The tricks propagandists use to beat science


MIT Technology Review has the article The tricks propagandists use to beat science from January 22, 2018.

It’s a mildly interesting article, but I would be very, very wary of the suggested “solution”.

…the solution is clear: bigger, more highly powered studies. “Given some fixed financial resources, funding bodies should allocate those resources to a few very high-powered studies,” argue Weatherall and co, who go on to suggest that scientists should be given incentives for producing that kind of work. “For instance, scientists should be granted more credit for statistically stronger results—even in cases where they happen to be null.”

I have noticed this in the electrical engineering technical papers I have read over my 40 year career. One respected university had one bent in their work and a different respected university had a different bent. Knowing authors from both universities, I could tell which side of the discussion a paper would fall on based on which school the author came from. Faculty from both universities were the peers reviewing the papers published in peer reviewed journals. In this case, I don’t even think the bias was from the sponsor’s of the research because the companies I worked for sponsored research from both universities. Although I don’t doubt that there were influential engineers in the company that had received their advanced degrees from one university or the other.

Neither of the universities discussed above were MIT. However, I have had my dealings with sponsoring research at MIT, and I can tell you that the people there are human, too. To that, I guess I have to say #MeToo. I am aware that I have my own biases.

I have posted this article in the category of Greenberg’s Law of The Media – “If a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.” This category applies to the subject of the article and to the article itself.

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