March has been busy here at the Roundup; so much so that it would be inaccurate to call this one “weekly.” I hope what we lack in punctuality we make up for in the sheer bulk of relevant stories below.
A paper on the biomechanics of the hand was retracted from PLOS ONE due specifically to mentions of a “Creator” that had passed unnoticed through the peer review process. Some think retraction was the wrong move, as it was motivated by swift Twitter mockery (#Creatorgate) and not necessarily by best editorial practices.
Nutrition is a confusing field, perhaps in part because studies funded by the food industry have a bias in favour of the food they produce. When nutrition researcher Marion Nestle compiled industry-funded studies on her blog, Food Politics, over 90 percent had results favourable to their funders.
If you let the Internet name your polar research vessel, I hope you’re ready for a polar research vessel named “RSS Boaty McBoatface.” This should be no surprise after crowdsourced poll results led to the “Chuck Norris” Slovakian bridge or the “COLBERT” ISS module. Sadly, both proved unsuccessful; the Slovak lawmakers decided on the “Freedom Cycling-Bridge”; and NASA went with the name Tranquility instead, but threw the comedian a bone with a backronym for a new ISS treadmill).
Algorithmic face and body recognition systems have trouble with diverse faces and bodies, a symptom of ill-considered design delectably lampooned in 2012 by office comedy Better Off Ted. Rose Eveleth at Motherboard explores how this relates to the lack of diversity in STEM.
It’s another Sokal scandal; this time, doggy-style. A paper on the role of alsatians in the history of totalitarianism turns out to be an elaborate hoax designed to mock the “animal turn,” the field of human-animal studies, and what the perpetuators [link to German site] interpret as the faddishness of the humanities, which they believe ought to be dedicated to social criticism. Responding to the hoax, animal studies scholars defended their research interest [also in German]. The ruse included a fabricated CV, a “satirical” performance of a research presentation at an academic conference, and a paper good enough to pass peer review in the German journal Totalitarianism and Democracy. It’s a shame, because the paper sounded really good.
Famed astrophysicist, public science advocate, and vest-wearer Neil deGrasse Tyson has caused a Twitter ruckus by opining on biological matters, claiming that organisms for whom sex was painful would be long extinct, and attempting to clarify that celibacy could not be inherited. Biologists quickly pointed out the many errors and mistaken assumptions in these tweets, and gave Tyson a taste of his own medicine with #BiologistSpaceFacts. It is not uncommon for prominent scientists to hold forth outside their areas of expertise (the phenomenon has particular prominence in Nobel Prize winners, and is claimed to be common in physicists). Disappointingly, it’s also not uncommon for public science communicators to misunderstand and denigrate the field of philosophy.
Preeminent philosopher Hilary Putnam has died. Obituaries focus on the remarkable breadth and relevance of his research interests, as well as his capacity to revisit and overturn previously-held views.
Here’s an interactive chart of PhD distribution by gender, worldwide, based on data from the NSF.
Hospital funding is tied to patient satisfaction surveys. That sounds great, argues Atlantic author Alexandra Robbins, until the patient-as-consumer model gets in the way of effective care.
The CDC recommends restricting painkiller prescription and dosage to combat addiction.
Lies, damn lies, and P values: there are increasing calls for the end of oversimplified significance.