Monday, October 21, 2013

The Truth Didn't Wear Off; He Just Chose to Reject It

This article from a 2010 issue of The New Yorker, titled "The Truth Wears Off," deals with the genuine problem of academic scientists failing to report their own results accurately (I don't know how prevalent this problem is).  The article states,

Richard Palmer, a biologist at the University of Alberta, who has studied the problems surrounding fluctuating asymmetry, suspects that an equally significant issue is the selective reporting of results -- the data that scientists choose to document in the first place. Palmer’s most convincing evidence relies on a statistical tool known as a funnel graph. When a large number of studies have been done on a single subject, the data should follow a pattern: studies with a large sample size should all cluster around a common value -- the true result -- whereas those with a smaller sample size should exhibit a random scattering, since they’re subject to greater sampling error. This pattern gives the graph its name, since the distribution resembles a funnel.

The funnel graph visually captures the distortions of selective reporting . . .  As Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don't want to see.

 Unfortunately, this article, which addresses the issues of honesty and accuracy, was written by . . .  Jonah Lehrer.  This is the same Jonah Lehrer who was later caught making up fake Bob Dylan quotations for what he marketed as a nonfiction book.