Prediction Markets for Science: Preliminary Review and Thoughts

Science is often heralded as the pinnacle of rational inquiry: the premier method of acquiring truth about the world, and the standard against which all other methods of investigation should be judged. However, this has not immunized science from charges of irrationality and bias. From Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, to sociologists of science such as Barry Barnes and Bruno Latour, to present-day critical “skeptics” of climate science or Darwinian evolution, science seems to be under continual attack as a source of reliable, objective knowledge. Nevertheless, few argue that there is any better option. Current critics of modern Darwinian theory, for instance, do not claim that science has nothing to tell us about human origins, but rather claim that their methodology—intelligent design theory—is the true way of doing science. Similarly, global warming skeptics do not claim that science has nothing to tell us about the Earth’s climate, but rather claim that the purported scientific consensus around global warming is false and that an objective scientific assessment of the evidence does not support the “consensus” position. Debates today are not over whether science should be done, but how it should be done, and who is really doing science (Brown 2009).

It might come as a surprise, then, that there is a rival epistemic system to science that claims not just to avoid science’s vulnerability to ideological bias, but to react to new information both correctly and (nearly) instantaneously. That system is, of course, the market.

This post contains some of my initial research and thoughts on the use of a particular kind of market—the prediction market—within science. For some areas of science that involve widely dispersed knowledge and relatively concrete empirical predictions, such as climate science, prediction markets have many appealing features for improving research practices. They also offer potential alternative structures for funding scientific research. However, there are many reasons to be skeptical of proposals to integrate prediction markets into science. Some of these reasons are linked to the structure of markets in general, while others are specific to prediction markets or prediction markets for scientific facts. A more full discussion of prediction markets and science will form a chapter of my dissertation.…

Weekly Roundup

Why do dogs romp in the snow? Because it’s fun, of course!

Acclaimed biologist Lewis Wolpert has apologized for using the unattributed work of published papers, websites, and Wikipedia in his 2011 popular science book on ageing, You’re Looking Very Well, which has now been withdrawn by his publisher Faber & Faber. Wolpert, in his 80s, also included unattributed material in a not-yet-published manuscript, Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man? This case joins other recent high-profile cases including Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope (plagiarism) and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works (quote fabrication).

A new study in PNAS links metabolism and lifespan in mammals, attributing primates’ longevity to differences in energy usage.

Puberty at 5? “Precocious” is right.

Dick Swaab, a neurobiologist from Amsterdam University, presented controversial results from his new book We Are Our Brains on mothers’ lifestyle choices and infants’ development (including their sexuality and IQ) in an interview with the Sunday Times (paywall-protected; summarized in the Telegraph). Swaab’s description of homosexuality, along with lower IQ and autism, as the result of fetal exposure to toxins, is troubling to some.…

Weekly Roundup

Experts are divided on whether our mobile technologies isolate us or bring us together.

The Doomsday Clock is still at 5 minutes to midnight; the same rating as 2007, 2012, and last year.

We’re not eating our vegetables, and those unhealthy habits at home contribute to obesity even more than fast food does. But reaching for the diet soda is no remedy, as overweight adults choosing sugar-free drinks tend to eat more.

Do you hate applying for grants? With this proposed decentralized alternative, scientists would crowd-fund each other’s work while enjoying a fixed annual research stipend. [via Marginal Revolution]

Charter schools, which operate independently but receive public funding, are subverting the separation of church and state with “stealth creationism” and other agendas of the religious right, reports Zach Kopplin for Slate.

Archeologists describe Roman headhunting taking place in Britain around the 2nd century AD, based on improved forensic work on skulls recovered in London in 1988.

The best part of waking up is remembering what happened yesterday: caffeine ingested after a study session improved subjects’ retention after 24 hours.…

Weekly Roundup

Libricide”: After pledging to close numerous important Canadian scientific archives and collections, the Harper Government has destroyed their contents. The large-scale burning and dumping of material was not preceded by the promised digitization effort, according to many scientists.

Casual sit-down eateries may be worse, or at least no better, than fast-food restaurants; their offerings are high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, according to a new paper in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. You can listen to the journal’s interview with lead author Amy H. Auchincloss here [via Jezebel]

Requirements that workers obtain a doctor’s note when they are sick strain the health care system and put others at risk of illness, especially during flu season, argues the president of the Ontario Medical Association.

NPR describes how a Canadian fruit company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, have developed Arctic® non-browning GM apples in Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties; these apples have no need for antioxidant preservatives when sold in packaged slices and will substantially reduce costs. But other apple producers are concerned that apples will lose their “natural” reputation, resulting in anti-GMO customers avoid apples completely.

In a personal essay, Amy Parker describes the perils of her unvaccinated childhood in the 70s, arguing that if medical and public health evidence in favour of vaccines have not swayed the anti-vaxx movement and its correlative anecdotes, pro-vaxx anecdotes may help fight fire with fire. [via Slate]

Tiger Mother” and Yale law professor Amy Chua has a forthcoming book coauthored with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, employing “specious stats and anecdotal evidence” to argue that certain cultural groups are better than others. The titular Triple Package refers to the trifecta of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control that lead to economic, political, and cultural power.…

Weekly Roundup – Happy New Year Edition

It’s been a big year on the science front, and that means taking stock:

In the face of strong criticism, including a condemnation from the American Association of University Professors, the Kansas Board of Regents has reconsidered its new social media policy for public university professors. The decision made employees’ “improper” posts on social media (defined widely as “any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube”) a fireable offence. Worryingly, any communication deemed “contrary to the best interest of the university” could fall under this policy, which was prompted by University of Kansas tenured professor David W. Guth’s incendiary anti-NRA tweet in light of the Washington Navy Yard shooting; Guth was temporarily suspended. The decision has led to much debate over professors’ freedom of speech; reflexively, KSU English professor Philip Nel pointed out that even his blogging about the situation could be construed as grounds for termination.

Dolphin teens, always up to no good, “deliberately get high” from chewing on pufferfish.

Dogs prefer to poop along Earth’s north-south magnetic field.

Do plants think? Michael Pollan explores research in the controversial field of “plant neurobiology” in an essay for the New Yorker. [via kottke]…