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Doing Good Science

Doing Good Science

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The Sciences

Drawing the line between science and pseudo-science.

Recently, we've been discussing strategies for distinguishing sound science from attractively packaged snake-oil. It's worth noting that a fair number of scientists (and of non-scientists who are reasonably science-literate) are of the view that this is not a hard call to make -- that astrology, alternative therapies, ESP, and the other usual suspects fall on the wrong side of some bright line that divides what is scientific from what is not -- the clear line of demarcation that (scientists seem to assume) Karl Popper pointed out years ago, and that keeps the borders of science secure.
While I think a fair amount of non-science is so far from the presumptive border that we are well within our rights to just point at it and laugh, as a philosopher of science I need to go on the record as saying that right at the boundary, things are not so sharp...

October 4, 2011 — Janet D. Stemwedel
The Sciences

A brief rhyming interlude concerning responsible conduct of research.

I recently became aware, by way of the Tweet-o-sphere, that I am regarded by some as "the Dr. Seuss of science policy."I mentioned this compliment ( I think ) to the reliably hilarious SciCurious (who also blogs here), and she promptly produced this educational tale, which I post with her kind permission:The sun did not shineIn the laboratory that dayas we sat with our gelswatching bands slide awayI sat there with SallyWe stared at data, we twoAnd I said "How I wishthere was something we could do!"We have tried all our primersand tweaked all our bandsbut this data's not replicableat least in our handsSo all we could do was totry, try, try, tryusing all our free hoursfor our hypothesis run dryAnd then something went BUMP!How that bump made us jump!We looked,we saw him dart out from the -80 freezerand we saw him!Our old PI, that hairless old geezer!And he said to us,"why do you sit there and stare?"I know the data's badFundings not forthcomingBut there's things we can doWe can do data plumbing!"I know some good games we could play"said the guy."I know some old tricks"said that geezer PI."A lot of old tricks,to make your data like new.Other scientistswill not mind at all if I do"Then Sally and I Did not know what to sayFor no other PIs were in lab that day.But our tech said "no no!""Make him go away!...

August 31, 2011 — Janet D. Stemwedel

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