Weekly Roundup

Jonah Lehrer of The New Yorker argues for the existence of a common phenomenon in science called “the decline effect”, which is that large effects observed in an experiment tend to become smaller and smaller in subsequent replications. While the paper raises some interesting claims, there are still good grounds to remain skeptical about the reality of this effect, and about the author’s explanation of his findings.

On the popular American radio show Radiolab, recorded live at the New York Public Library, Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) and Kevin Kelly (author of What Technology Wants) discuss the question of technological determinism and the evolution of technology.

On Ether Wave Propaganda, historian of science Will Thomas argues that historians need to worry less about their engagement with the realm of public ideas.

Police at Harvard are investigating vandalism with urine to about 40 books dealing with LGBT matters at the school’s Lamont Library, the student newspaper The Crimson reports.

James Gleick writes about the history of the word “information” and how it has changed in meaning over time.

Sokal’s Hoax – the posterior version. Embryologist John McLachlan has proposed a new form of reflexology – on the buttocks. As a treatment technique, he suggested applying “gentle suction” on parts of the buttocks that are associated with different areas of the body. He sent an abstract of his theory to the Jerusalem International Conference on Integrative Medicine, which was accepted. In a letter to the British Medical Journal he later explained that this had been a hoax intended to expose the absurdity of alternative medicine. In a talkback comment on the Israeli news site Ynet, conference organizer Avraham Fried wrote1  that the actual problem in this case was McLachlan’s willingness to lie and infringe the scientific norm of trust to make his point, and he resented that the BMJ did not ask for his response.

2 Comments

  • Curtis Forbes
    Curtis Forbes Reply

    I’m with Fried on this one, just like I was with Andrew Ross (the editor of the volume) on the Sokal Affair. The story here is that scientists will lie and decieve to protect their epistemic and cognitive authority. That’s a social problem.

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