JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The Peer Review Scam: Why not review your own paper?

If you suffer from an uncontrollable urge to claim that peer review is a part of The Scientific Method (that’s you Matthew Bailes, Pro VC of Swinburne), the bad news just keeps on coming.  Now, we can add the terms “Peer Review Rigging” to “Peer-review tampering”, and “Citation Rings”.

Not only do personal biases and self-serving interests mean good papers are slowed for years and rejected for inane reasons, but gibberish gets published, and in some fields most results can’t be replicated. Now we find (is anyone surprised?) that some authors are even reviewing their own work. It’s called Peer-Review-Rigging. When the editor asks for suggestions of reviewers, you provide pseudonyms and bogus emails. The editor sends the review to a gmail type address, you pick it up, and voila, you can pretend to be an independent reviewer.

One researcher, Hyung-In Moon, was doing this to review his own submissions. He was caught because he sent the reviews back in less than 24 hours. Presumably if he’d waiting a week, no one would have noticed.

Nature reports: “THE PEER-REVIEW SCAM”

Authors: Cat Ferguson, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky are the staff writer and two co-founders, respectively, of Retraction Watch in [...]

Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition (From the Annals of Hype)

Disaster Disaster! Driving a car in 2014 could one day cause 2 billion people to suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies leaving them anaemic and prone to infection, and causing a loss of 63 million life-years annually. This is brought to you from the  Annals of Hyped-Science (formerly known as Nature). A sad day indeed.

It’s true that carbon dioxide is plant fertilizer and increases plant yields, so future crops, grown in a CO2 rich world, may not have exactly the same nutrient profile. Presumably future plants will have slightly more useless starchy carbohydrate. It is a kind of dilution effect at work, where plants keep absorbing the same amount of minerals, but spread them out among more carbohydrate.

Before we hit the panic button, lets look the numbers. The new Myers et al study reports that zinc and iron content of rice may fall by, wait for it, five percent. In wheat the iron content could fall by as much as 10%. But no one who has a choice, eats grains like rice or wheat for their iron and zinc content, since both these are poor sources of both. We’re talking about low grade bulk filler food.

Assuming the reduction [...]

Global warming saves lives in Stockholm — but bad assumptions feed scary headlines

Here’s a tale of how to generate headlines from circular reasoning built on brave assumptions. All it requires are some unskeptical science journal editors and gullible journalists. Et Voila!

Congratulations to Chip Knappenberger, Pat Michaels, and Anthony Watts, whose response to Åström et al was published Wednesday.

In October 2013 Åström et al claimed that global warming had killed lots of people in Stockholm, hundreds. But the first thing you need to know is that they don’t appear to start with actual mortality data in the early 1900′s. Surprised? Me too. Anthony Watts found it hard to believe . The other thing worth knowing is that extreme heat was defined as the top 2% of hot days, and in Stockholm that mean everything above a terrifying 2-day-moving-average mean temperature of 19.6C (67 F).

From the methods:

We collected daily mortality during the period 1980-2009 and daily temperature data for the period 1900-2009 for Stockholm County, Sweden.

Åström 2013:  Figure 2 j Temperature distribution of 2-day moving average of mean temperatures during summer months. Grey distribution, 1900–1929; black distribution, 1980–2009.

It appears the authors compared calculated death rates (using a model) from 1900-1929 with rates from 1980-2009 and concluded that [...]

Nobel Winner boycotts journals Nature, Science, and Cell for damage to science

The pursuit of knowledge does not fit well into human institutions, the 9 – 5 regime, career plans, nor the profit motive. Cracks are everywhere. The message grows that science is being exploited and distorted.

Randy Schekman received his Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine yesterday. At the same time he has declared that his lab will not be sending papers to the top-tier journals Nature, Science and Cell because they are damaging science. He calls for more open access papers saying “science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals”

Randy Schekman in the Guardian

“I am a scientist. Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives. The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best. Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational – I have followed them myself – but we do not always best serve our profession’s interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

Chiefly, he points out that the “luxury” journals manage themselves as brand-names, and choose papers for reasons other than their scientific advances. The journals seek [...]

Peer Review failure: Science and Nature journals reject papers because they “have to be wrong”

The peer review system has decayed to the point where the culture of the two “top” science journals virtually  guarantees they will reject the most important research done today. It is the exact opposite of what we need to further human knowledge the fastest. Science and Nature are prestigious journals, yet they are now so conservative about ideas that challenge dominant assumptions, that they reject ground-breaking papers because those papers challenge the dominant meme, not because the evidence or the reasoning is suspect or weak.

Watts Up drew my attention to an extraordinary paper showing that billions of dollars of medical research may have been wasted because researchers assumed mice were the same as men. Dr Ronald W. Davis from Stanford comments: ““They are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.” He found that 150 drugs were tested that in hindsight, were guaranteed to fail in humans. People didn’t understand that mice have a very different response to sepsis (which is any overwhelming blood-borne bacterial infection). Sepsis kills around 200,000 people in the US each year and costs an estimated $17 billion a year. Mice are already resistant to huge numbers [...]

My reply to Dr Paul Bain — on rational deniers and gullible believers

UPDATE: Dr Paul Bain has replied to say that pressing work commitments mean he cannot respond to this until next week.  We look forward to that, and I will make sure it is available for readers here (should Dr Bain permit). – Jo

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Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Thank you for replying (and so promptly). I do sincerely appreciate it. Apologies for my tardiness.

I do still think I can help you with your research. Indeed, in more ways than you realize.

You describe in your  Bain et al letter in Nature, that the number of deniers is growing despite “enormous effort”. There is a policy problem. I absolutely agree. No one is having any success getting deniers to believe in anthropogenic climate change. Could it be that they don’t understand deniers at all?

Let’s go through the points in your email reply to me, then the bigger implications.

First and foremost – obviously you did not provide evidence to back up your assumption that the “existence” of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change  is real. That doesn’t mean it does not exist, but I’ll get back to this. It is the key and only real point.

Secondly, you may regret the [...]

Defining “denier”. Is it English or Newspeak?

This week Nature Climate Change published the Bain et al letter about “climate change deniers”.  How does Nature define this group? They imply that deniers deny science, but can the researchers, editors or reviewers name any peer reviewed paper with empirical evidence that the deniers deny? Surely this whole paper is not based on a name-calling assumption, a confusion about an illusory sub-species, Homo sapiens denier? Could Nature now be the Journal of UnScience? We shall see…

I have written to ask the lead researcher Dr Paul Bain:

 

Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Right now, it’s almost my life’s work to communicate the empirical evidence on anthropogenic climate change.

I can help you with your research on deniers. I have studied the mental condition of denial most carefully. There is a simple key to converting the convictions of people in this debate, and I have seen it work hundreds of times. Indeed, my own convictions that lasted 17 years were turned around in a few days. I can help you. It would be much simpler than you think.

Firstly, to save time and money we must analyze the leaders of the denial [...]