Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis



How Data Can Appear in Science Papers — Out of Thin Air!

At Retraction Watch, Gary Smith explains how one author team apparently copy pasted missing data about green innovation in various countries

Recently, Retraction Watch, a site that helps keeps science honest, noted some statistical peculiarities about a paper last September in the Journal of Clean Energy, “Green innovations and patents in OECD countries.” The site was tipped off by a PhD student in economics that “For several countries, observations for some of the variables the study tracked were completely absent.” But that wasn’t the big surprise. The big surprise was when the student wrote to one of the authors: In email correspondence seen by Retraction Watch and a follow-up Zoom call, [Almas] Heshmati told the student he had used Excel’s autofill function to mend the data. He had marked anywhere from two to four observations before or after the missing values Read More ›

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Bigfoot and Trust in Science: A Cautionary Tale

Of three men searching for Bigfoot in 1969 — a hunting guide, an enthusiast, and a physical anthropologist, which seemed surest that the monster was real?
Fruitful science depends in part upon character as well as intelligence and training. A dose of humility seldom goes unrewarded. Read More ›
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Why Is Theology the Most Important Empirical Science?

Arguing pro or con about the existence of God has resulted in many successful and/or widely accepted theories in science
If generating testable theories in empirical science is the standard of success, theology has certainly succeeded, as the record will show. Read More ›
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Scientists Attempt an Honest Look at Why We Trust Science Less

Contemplating the depressing results of a recent Pew survey, a molecular biologist and a statistician take aim at growing corruption in science

Molecular biologist Henry Miller and statistician S. Stanley Young have written an article at the Genetic Literacy Project on why trust in science is at an all time low. The Project’s motto is “Science Not Ideology” — a tall aspiration in theses times. To be honest, going in, I braced myself for the usual stuff: Politicians don’t fund science enough; the public is full of ignorant hillbillies who believe evangelists, not scientists; most reporters flunked science so they can’t explain why people should trust the science! or else the planet is doomed… and so forth. Well, I am glad to be wrong. Miller and Young’s article is a serious look at the current scandals in science around data manipulation that Read More ›

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Five Trends That Help Us Make Sense of Space Science Today

The five trends noted below aren’t the only trends of importance but they are worth noting — they result in the kinds of stories that keep appearing in one form or another because the concept has enduring appeal. 1.The multiverse persists as a belief without evidence. At Cosmic Log, science writer Alan Boyle discusses why scientists take the multiverse — the idea that there might be an infinite number of universes — seriously? He points to the book The Allure of the Multiverse (Basic Books 2024) by Saint Joseph’s University physicist Paul Halpern: Scientists have searched for traces of the multiverse at work in the temperature variations of cosmic microwave background radiation — the so-called afterglow of the Big Bang. Read More ›

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Citizen Scientist Forrest Mims Tells His Remarkable Life Story

In his new book “Maverick Scientist,” he details the ups and downs of an extraordinarily productive life in science, with few credentials to hide behind

Forrest M. Mims III (1944–) has so many accomplishments in science and electronics — with little formal training — that they would make your head spin. Getting Started in Electronics, originally written for RadioShack (now the Source), is one of dozens of electronics books Mims has produced over the years, sold more than 1.3 million copies. Introducing his autobiography, Maverick Scientist: My Adventures as an Amateur Scientist (Make Community, LLC, April 2024), the publisher notes, At thirteen he invented a new method of rocket control. At seventeen he designed and built an analog computer that could translate Russian into English and that the Smithsonian collected as an example of an early hobby computer. While majoring in government at Texas A&M Read More ›

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Will Scientists Be Forced to Consider the Occult as Science?

When the World Economic Forum invited a witch to Davos to offer incantations, it was more than just window dressing

In the aftermath of the recent plagiarism scandal at Harvard University, in which president Claudine Gay had to resign, one commentator at the Wall Street Journal reminded readers of something she had said earlier. Her earlier, disastrous testimony before Congress on anti-Semitism paved the way for the scandal. Her response to the subsequent widespread criticism was that she had failed to convey “my truth.” Hold on to that phrase. It represents a shift in the intellectual currents of our time. “My truth” or (for grammatical convenience) “private truth” is making serious headway against public truth. That headway is beginning to impact science, as we shall see in later posts. But first it impacts culture. A witch at Davos In line Read More ›

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Fighting Pseudoscience With Empathy? Try a Little Humility First…

The accusation of “pseudoscience,” under the current science regime, has often become little more than an elite-driven smear against inconvenient data

Stony Brook astrophysicist Paul Sutter has decided to take on the big topic of pseudoscience, which, he says, he encounters “everywhere I go.” He admits that there is no clear definition of pseudoscience. For example, is controversial string theory, which he supports, pseudoscience? Some say it is “practically pseudoscience.” He says no. But happily, he has a personal definition: “pseudoscience has the skin of science but misses its soul.” The soul of science? It involves skills like rigor, where we take our own statements seriously and follow them to their full logical conclusions. Or humility, where we learn to accept that any statement can be proven wrong at any time. There’s also fundamental skepticism, in that we allow the evidence Read More ›

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A Biochemist Begins To Sense the Limits of Materialism

William Reville seems both confident and uncertain at the same time that science can crack the problem of consciousness

Irish biochemist William Reville, has been the first Officer for the Public Awareness and Understanding of Science at University College, Cork — the sort of post Richard Dawkins has at Oxford. Reville, author of Understanding the Natural World: Science Today (Irish Times Books 1999), informed us last week that “There is every reason to believe that consciousness will eventually yield to scientific analysis just as the general nature of life yielded”. I was somewhat taken aback. What does he mean by the “general nature of life” yielded to scientific analysis? True, we now know vastly more than we used to about life in all its forms. But, as James Tour’s ongoing debates with fellow scientists attest, no one has any Read More ›

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Being a Good Scientist Doesn’t Mean Being an Effective Leader

Francis Collins admits that they botched the COVID-19 response.

Dr. Francis Collins may be a brilliant geneticist — he headed the very successful Human Genome Project among other laudable achievements — but he has been a disappointing public-health leader and public intellectual. Collins headed the NIH between 2009 and 2021, and was on the front lines of the COVID policy response. Alas, his work in that effort left very much to be desired. Indeed, the other day, he issued something of a mea culpa for being unduly focused on preventing COVID deaths and not enough on the devastating societal impacts his advocated policies caused. In an interview, he said: The public health people — we talked about this earlier and this really important point — if you’re a public health Read More ›

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Science vs Religion Debate: Uselessness Cubed

Science no longer means anything like what Dr. Pierre hopes that it does

One of the more useless debates we encounter is “science vs. religion.” Many people approach their religion as a form of science and many other people approach their science as a form of religion. Earlier this year, San Francisco psychiatrist Joseph M. Pierre offered some thoughts recently in Psychology Today, on whether religious faith is compatible with scientific thinking: Here are some of his thoughts and some responses: Faith—that is, choosing to believe something in the absence of evidence—is a normal process for dealing with uncertainty around those kinds of questions. Joe Pierre, “Is Religious Faith Compatible With Scientific Thinking?”Psychology Today, November 14, 2023 Actually, wait. In the vast majority of cases, faith is not belief in the absence of Read More ›

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Medical Journal Crosses a Whole New Line

Is blaming commercialism for global warming genuine science? Or just ideology?

The Lancet is at it again. Having previously strived mightily to transform global warming into a planetary health emergency, it has now published a screed attacking “commercialism” for killing the planet. Besides repeating the usual bromides about the need to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and transform food production into “regenerative agriculture” — which probably means no more meat — the piece uses the usual politically progressive anti-clarity lexicon that turns the prose of leftist advocacy into impenetrable gobbledygook. From “Climate Change Mitigation: Tackling the Commercial Determinants of Planetary Health Inequity,” by Australian National University’s professor of “health equity” Sharon Friel: Taking this bold mitigation action requires disrupting the consumptogenic system — the system of institutions, actors, multisectoral policies, commercial activities, and norms Read More ›

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Do Scientists Need to Learn to Lie More Believably?

As public trust in science diminishes, one serious proposal that scientists should manipulate our beliefs for our own good

Australian philosopher and medic Chris Ellis thinks that science writers should quit telling everyone that the universe is a meaningless void, even though he seems to think it is: We live in a deterministic world without free will, yet we must choose to accept science and prevent climate change. And we must act now! 1.The universe is destined to end in a dead, freezing void and life has no meaning. But we must prevent climate change so our planet does not become a dead, overheated void – and we can continue our meaningless lives. 2.As a result of these paradoxes, those who do not align with science’s claims about the fundamental nature of the universe may not accept scientific arguments Read More ›

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Hossenfelder vs Goff: Debate About Electrons Sparks Social Media!

The public has not suddenly become interested in whether electrons exist. Rather, more people are using new media for an increasingly broad array of purposes.

It says a lot about how media are changing that panpsychist philosophy professor Philip Goff and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder were in a bit of a verbal tussle at X (formerly Twitter) recently on whether electrons really exist. That sort of debate once inhabited historic lecture rooms, exalted think tanks, and the better science magazines. Now, the public has not suddenly become interested in whether electrons exist. Rather, more people are using new media for an increasingly broad array of purposes. X is no longer just a place where a poorly thought out remark on a sensitive subject can ruin a career. The discussion was definitely not a Twitter troll flame war. It was more like this: We can't observe Read More ›

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Attempt To Tackle Censorship in Science Begins Well, Falls Flat

Scientists, we are told, censor “for the greater good.” Well yes, but ALL censors say that. Has anyone ever censored explicitly “for the greater harm”?

A just-published open-access paper on censorship in science has an fairly readable abstract so let me quote most of it: … Popular narratives suggest that scientific censorship is driven by authoritarian officials with dark motives, such as dogmatism and intolerance. Our analysis suggests that scientific censorship is often driven by scientists, who are primarily motivated by self-protection, benevolence toward peer scholars, and prosocial concerns for the well-being of human social groups. This perspective helps explain both recent findings on scientific censorship and recent changes to scientific institutions, such as the use of harm-based criteria to evaluate research. We discuss unknowns surrounding the consequences of censorship and provide recommendations for improving transparency and accountability in scientific decision-making to enable the exploration Read More ›

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Is Science Slipping Away on Us by Degrees?

Science writers weigh in on misrepresentation of science history, reasons for loss of trust, and whether physics is ripe for a revolution

Science writers have been thinking about the present and future position of science recently. Here are three interesting recent examples: Is science just cultural knowledge? In Horizons (Mariner 2022), University of Warwick science historian James Poskett argues that modern science did not really originate in Western Europe as often supposed: “Modern science wasn’t invented in Europe but came about as part of a global exchange”: We are usually told that modern science was invented in Europe sometime between 1500 and 1700. This was an era in which a small group of European pioneers overturned ancient superstition and developed the first modern scientific theories. Think of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and his heliocentric model of the universe or English mathematician Isaac Read More ›

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Pew: Post-COVID, Trust in Science Dropped Significantly

Most other institutions have taken a hit in trust as well. But what would it take for science in particular to pull out?

The slogan Trust the Science!, squawked from so many outlets in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak, may have backfired — if Pew Research findings are any guide. Public trust in science has continued to decline, both among Democrats and among Republicans: Overall, 57% of Americans say science has had a mostly positive effect on society. This share is down 8 percentage points since November 2021 and down 16 points since before the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Brian Kennedy and Alec Tyson, “Americans’ Trust in Scientists, Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline,” Pew Research, November 14, 2023 As Kennedy and Tyson point out, declining trust is not a new phenomenon; there has been a slow decline in trust in Read More ›

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Yes, the Film on Near-Death Experiences Is Another “Hated Hit”

As with Sound of Freedom, critics trashed After Death but audiences loved it. And the critics just aren’t keeping up with the science

Back in mid-October, I asked a question: Would Angel Studios’ new film about near-death experiences, After Death hit the marketplace the same way as their Sound of Freedom? While SoF was trashed by fashionable media, it outgrossed some of the biggest films at the box office. Will After Death, directed by Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke, meet the same fate? its basic message is the way in which NDEs are becoming an intersection of science/medicine and faith and it will be interesting to see how the fashionable media react to that. Well, we have our answer and it is, perhaps not surprisingly, yes and yes. The film is a hit. From its October 27 opening through early November, it has Read More ›

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Blue Zone BS: The Longevity Cluster Myth

We need to be reminded how much real science has done for us and how real science is done.

I recently tried to watch the television series, “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” which Netflix promotes as “an insightful adventure through longevity hotspots around the world.” The enthusiastic host, Dan Buettner, seems to be genuinely driven to help us all live to 100. I alternated between laughing and groaning, and then gave up. Real science is currently under siege, pummeled by conspiracy nuts and undermined internally by a replication crisis created by sloppy science. We need to be reminded how much real science has done for us and how real science is done. The Blue Zone BS is not helpful. To the contrary, it promotes sloppy science. In 2004 a team led by Michel Poulain and Gianni Read More ›

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How Media Have Helped To Corrupt Science

Traditional popular media, science media, and science journalists have all helped create a situation where we can’t afford to Trust the Science!

Last week, I talked about five ways traditional media changed in the age of the internet. They boil down to this: Major media no longer really represent a vast number of average audience members so we must largely develop and curate our own news sources. Here are three items I came across that might help illustrate what that means. An article by James B. Meigs in City Journal chronicles the way in which government officials were very much less than honest with the public about COVID’s causes and cures. That’s a story worth telling. But for now, I’d like to focus on his account of the way media generally showed zero skepticism and played a significant role in generating and Read More ›