget.
> In YouCut's first foray, Rep. Smith invites viewers to share their
> impressions of grants for research that have been awarded by the
> National Science Foundation.
> After praising the NSF for supporting discoveries in the "hard" sciences
> (typically math, engineering, and the physical, natural and
> computational sciences), which have spurred economic growth, he cites
> what he sees as two of the NSF's more suspect awards.
> "University academics received a $750,000 grant to develop computer
> models to analyze the on-field contribution of soccer
> players<http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0838564>
> ,"
> he says (it's actually a Northwestern University project led by
> engineering and business professors to develop strategies to better
> assemble effective teams in virtual communities). Rep. Smith also
> mentions a $1.2 million award to model the sound of objects
> breaking<http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0905506
> &loc=interstitialskip<http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0905506%0A&loc=interstitialskip>
> >for
> use by the video game and movie industries (the project involves Cornell
> University computer scientists finding ways to change how sound is
> manufactured in interactive virtual environments).
> Attacks of this nature -- which tend to target perceived intellectual
> and cultural elites -- often gain traction during periods in which
> Republicans control at least one house of Congress, as they are about to
> do. This position of power enables them to hold hearings, call for votes
> on specific projects and exert some control over the purse strings of
> federal agencies.
> Such attacks already have begun. Republicans led a successful effort
> earlier this month to pressure the Smithsonian Institution to remove a
> work of art from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition, "Hide/Seek:
> Difference and Desire in American
> Portraiture,"<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/12/06/katz>for
> its perceived anti-Christian imagery.
> "We've been down this road before," said Howard Silver, executive
> director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, who recited a
> litany of efforts by politicians of both parties to question science
> research. Often cited as the originator of this type of Congressional
> activity is Sen.
> William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin), whose Golden Fleece awards drew
> attention to wasteful spending -- with scientific research one of his
> favorite targets.
> More recently, Pat Toomey, then Republican representative and now
> senator from Pennsylvania, tried in 2003 to block National Institutes of
> Health-backed research on sexual
> risk-taking<http://www.iub.edu/%7Ekinsey/about/risk-research.html>.
> Many times, these salvos -- in which politicians pounce on
> silly-sounding research projects, often without understanding their
> underlying purpose -- have ended up backfiring. Proxmire once ridiculed
> federal money spent to study the screwworm fly, but later
> conceded<http://www.ucop.edu/pres/comments/gfleece.html>that this
> research led to extremely effective efforts to eradicate the nasty pest
> that devoured the flesh of
> cattle<http://books.google.com/books?id=UGjtXW4eoNkC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq
> =Proxmire+Screw+worm&source=bl&ots=l6rspcnZqT&sig=ZwcYSadsMzP-V5s0ACFp3h
> DNlT0&hl=en&ei=sqcLTaXcB8OB8gbM-IWZDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resn
> um=7&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false<http://books.google.com/books?id=UGjtXW4eoNkC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq%0A=Proxmire+Screw+worm&source=bl&ots=l6rspcnZqT&sig=ZwcYSadsMzP-V5s0ACFp3h%0ADNlT0&hl=en&ei=sqcLTaXcB8OB8gbM-IWZDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resn%0Aum=7&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false>
> >.
> Mark Sanford, as a U.S. representative from South Carolina, sought to
> freeze NSF funding. He staked much of his argument that the agency
> mismanaged money on the fact that it supported research into
> ATMs<http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15921536.200-not-that-kind-of
> -poker.html<http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15921536.200-not-that-kind-of%0A-poker.html>
> >,
> a term he mistakenly thought referred to automatic teller machines.
> Instead, it describes asynchronous transfer mode, a telecommunications
> innovation that enables data, voice and video to be transmitted in one
> data stream.
> YouCut's scrutiny of the NSF -- which Silver described as "interesting
> political theater" -- is more explicit than past efforts in dividing the
> physical and natural sciences on the one hand from the behavioral and
> social sciences on the other. Silver said he was troubled by
> Representatives Eric Cantor's and John Boehner's 2009
> proposal<http://republicanleader.house.gov/UploadedFiles/06-04-09_Saving
> s_Proposals_For_President.pdf<http://republicanleader.house.gov/UploadedFiles/06-04-09_Saving%0As_Proposals_For_President.pdf>
> >to
> President Obama seeking to cut in half the NSF's $198 million allotted
> for awards in behavioral and social science. "Unlike NSF's other hard
> science programs (such as engineering and biological sciences)," Boehner
> and Cantor wrote in 2009, "these soft science programs are often more
> controversial and less directly related to NSF's core mission." That
> statement was written before both men were slated to assume much more
> power
> -- Boehner as Speaker of the House and Cantor as Majority Leader. And
> their interest in finding areas in the budget to cut has remained
> undimmed.
> Rep. Smith's address on YouTube continues to distinguish between the
> value of these branches of science. While the two examples he offers as
> evidence of questionable research blend different scientific
> disciplines, Smith frames NSF's most worthy work as being in engineering
> or the physical, natural and computational sciences. He asks viewers to
> "help us identify grants which do not support the hard sciences or which
> you don't think are a good use of taxpayer dollars."
> Experts and advocates for science in general, and social science in
> particular, have questioned this separation. "It's sort of an easy way
> to make political hay," said Silver, noting that social and behavioral
> sciences account for a small fraction of the NSF's annual awards (about
> 3 percent of the agency's $6 billion total budget, according to the
> agency). "Is there a business in this country that doesn't need to
> understand human or societal behavior? This whole business of saying
> these aren't as useful or as important as natural or physical science
> doesn't make sense to me."
> Similarly, Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the
> Association of American Universities, said his organization and its
> allies will need to make a forceful case that social sciences are as
> important an investment as the the natural and physical sciences, while
> acknowledging that no formal campaign was in the works. Toiv cited the
> University of Michigan's surveys of consumers
> <http://press.sca.isr.umich.edu/press/about_survey> as an example of how
> social science research benefits public policy. Another
> example: the research now being conducted at Massachusetts Institute of
> Technology
> <http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/profile-pentland-1101.html>on
> understanding nonverbal cues. The results could help troops in
> Afghanistan better read the body language of people with whom they
> cannot communicate verbally, he said. "A particular project may sound
> funny or irrelevant, but you never know where that's going to lead,"
> said Toiv.
> To a great extent, this argument has been won within the NSF, based on
> its commitment to fund cross-disciplinary
> research<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/08/16/nsf>,
> which was articulated in August by the agency's assistant director for
> the social, behavioral and economic sciences.
> Among policy-makers, it's a different story, albeit one with some new
> technological, rhetorical, disciplinary and political wrinkles. YouCut's
> use of crowdsourcing marks a "clever" change in approach, said Al Teich,
> director of science and policy programs for the American Association for
> the Advancement of Science. "This is a high-tech twist on an old story,"
> he said. Teich and others hope that it could be fruitfully deployed by
> scientists and their advocates to make the case for their research. "It
> might be a useful technique to engage the public in this sort of
> conversation," he said.
> April L. Burke, founder of the lobbying and consulting firm Lewis-Burke
> Associates, also thought the effort to focus attention, through YouCut,
> on the NSF could serve as a valuable opportunity for the sorts of people
> and institutions she represents -- research universities and scientific
> organizations. Scientists and their advocates would do well to see the
> latest scrutiny not as a blanket condemnation of science and cause for
> offense, but as an invitation to make the case as to why the NSF should
> fund social science, she said. "I'd rather see us launch a positive
> campaign and talk to members of Congress and get them comfortable with
> social sciences and physical sciences," said Burke, "and save our angry
> powder for when we're really under attack."
> It is not clear that the bid to draw close scrutiny to the NSF has had
> the desired effect. While the clip was posted in August, the effort only
> started to generate more widespread attention in the past two weeks,
> from such outlets as
> *Wired*<http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/12/nsf-youcut-review/>and
> *USA
> Today*<http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2010-12-05
> -politics-science_N.htm<http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2010-12-05%0A-politics-science_N.htm>
> >.
> YouTube tracking data indicate that Rep. Smith's address had generated,
> as of press time, about 12,200 views over the past four months. Twelve
> viewers indicated that they like the page, while 195 dislike it.
> Responses on Twitter to Rep. Smith's address have not been particularly
> kind, either.
> Some have called it a "witch hunt," "catastrophically dumb," and
> dangerous in a country with a high rate of scientific illiteracy.
> Rep. Smith's office referred to Rep. Cantor's office questions from
> *Inside Higher Ed* on the number of awards that have been challenged.
> Rep. Cantor's office did not respond to several calls and e-mails --
> including a request to clarify whether *any* citizens had raised
> objections. Maria Zacharias, a spokeswoman for the NSF, said she was not
> aware of any other grants being called into question by members of the
> public, though such a lack of result is not necessarily unexpected.
> Several observers thought the real significance of the YouCut episode
> was that it offered a preview of upcoming efforts to trim federal
> spending on NSF and other agencies back to 2008 funding levels, and of
> looming investigations over climate science or energy policy. Teich's
> group, the AAAS, has offered a sober but slightly hopeful
> view<http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/1201post_election_energy.sht
> ml?sa_campaign=Internal_Ads/AAAS/AAAS_News/2010-12-01/jump_page<http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/1201post_election_energy.sht%0Aml?sa_campaign=Internal_Ads/AAAS/AAAS_News/2010-12-01/jump_page>
> >of
> the shifting landscape since last month's election, and suggested that
> consensus in science funding, climate change and energy policy could
> still be built.
> Toiv, of the AAU, declined to see the prospect of future conflicts over
> research in strictly partisan terms. He said political pressure over the
> deficit was bound to place discretionary domestic spending, which is the
> source of NSF's money, under the microscope. "There was going to be a
> problem no matter which party won," he said. But, he added, it remains
> important for advocates of scientific research to highlight the economic
> argument to support future funding. "We cannot hope to have the kind of
> economic growth we need to address the deficit issue without, over the
> long-term, making these investments now in basic research," said Toiv.
> "These are investments. That's what needs to be clear."
> - Dan Berrett <dan.berrett@insidehighered.com>
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