A Scientific Look at Bad Science by Bourree Lam

“Retractions are born of many mothers,” write Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the co-founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which has logged thousands of retractions in the past five years. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 2,047 retractions of biomedical and life-sciences articles and found that just 21.3 percent stemmed from straightforward error, while 67.4 percent resulted from misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4 percent) and plagiarism (9.8 percent) [3].

Surveys of scientists have tried to gauge the extent of undiscovered misconduct. According to a 2009 meta-analysis of these surveys, about 2 percent of scientists admitted to having fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once, and as many as a third confessed “a variety of other questionable research practices including ‘dropping data points based on a gut feeling,’ and ‘changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source’ ” [4].

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The End of the Ambitious Summer Reading List by Lee Siegel

I’m sitting in the bedroom of a rented cottage in Maine as my wife and our two young children eat breakfast downstairs. Outside, a pearl-gray fog unfurls gently over the water. Foghorns blare. Seagulls shriek. Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” calls out to me. G.F. Young’s “The Medici” sings its siren song. Van Wyck Brooks’s “New England: Indian summer” purrs.

Ah, the summer reading list! The stress of work is giving way, at last, to the stress of leisure.

Another summer, another vacation, another vow to myself to finish three classic works of literature and history that I began reading, let me see, about 14 years ago. Or was it 18 years ago? Could it really be 35?

I’ve lost track, no doubt because somewhere in that span of time, there were other literary obligations to dispatch during the precious weeks of summer reading—from Proust’s massive novel “Remembrance of Things Past” to Charles and Mary Beard’s “The Rise of American Civilization.” Not to mention the classic volume by Brooks on the New England literary tradition, that romantic “Indian summer” which I have tried to get through, summer after summer.


Melancholy by  Carina del Valle Schorske

There is a long history in Western thought associating melancholy and genius. We have van Gogh with his severed ear. We have Montaigne confessing, “It was a melancholy humor … which first put into my head this raving concern with writing.” We have Nina Simone and Kurt Cobain, Thelonious Monk and David Foster Wallace. We have the stubborn conviction that all of these artists produced the work they did not in spite of, but somehow because of, their suffering. The charms of melancholy seem to be the charms of van Gogh’s quietly kaleidoscopic color palette: in one self-portrait, every color used on his face is echoed elsewhere in the surroundings. His white bandage complements the canvas in the corner, his yellow skin the wall, his blue hat the blue window. The charms of his work become the charms of his persona and his predicament.

Forecasting Tournaments

Edge Master Class 2015: A Short Course in Superforecasting, Class I by Philip Tetlock

It is possible to make more subtle and granular distinctions among degrees of uncertainty on questions that are of interest to the U.S. intelligence community. That’s an empirical demonstration from the IARPA tournaments; it’s pretty solid. The juxtaposition of President Obama on the Osama problem and on the March Madness problem illustrates that it’s not that he can’t think in a granular way about probability. He may be implicitly thinking it’s impossible to think in a granular way about national security, or it’s not even normatively appropriate to become all that granular in the national security domain. Different epistemic norms seem to govern what is or is not appropriate to say about uncertainty.    

Among the best forecasters in the IARPA tournament believe change tends to be quite granular. They think that Hillary Clinton has a 60 percent chance of being the next President of the United States today, and then some information comes out from the State Department Inspector General about Hillary’s emails and her possible culpability for her email policy: “Okay, I think I’m going to move it down to .58 now.” That’s the sort of thing superforecasters do, and the cumulative result is that their probability scores, as defined in these handouts here and in the book, are much better. The gaps between their probability judgments and reality are smaller where your dummy code reality is 0 or 1, depending on whether the event didn’t occur or did occur.