Recently in RES Category

One-of-the-blue-marble-li-007.jpgMy sister sent me this this link from the English newspaper, The Guardian. Evidently, during a hailstorm, these blue balls fell on the lawn of an Englishman in Dorset.

"They were almost impossible to pick up, they were very jelly-like. I had to get a spoon and flick them into a jam jar. They had an exterior shell with a soft inside. They only landed in our garden in an area of a couple of hundred square metres."

Aliens? A sinister government plot gone very wrong? Chemicals from an airplane toilet?

Where is scientific thinking when we need it? Occam's razor would suggest that this is not aliens, just something ordinary, right?

And among the comments is confirmation that the answer is simple:

"I work at Bournemouth Uni applied sciences - Some samples just did the rounds in our offices and there is a reason this guy only found them in his garden, not his roof, or on the road etc

The blue mystery marbles are.......... garden hydration gel balls. They're going to be analysed as a exercise in university PR. But safe to say our alien overlords have not landed just yet."

The blue blobs were garden hydration gel balls. Hurray, science wins again!

The Chair of the Psychology Department sent this article from the New York Times to everyone in the department of Psychology to remind us of the "importance of scrupulous care in the ways we handle our data and report our findings." Basically, the researcher in question has been making sensational stuff up.

The article mentions the dangers of confirmation bias:

"Researchers in psychology are certainly aware of the issue [of fraud]. In recent years, some have mocked studies showing correlations between activity on brain images and personality measures as "voodoo" science, and a controversy over statistics erupted in January after The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology accepted a paper purporting to show evidence of extrasensory perception. In cases like these, the authors being challenged are often reluctant to share their raw data. But an analysis of 49 studies appearing Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, by Dr. Wicherts, Dr. Bakker and Dylan Molenaar, found that the more reluctant that scientists were to share their data, the more likely that evidence contradicted their reported findings."

"We know the general tendency of humans to draw the conclusions they want to draw -- there's a different threshold," said Joseph P. Simmons, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "With findings we want to see, we ask, 'Can I believe this?' With those we don't, we ask, 'Must I believe this?' "

I had an experience recently that suggests to me that this incident may trigger changes in how psychologists do and report research, the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back." Last August, the faculty team that teaches Psy 1001 and I had a day-long workshop with the author of our textbook. During the course of the day, I was struck because we spent nearly two hours talking about cases of fraud--the social psychologist who forged data, the highly regarded psychologist who claimed to have found evidence of ESP, the behavioral geneticist who was accused of faking data but who may not have been. Once we got started, we couldn't get off the topic. Everyone had something to offer from their area of psychology. The energy and concern being expressed suggested the emerging awareness, a consensus forming; it was as if researchers had been aware as individuals of the issue, but as they talked with one another their understanding and concern became clarified and more certain. It became a group concern. That kind of moment, when individuals realizes that something is bigger than themselves, can be a tipping point. All it takes is one more incident to motivate change.

Does Dr Who know about this?

Vote 0 Votes

Screen shot 2011-09-25 at 2.58.56 PM.pngYou've probably already heard that physicists have measured particles traveling faster than the speed of light because communication on the internet also may travel faster than the speed of light. It's really awesome! But did you notice how five of the six principles of scientific thinking show up in the report that neutrinos travel faster than light.

First, characteristic of good scientific practice, there is well-established theory, Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, that proposes that absolutely nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This makes the theory FALSIFIABLE. Maybe it has been supported by a century of testing but find something that goes faster than light and...goodbye, theory! I've put up an image of Albert E. himself to remind us of the brilliance and solidity of that theory.

Next, the claim that neutrinos may go faster than light is EXTRAORDINARY and the researchers need to provide extradordinary evidence. So what kind of evidence did the researchers provide? "A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos -- tiny particles that pervade the cosmos -- were fired over a period of 3 years from CERN toward Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors." and clocked at 60-billionths of second faster than light. I assume they checked the reliability of their clock, but measurement error is the first thing that occurs to me.

Third, being confident in their findings, having "checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements" the researchers are asking their colleagues to REPLICATE their findings. It looks like good science practice to me, and the world will be eagerly waiting for the next set of findings. Meanwhile, I am sure that physicists will be generating ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES to account for the the evidence.

For now, I'm a skeptic. The most PARSIMONIOUS answer is that the Theory of Special Relativity has not been falsified, that the finding, while real, is caused by systematic measurement error of some kind.

But, still, imagine we COULD travel in time! Where would you want to go?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the RES category.

PERS is the previous category.

S&P is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.