The Dodo is extinct. But apparently not for the reasons we long believed. And those pictures of the bird we're used to seeing? Not so accurate. It's a tale of a tradition of Bad Science and the struggle to fix mistakes made long ago.
“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. I got a call in December last year from a German television reporter named Peter Onneken. He and his collaborator Diana Löbl were working on a documentary film about the junk-science diet industry. They wanted me to help demonstrate just how easy it is to turn bad science into the big headlines behind diet fads. And Onneken wanted to do it gonzo style: Reveal the corruption of the diet research-media complex by taking part.
The 2014 Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, or BAHFest, is a month away. If you're not sure what is in store, you can watch the entire festival (1 hr 32 min), or jump to the winning presentation: Tomer Ullman: The Crying Game (Q&A), or why babies are so annoying and the competitive advantage crying babies likely gave to warriors from times past. "I don't want to get too much into the technical details, so let's not." [more inside]
"Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value" The Canadian scientific research and development agency has announced a major policy change. Going forward, they will only perform research that has "social or economic gain".
Oxford University neuroscience professor Dorothy Bishop delivers a scathing lecture (text version) about the overselling of weak neuroscience, both in the news and within the scientific literature. [more inside]
The statistical error that neuroscience researchers get wrong at least half the time. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science explains this mistake, which was made in about half of 157 academic neuroscience papers in which there was an opportunity to make it. The culprit doesn't seem to be any specific journal, since the sample included five different neuroscience journals.
In a recent Op-Ed piece on the Wall Street Journal, author, journalist, public speaker and generally inquisitive fellow Robert Bryce offered up following analogy in his discussion of climate change science: "If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere. " And the internet took it from there, in the form of comics, the Twitter hashtag #WSJscience, and plenty of science-minded blogs and sites a-plenty.
"It seems that the majority of health claims made, in a large representative sample of UK national newspapers, are supported only by the weakest possible forms of evidence." So states the Guardian's Bad Science columnist and blogger Ben Goldacre in an article describing a study he performed with several colleagues investigating the quality of health advice given in British newspapers. The study can be found here (only the abstract is free for those who don't subscribe, unfortunately). The Guardian's science editor, James Randerson's critique of the article. Goldacre replies in the comments.
A 15-year-old Welsh schoolboy with Crohn’s disease has taken on the peddler of a supposed “alternative remedy” which is, in fact, a dangerous industrial bleach. Despite initial criticism from others with Crohn’s, he is making considerable headway. [more inside]
Mumps has stricken New York, in the U.S.'s largest outbreak of the disease since 2006. [more inside]
Kill or cure: making sense of the Daily Mail’s ongoing effort to classify every inanimate object into those that cause cancer and those that prevent it. Paul Battley uses automation and crowd-sourcing in the war against bad science reporting.
"If you’re ever looking for a warning sign that you’re on the wrong side of an argument, suing Medecins Sans Frontieres is probably a pretty good clue." Science journalist and blogger Ben Goldacre has released the missing chapter of his book, Bad Science, telling the story of Matthias Rath, vitamins and the AIDS crisis in South Africa. [Previously. Also.]
Following panic about a now-discredited study on the MMR vaccine, measles cases in the UK are on the rise. Radio host Jeni Barnett hosted a phone-in about it (transcript), defending parents' rights to choose not to vaccinate their children. Bad Science blogger Ben Goldacre had a thing or two to say about Barnett's argument. When the broadcaster of the radio show threatened legal action, bloggers of bad science responded...
Vitamin purveyor Matthias Rath^ has dropped his libel case against Ben Goldacre^ and the Guardian. Goldacre's take. [more inside]
Quack and fugitive from justice Professor Bill Nelson, inventor of the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface, sings of his noble struggle against the evils of conventional medicine! Via Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre. [more inside]
The hucksters behind the QLink Pendant claim that it "utilises Sympathetic Resonance Technology to rebalance the energetic systems of the body". Apparently, some scientists and engineers think £69.99 is a fair price for a necklace consisting of a copper coil and a zero-ohm resistor [neither of which are actually connected to anything]. The inventor claims that the QLink does not use electronics components “in a conventional electronic way” yet it "increases your capacity to function in EMF saturated environments."I guess golfers will buy anything that promises an improved score. It's the perfect accessory for my new Faraday suit.
Wi-fi Routers: Silent blinking death. Via badscience.net, where it was posted in response to what sounds like a truly awful show. Electrosensitivity previously discussed here.
Teaching bad science is not something only creationist wingnuts do. The redoubtable Bill Beaty sets us straight. (thanks, Laen)
My fab fave UK public intellectual was somehow overlooked in the popularity contest discussed yesterday, and I was surprised that nobody had ever FPPd him here (at least, as far as the search function can determine...)
Remember the Sokal Hoax? In the mid 1990s, NYU professor Alan Sokal got a deliberately ridiculous paper in the po-mo journal Social Text, which would have embarrassed the editors if the concept of shame weren't merely a social construct. Now it seems that turnabout is fair play. In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, there's a fascinating article about two brothers -- they apparently got their physics PhDs by spouting nonsense, and even got their tripe published in peer-reviewed journals. (The article itself requires a subscription, but here is an account by one of the players in the drama. Even though every scientific field has bad journals and these papers are in French, which consigned them to less well-known journals, it's still a major embarrassment for physics.
Stupid Movie Physics Tricks discusses bad physics in movies and even rates some movies (e.g., XP - physics not from this universe) based on their faithfulness to the laws of physics. Follow that up with bad astronomy and finish it off with bad science in general. (OK, so the last one is more about bad meteorology, but that sucks as a soundbite.)