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Comment: Re:Wish I could say I was surprised (Score 1) 161

by david_thornley (#47434247) Attached to: Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

Since we're talking about peer-reviewed journals here, all papers have been peer-reviewed. The papers I've seen have usually had some discussion on what's come before, so you can tell if it reproduces or relies on previous work. (For seeing if it's been reproduced later, use a citation index.) They also list the credentials of the authors. I don't know what your problem is there.

However, these papers aren't progress reports, and aren't meant to be. They are findings of sufficient significance that it's worth keeping them around for later reference. This means that, if you don't get a significant result, you don't get published. If you get a lot of barely significant results, you get a big publication list.

This is a fine method to advance science, but it is also used to judge scientists, and that's where the problem lies. You think scientists should submit progress reports, which I think everybody agrees with, but even useful progress reports don't help the scientist's career unless they result in a finding worthy of a peer-reviewed publication. The difference between these things is where I think you're wrong.

Comment: Re:Wish I could say I was surprised (Score 1) 161

by david_thornley (#47434157) Attached to: Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

You're advocating one specific quantitative performance metric: the length of the publication list. If I can get into a realm I'm more familiar with, people have been trying for years to come up with quantitative metrics to tell how good programmers are. It doesn't work. First, any such metric I'm familiar with fails to reward the right things. Second, any such metric gets gamed.

What you want a scientist to do is come up with good, innovative, science. The publication list penalizes innovation, since innovations don't always pan out, and rewards scientists who only undertake things they're pretty sure will work. A scientist simply may not be able to afford to investigate something that will take time and might not produce a positive result.

In this case, we saw the system get gamed by outright cheating. There are ways to game it that don't involve actual cheating. I haven't seen anybody suffer from the "least publishable unit" approach, and I remember one paper that left me awestruck at the precision in which the authors pulled out one result from a research program and got a peer-reviewed journal to publish the paper. It was an interesting result, but it was being precisely 1.000 LPU.

In my brief journey through academia, it seemed that the pub list was used a whole lot. There are variations, such as the citation list and journal impact factors, but these are closely related to the list length. This isn't healthy.

We're talking about a whole lot of highly intelligent and creative people here. Why aren't there other measures? Why are you expecting a non-scientist to come up with one?

Comment: Re:Wish I could say I was surprised (Score 1) 161

by david_thornley (#47433929) Attached to: Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

But as is made clear here, simply publishing and getting it through peer review is clearly not good enough.

I thought they weren't good enough anyway, that a paper in a peer-reviewed journal didn't prove anything by itself. There's been plenty that turned out to be wrong.

After the publication, people are likely to want to build on that work (if it's interesting), and they'll wind up replicating parts of it. If it isn't solid, for whatever reasons, it'll get found then. If it holds up, there will soon be other corroborating papers.

It seems to me that things are working well here. Some people use underhanded techniques to get published, their papers are retracted when they're found out. The net result seems to be pretty much what you want.

Comment: Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (Score 1) 128

by david_thornley (#47433007) Attached to: Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus

While I generally agree with your pattern, I disagree with (e).

A religion begins with the guy with the revelation, as you say. These revelations can partly, but not completely, passed on to other people. Therefore, we have the real holy person, and a circle of other people directly affected. At this point, there's no real point in hierarchy, aside from the prophet/follower one. Then the guy with the revelation dies, and leaves a legacy based on what he or she said, as well as followers who carry part of the mystical vision. The religion either dies out fast or it forms into something structured, and then a hierarchy. So far, we agree.

I claim, however, that the elite don't actually have that revelation, since it can't be passed that far. They have the records of the original guy and followers, and some of them have their own revelations that are similar to the original guy's one. Not all of these are going to make it into the elite, who will generally be selected politically. There are no mystical exercises to a revelation that significant. The foundation of knowledge, which can be passed along, is not the revelation. (In fact, it's likely to have picked up all sorts of extraneous stuff over time, as the revelation guy didn't talk just about the revelation.) Therefore, it's immaterial whether the masses have the ability to understand a revelation, since there's nobody there to give them one.

If the religion actually has political power, it pretty well ensures that lots of the elite do not really believe the religion, but use it as a way to gain power. It also encourages religious schisms for political reasons. Nationalism wasn't really important as an ideology until fairly recently, so a group that wanted independence would often coalesce around a sufficiently different branch of the religion, which would be labeled a heresy by the people whose power was threatened.

In Christianity, people still go to the source material in translation. Most of what we've got on Jesus comes from the four Gospels in the New Testament, which were written well after his death (there's other fragments out there about him old enough to be similar source material, but not much). Lots of people read them who I'd classify as "ardently stuck in the petty intellectual framework that their parents give them". About the only way to get closer is to learn the appropriate version of Greek, and I don't think that is going to be that much of an improvement over a good translation.

Comment: Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (Score 1) 128

by david_thornley (#47432873) Attached to: Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus

The big problem I have with this is the "ground of being" idea. In one case you're describing it as laws of physics, and that's not really "the foundation from which all of existence springs". It's more of a description of what things do when there are things. Unless future physics takes a turn I really don't expect, it won't explain why there is a Universe (anthropic principles are not laws of physics). It isn't clear to me that "why is there a Universe?" is actually a real question instead of a confusion of ideas.

This doesn't seem to me at all similar to even a basic idea of God, even a very mechanistic version. I don't see that it's worth applying the same name to the concepts.

Moreover, it's perfectly possible to come up with something that really resembles most ideas of God that isn't a ground of being. To give one, suppose that God is the Universe (Sundays are my days to be a solipsist, and solipsism is logically equivalent to pantheism). In that case, the laws of physics and the laws of mysticism run the Universe, and neither may say why anything exists.

Comment: Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (Score 1) 128

by david_thornley (#47432753) Attached to: Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus

Religions often say nothing that is falsifiable, and in that case can't disagree with science. Lots of religious people (probably most) are happy to believe things about the world we exist in when given the evidence.

Look up the Nicene Creed and try to disprove any part of it. None of it is actually falsifiable, which means it's completely compatible with science.

Religious belief also depends on experience. Scientifically, we know some things about these experiences, but there's no scientific way to tell if they're artifacts of evolution in the human brain or actual divine perception.

Comment: Re:Thanks Al The bravest Senator of them all. (Score 1) 76

He's a senator because he got very slightly more votes than his opponent, as determined in a painstaking recount that took months. This recount was overseen by a three-judge panel, and then examined at length by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Half of those judges were Republican appointees, and only two were DFL appointees. The Republican governor then signed the election certificate without any demur.

There were some problems found in the voting (most notably that the absentee ballot instructions didn't conform to absentee ballot law), and these were largely corrected later on.

Comment: Re:Al Franken? (Score 1) 76

Minnesota does tend to elect kooks and one-of-a-kinds.

I'd also like to nominate Rudy Perpich (governor, kook), Keith Ellison (IIRC the only Muslim in Congress), and possibly Michelle Bachman (representative) and Paul Wellstone (senator). It can get pretty colorful on the lower levels, also.

In defense of Jesse "the governor" Ventura, he did a pretty good job at running the state, although I never thought he had a real vision for where it should go. The guy hired competent advisers and listened to them, always a good thing in a politician.

Comment: Re:Franken/Warren (or Warren/Franken) 2016! (Score 1) 76

The NDAA is the appropriation act for the entire military, and at times in the process a legislator must vote yes or no on an entire bill without chances for amendment. A lot of crap gets through that way. I'd like to see strict limits about germaneness of amendments in both Houses, but we don't have that.

I wasn't following that. How did the detention get into the bill? Was it ever voted on or discussed in the Senate? (For all I know, it could have come entirely from the House of Representatives, and left in by the conference committee.) What's Franken's record on that issue itself?

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