Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Critical Failure - colleges fail to improve students’ critical-thinking https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15c7d23702d396cb https://www.wsj.com/articles/exclusive-test-data-many-colleges-fail-to-improve-critical-thinking-skills-1496686662?mod=djem10point Exclusive test data show that many colleges fail to improve students’ critical-thinking skills. Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at thinking. At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, our analysis of the latest results found. At some of the most prestigious universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. Instead, some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished on arrival. We examine the questions the test raises about the purpose of a college degree.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Minding matter [[against materialim]] The closer you look, the more the materialist position in physics appears to rest on shaky metaphysical ground https://aeon.co/essays/materialism-alone-cannot-explain-the-riddle-of-consciousness [[Not easy reading but a good introduction to one facet of the weakness of materialism.]] Bits of stuff called matter. Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum Adam Frank is professor of astronomy at the University of Rochester in New York and the co-founder of NPR's blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture where he is also a regular contributor. He is the author of several books, the latest being About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang (2011). FOLLOWADAM 3,500 words Edited by Corey S Powell REPUBLISH - LICENCE ONLY 9,274Tweet If consciousness is not a purely material problem, how can we best make sense of it? 498 Responses Materialism holds the high ground these days in debates over that most ultimate of scientific questions: the nature of consciousness. When tackling the problem of mind and brain, many prominent researchers advocate for a universe fully reducible to matter. ‘Of course you are nothing but the activity of your neurons,’ they proclaim. That position seems reasonable and sober in light of neuroscience’s advances, with brilliant images of brains lighting up like Christmas trees while test subjects eat apples, watch movies or dream. And aren’t all the underlying physical laws already known? From this seemly hard-nosed vantage, the problem of consciousness seems to be just one of wiring, as the American physicist Michio Kaku argued in The Future of the Mind (2014). In the very public version of the debate over consciousness, those who advocate that understanding the mind might require something other than a ‘nothing but matter’ position are often painted as victims of wishful thinking, imprecise reasoning or, worst of all, an adherence to a mystical ‘woo’. It’s hard not to feel the intuitional weight of today’s metaphysical sobriety. Like Pickett’s Charge up the hill at Gettysburg, who wants to argue with the superior position of those armed with ever more precise fMRIs, EEGs and the other material artefacts of the materialist position? There is, however, a significant weakness hiding in the imposing-looking materialist redoubt. It is as simple as it is undeniable: after more than a century of profound explorations into the subatomic world, our best theory for how matter behaves still tells us very little about what matter is. Materialists appeal to physics to explain the mind, but in modern physics the particles that make up a brain remain, in many ways, as mysterious as consciousness itself. When I was a young physics student I once asked a professor: ‘What’s an electron?’ His answer stunned me. ‘An electron,’ he said, ‘is that to which we attribute the properties of the electron.’ That vague, circular response was a long way from the dream that drove me into physics, a dream of theories that perfectly described reality. Like almost every student over the past 100 years, I was shocked by quantum mechanics, the physics of the micro-world. In place of a clear vision of little bits of matter that explain all the big things around us, quantum physics gives us a powerful yet seemly paradoxical calculus. With its emphasis on probability waves, essential uncertainties and experimenters disturbing the reality they seek to measure, quantum mechanics made imagining the stuff of the world as classical bits of matter (or miniature billiard balls) all but impossible. Like most physicists, I learned how to ignore the weirdness of quantum physics. ‘Shut up and calculate!’ (the dictum of the American physicist David Mermin) works fine if you are trying to get 100 per cent on your Advanced Quantum Theory homework or building a laser. But behind quantum mechanics’ unequaled calculational precision lie profound, stubbornly persistent questions about what those quantum rules imply about the nature of reality – including our place in it. Those questions are well-known in the physics community, but perhaps our habit of shutting up has been a little too successful. A century of agnosticism about the true nature of matter hasn’t found its way deeply enough into other fields, where materialism still appears to be the most sensible way of dealing with the world and, most of all, with the mind. Some neuroscientists think that they’re being precise and grounded by holding tightly to materialist credentials. Molecular biologists, geneticists, and many other types of researchers – as well as the nonscientist public – have been similarly drawn to materialism’s seeming finality. But this conviction is out of step with what we physicists know about the material world – or rather, what we don’t know. Albert Einstein and Max Planck introduced the idea of the quantum at the beginning of the 20th century, sweeping away the old classical view of reality. We have never managed to come up with a definitive new reality to take its place. The interpretation of quantum physics remains as up for grabs as ever. As a mathematical description of solar cells and digital circuits, quantum mechanics works just fine. But if one wants to apply the materialist position to a concept as subtle and profound as consciousness, something more must clearly be asked for. The closer you look, the more it appears that the materialist (or ‘physicalist’) position is not the safe harbor of metaphysical sobriety that many desire. Get Aeon straight to your inbox Email address Daily Weekly SUBSCRIBE For physicists, the ambiguity over matter boils down to what we call the measurement problem, and its relationship to an entity known as the wave function. Back in the good old days of Newtonian physics, the behaviour of particles was determined by a straightforward mathematical law that reads F = ma. You applied a force F to a particle of mass m, and the particle moved with acceleration a. It was easy to picture this in your head. Particle? Check. Force? Check. Acceleration? Yup. Off you go. The equation F = ma gave you two things that matter most to the Newtonian picture of the world: a particle’s location and its velocity. This is what physicists call a particle’s state. Newton’s laws gave you the particle’s state for any time and to any precision you need. If the state of every particle is described by such a simple equation, and if large systems are just big combinations of particles, then the whole world should behave in a fully predictable way. Many materialists still carry the baggage of that old classical picture. It’s why physics is still widely regarded as the ultimate source of answers to questions about the world, both outside and inside our heads. In Isaac Newton’s physics, position and velocity were indeed clearly defined and clearly imagined properties of a particle. Measurements of the particle’s state changed nothing in principle. The equation F = ma was true whether you were looking at the particle or not. All of that fell apart as scientists began probing at the scale of atoms early last century. In a burst of creativity, physicists devised a new set of rules known as quantum mechanics. A critical piece of the new physics was embodied in Schrödinger’s equation. Like Newton’s F = ma, the Schrödinger equation represents mathematical machinery for doing physics; it describes how the state of a particle is changing. But to account for all the new phenomena physicists were finding (ones Newton knew nothing about), the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had to formulate a very different kind of equation. When calculations are done with the Schrödinger equation, what’s left is not the Newtonian state of exact position and velocity. Instead, you get what is called the wave function (physicists refer to it as psi after the Greek symbol Ψ used to denote it). Unlike the Newtonian state, which can be clearly imagined in a commonsense way, the wave function is an epistemological and ontological mess. The wave function does not give you a specific measurement of location and velocity for a particle; it gives you only probabilities at the root level of reality. Psi appears to tell you that, at any moment, the particle has many positions and many velocities. In effect, the bits of matter from Newtonian physics are smeared out into sets of potentials or possibilities. How can there be one rule for the objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement? It’s not just position and velocity that get smeared out. The wave function treats all properties of the particle (electric charge, energy, spin, etc) the same way. They all become probabilities holding many possible values at the same time. Taken at face value, it’s as if the particle doesn’t have definite properties at all. This is what the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, meant when he advised people not to think of atoms as ‘things’. Even at this basic level, the quantum perspective adds a lot of blur to any materialist convictions of what the world is built from. Then things get weirder still. According to the standard way of treating the quantum calculus, the act of making a measurement on the particle kills off all pieces of the wave function, except the one your instruments register. The wave function is said to collapse as all the smeared-out, potential positions or velocities vanish in the act of measurement. It’s like the Schrödinger equation, which does such a great job of describing the smeared-out particle before the measurement is made, suddenly gets a pink slip. You can see how this throws a monkey wrench into a simple, physics-based view of an objective materialist world. How can there be one mathematical rule for the external objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement occurs? For a hundred years now, physicists and philosophers have been beating the crap out of each other (and themselves) trying to figure out how to interpret the wave function and its associated measurement problem. What exactly is quantum mechanics telling us about the world? What does the wave function describe? What really happens when a measurement occurs? Above all, what is matter? There are today no definitive answers to these questions. There is not even a consensus about what the answers should look like. Rather, there are multiple interpretations of quantum theory, each of which corresponds to a very different way of regarding matter and everything made of it – which, of course, means everything. The earliest interpretation to gain force, the Copenhagen interpretation, is associated with Danish physicist Niels Bohr and other founders of quantum theory. In their view, it was meaningless to speak of the properties of atoms in-and-of-themselves. Quantum mechanics was a theory that spoke only to our knowledge of the world. The measurement problem associated with the Schrödinger equation highlighted this barrier between epistemology and ontology by making explicit the role of the observer (that is: us) in gaining knowledge. Not all researchers were so willing to give up on the ideal of objective access to a perfectly objective world, however. Some pinned their hopes on the discovery of hidden variables – a set of deterministic rules lurking beneath the probabilities of quantum mechanics. Others took a more extreme view. In the many-worlds interpretation espoused by the American physicist Hugh Everett, the authority of the wave function and its governing Schrödinger equation was taken as absolute. Measurements didn’t suspend the equation or collapse the wave function, they merely made the Universe split off into many (perhaps infinite) parallel versions of itself. Thus, for every experimentalist who measures an electron over here, a parallel universe is created in which her parallel copy finds the electron over there. The many-worlds Interpretation is one that many materialists favor, but it comes with a steep price. Here is an even more important point: as yet there is no way to experimentally distinguish between these widely varying interpretations. Which one you choose is mainly a matter of philosophical temperament. As the American theorist Christopher Fuchs puts it, on one side there are the psi-ontologists who want the wave function to describe the objective world ‘out there’. On the other side, there are the psi-epistemologists who see the wave function as a description of our knowledge and its limits. Right now, there is almost no way to settle the dispute scientifically (although a standard form of hidden variables does seem to have been ruled out). This arbitrariness of deciding which interpretation to hold completely undermines the strict materialist position. The question here is not if some famous materialist’s choice of the many-worlds interpretation is the correct one, any more than whether the silliness of The Tao of Physics and its quantum Buddhism is correct. The real problem is that, in each case, proponents are free to single out one interpretation over others because … well … they like it. Everyone, on all sides, is in the same boat. There can be no appeal to the authority of ‘what quantum mechanics says’, because quantum mechanics doesn’t say much of anything with regard to its own interpretation. Putting the perceiving subject back into physics seems to undermine the whole materialist perspective Each interpretation of quantum mechanics has its own philosophical and scientific advantages, but they all come with their own price. One way or another, they force adherents to take a giant step away from the kind of ‘naive realism’, the vision of little bits of deterministic matter, that was possible with the Newtonian world view; switching to a quantum ‘fields’ view doesn’t solve the problem. It was easy to think that the mathematical objects involved with Newtonian mechanics referred to real things out there in some intuitive way. But those ascribing to psi-ontology – sometimes called wave function realism – must now navigate a labyrinth of challenges in holding their views. The Wave Function (2013), edited by the philosophers Alyssa Ney and David Z Albert, describes many of these options, which can get pretty weird. Reading through the dense analyses quickly dispels any hope that materialism offers a simple, concrete reference point for the problem of consciousness. The attraction of the many-worlds interpretation, for instance, is its ability to keep the reality in the mathematical physics. In this view, yes, the wave function is real and, yes, it describes a world of matter that obeys mathematical rules, whether someone is watching or not. The price you pay for this position is an infinite number of parallel universes that are infinitely splitting off into an infinity of other parallel universes that then split off into … well, you get the picture. There is a big price to pay for the psi-epistemologist positions too. Physics from this perspective is no longer a description of the world in-and-of itself. Instead, it’s a description of the rules for our interaction with the world. As the American theorist Joseph Eberly says: ‘It’s not the electron’s wave function, it’s your wave function.’ A particularly cogent new version of the psi-epistemological position, called Quantum Bayesianism or QBism, raises this perspective to a higher level of specificity by taking the probabilities in quantum mechanics at face value. According to Fuchs, the leading proponent of QBism, the irreducible probabilities in quantum mechanics tell us that it’s really a theory about making bets on the world’s behaviour (via our measurements) and then updating our knowledge after those measurements are done. In this way, QBism points explicitly to our failure to include the observing subject that lies at the root of quantum weirdness. As Mermin wrote in the journal Nature: ‘QBism attributes the muddle at the foundations of quantum mechanics to our unacknowledged removal of the scientist from the science.’ Putting the perceiving subject back into physics would seem to undermine the whole materialist perspective. A theory of mind that depends on matter that depends on mind could not yield the solid ground so many materialists yearn for. It is easy to see how we got here. Materialism is an attractive philosophy – at least, it was before quantum mechanics altered our thinking about matter. ‘I refute it thus,’ said the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson kicking a large rock as refutation to arguments against materialism he’d just endured. Johnson’s stony drop-kick is the essence of a hard-headed (and broken-footed) materialist vision of the world. It provides an account of exactly what the world is made of: bits of stuff called matter. And since matter has properties that are independent and external to anything having to do with us, we can use that stuff to build a fully objective account of a fully objective world. This ball-and-stick vision of reality seems to inspire much of materialism’s public confidence about cracking the mystery of the human mind. Today, though, it is hard to reconcile that confidence with the multiple interpretations of quantum mechanics. Newtonian mechanics might be fine for explaining the activity of the brain. It can handle things such as blood flow through capillaries and chemical diffusion across synapses, but the ground of materialism becomes far more shaky when we attempt to grapple with the more profound mystery of the mind, meaning the weirdness of being an experiencing subject. In this domain, there is no avoiding the scientific and philosophical complications that come with quantum mechanics. First, the differences between the psi-ontological and psi-epistemological positions are so fundamental that, without knowing which one is correct, it’s impossible to know what quantum mechanics is intrinsically referring to. Imagine for a moment that something like the QBist interpretation of quantum mechanics were true. If this emphasis on the observing subject were the correct lesson to learn from quantum physics, then the perfect, objective access to the world that lies at the heart of materialism would lose a lot of wind. Put another way: if QBism or other Copenhagen-like views are correct, there could be enormous surprises waiting for us in our exploration of subject and object, and these would have to be included in any account of mind. On the other hand, old-school materialism – being a particular form of psi-ontology – would by necessity be blind to these kinds of additions. A second and related point is that, in the absence of experimental evidence, we are left with an irreducible democracy of possibilities. At a 2011 quantum theory meeting, three researchers conducted just such a poll, asking participants: ‘What is your favourite interpretation of quantum mechanics?’ (Six different models got votes, along with some preferences for ‘other’ and ‘no preference’.) As useful as this exercise might be for gauging researchers’ inclinations, holding a referendum for which interpretation should become ‘official’ at the next meeting of the American Physical Society (or the American Philosophical Society) won’t get us any closer to the answers we seek. Nor will stomping our feet, making loud proclamations, or name-dropping our favourite Nobel-prizewinning physicists. Rather than trying to sweep away the mystery of mind by attributing it to the mechanisms of matter, we must grapple with the intertwined nature of the two Given these difficulties, one must ask why certain weird alternatives suggested by quantum interpretations are widely preferred over others within the research community. Why does the infinity of parallel universes in the many-worlds interpretation get associated with the sober, hard-nosed position, while including the perceiving subject gets condemned as crossing over to the shores of anti-science at best, or mysticism at worst? It is in this sense that the unfinished business of quantum mechanics levels the playing field. The high ground of materialism deflates when followed to its quantum mechanical roots, because it then demands the acceptance of metaphysical possibilities that seem no more ‘reasonable’ than other alternatives. Some consciousness researchers might think that they are being hard-nosed and concrete when they appeal to the authority of physics. When pressed on this issue, though, we physicists are often left looking at our feet, smiling sheepishly and mumbling something about ‘it’s complicated’. We know that matter remains mysterious just as mind remains mysterious, and we don’t know what the connections between those mysteries should be. Classifying consciousness as a material problem is tantamount to saying that consciousness, too, remains fundamentally unexplained. Rather than sweeping away the mystery of mind by attributing it to the mechanisms of matter, we can begin to move forward by acknowledging where the multiple interpretations of quantum mechanics leave us. It’s been more than 20 years since the Australian philosopher David Chalmers introduced the idea of a ‘hard problem of consciousness’. Following work by the American philosopher Thomas Nagel, Chalmers pointed to the vividness – the intrinsic presence – of the perceiving subject’s experience as a problem no explanatory account of consciousness seems capable of embracing. Chalmers’s position struck a nerve with many philosophers, articulating the sense that there was fundamentally something more occurring in consciousness than just computing with meat. But what is that ‘more’? Some consciousness researchers see the hard problem as real but inherently unsolvable; others posit a range of options for its account. Those solutions include possibilities that overly project mind into matter. Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the Universe not contained in the laws of particles. There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of. Regardless of the direction ‘more’ might take, the unresolved democracy of quantum interpretations means that our current understanding of matter alone is unlikely to explain the nature of mind. It seems just as likely that the opposite will be the case. While the materialists might continue to wish for the high ground of sobriety and hard-headedness, they should remember the American poet Richard Wilbur’s warning: Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones: But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones. Physics History of Science Quantum The

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Global warming: thoughtful observations on reporting Richard Muller, Prof. Physics UC Berkeley, author "Physics for Future Presidents" What are some widely cited studies in the news that are false? Whenever I see the latest headline grabber article citing a certain study as evidence that doing something will cause you to be more rich or have a higher risk of cancer, I am always skeptical if they've really taken the steps to find a cause and effect, or if they are only looking for correlation. I'm looking of good examples of studies that people still talk about that have been clearly disproven and how. That 97% of all climate scientists accept that climate change is real, large, and a threat to the future of humanity. That 97% basically concur with the vast majority of claims made by Vice President Al Gore in his Nobel Peace Prize winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. The question asked in typical surveys is neither of those. It is this: “Do you believe that humans are affecting climate?” My answer would be yes. Humans are responsible for about a 1 degree C rise in the average temperature in the last 100 years. So I would be included as one of the 97% who believe. Yet the observed changes that are scientifically established, in my vast survey of the science, are confined to temperature rise and the resulting small (4-inch) rise in sea level. (The huge “sea level rise” seen in Florida is actually subsidence of the land mass, and is not related to global warming.) There is no significant change in the rate of storms, or of violent storms, including hurricanes and volcanoes. The temperature variability is not increasing. There is no scientifically significant increase in floods or droughts. Even the widely reported warming of Alaska (“the canary in the mine”) doesn’t match the pattern of carbon dioxide increase; and it may have an explanation in terms of changes in the northern Pacific and Atlantic currents. Moreover, the standard climate models have done a very poor job of predicting the temperature rise in Antarctica, so we must be cautious about the danger of confirmation bias. My friend Will Happer believes that humans do affect the climate, particularly in cities where concrete and energy use cause what is called the “urban heat island effect”. So he would be included in the 97% who believe that humans affect climate, even though he is usually included among the more intense skeptics of the IPCC. He also feels that humans cause a small amount of global warming (he isn’t convinced it is as large as 1 degree), but he does not think it is heading towards a disaster; he has concluded that the increase in carbon dioxide is good for food production, and has helped mitigate global hunger. Yet he would be included in the 97%. The problem is not with the survey, which asked a very general question. The problem is that many writers (and scientists!) look at that number and mischaracterize it. The 97% number is typically interpreted to mean that 97% accept the conclusions presented in An Inconvenient Truth by former Vice President Al Gore. That’s certainly not true; even many scientists who are deeply concerned by the small global warming (such as me) reject over 70% of the claims made by Mr. Gore in that movie (as did a judge in the UK; see the following link: Gore climate film's nine 'errors'). The pollsters aren’t to blame. Well, some of them are; they too can do a good poll and then misrepresent what it means. The real problem is that many people who fear global warming (include me) feel that it is necessary to exaggerate the meaning of the polls in order to get action from the public (don’t include me). There is another way to misrepresent the results of the polls. Yes, 97% of those polled believe that there is human caused climate change. How did they reach that decision? Was it based on a careful reading of the IPCC report? Was it based on their knowledge of the potential systematic uncertainties inherent in the data? Or was it based on their fear that opponents to action are anti-science, so we scientists have to get together and support each other. There is a real danger in people with Ph.D.s joining a consensus that they haven’t vetted professionally. I like to ask scientists who “believe” in global warming what they think of the data. Do they believe hurricanes are increasing? Almost never do I get the answer “Yes, I looked at that, and they are.” Of course they don’t say that, because if they did I would show them the actual data! Do they say, “I’ve looked at the temperature record, and I agree that the variability is going up”? No. Sometimes they will say, “There was a paper by Jim Hansen that showed the variability was increasing.” To which I reply, “I’ve written to Jim Hansen about that paper, and he agrees with me that it shows no such thing. He even expressed surprise that his paper has been so misinterpreted.” A really good question would be: “Have you studied climate change enough that you would put your scientific credentials on the line that most of what is said in An Inconvenient Truth is based on accurate scientific results?” My guess is that a large majority of the climate scientists would answer no to that question, and the true percentage of scientists who support the statement I made in the opening paragraph of this comment, that true percentage would be under 30%. That is an unscientific guestimate, based on my experience in asking many scientists about the claims of Al Gore.
Gone: Kahaneman on priming Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went off the Rails February 2, 2017Kahneman, Priming, r-index, Statistical Power, Thinking Fast and Slow Authors: Ulrich Schimmack, Moritz Heene, and Kamini Kesavan Abstract: We computed the R-Index for studies cited in Chapter 4 of Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow.” This chapter focuses on priming studies, starting with John Bargh’s study that led to Kahneman’s open email. The results are eye-opening and jaw-dropping. The chapter cites 12 articles and 11 of the 12 articles have an R-Index below 50. The combined analysis of 31 studies reported in the 12 articles shows 100% significant results with average (median) observed power of 57% and an inflation rate of 43%. The R-Index is 14. This result confirms Kahneman’s prediction that priming research is a train wreck and readers of his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” should not consider the presented studies as scientific evidence that subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness. Introduction In 2011, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman published a popular book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, about important finding in social psychology. In the same year, questions about the trustworthiness of social psychology were raised. A Dutch social psychologist had fabricated data. Eventually over 50 of his articles would be retracted. Another social psychologist published results that appeared to demonstrate the ability to foresee random future events (Bem, 2011). Few researchers believed these results and statistical analysis suggested that the results were not trustworthy (Francis, 2012; Schimmack, 2012). Psychologists started to openly question the credibility of published results. In the beginning of 2012, Doyen and colleagues published a failure to replicate a prominent study by John Bargh that was featured in Daniel Kahneman’s book. A few month later, Daniel Kahneman distanced himself from Bargh’s research in an open email addressed to John Bargh (Young, 2012): “As all of you know, of course, questions have been raised about the robustness of priming results…. your field is now the poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research… people have now attached a question mark to the field, and it is your responsibility to remove it… all I have personally at stake is that I recently wrote a book that emphasizes priming research as a new approach to the study of associative memory…Count me as a general believer… My reason for writing this letter is that I see a train wreck looming.” Five years later, Kahneman’s concerns have been largely confirmed. Major studies in social priming research have failed to replicate and the replicability of results in social psychology is estimated to be only 25% (OSC, 2015). Looking back, it is difficult to understand the uncritical acceptance of social priming as a fact. In “Thinking Fast and Slow” Kahneman wrote “disbelief is not an option. The results are not made up, nor are they statistical flukes. You have no choice but to accept that the major conclusions of these studies are true.” Yet, Kahneman could have seen the train wreck coming. In 1971, he co-authored an article about scientists’ “exaggerated confidence in the validity of conclusions based on small samples” (Tversky & Kahneman, 1971, p. 105). Yet, many of the studies described in Kahneman’s book had small samples. For example, Bargh’s priming study used only 30 undergraduate students to demonstrate the effect. From Daniel Kahneman I accept the basic conclusions of this blog. To be clear, I do so (1) without expressing an opinion about the statistical techniques it employed and (2) without stating an opinion about the validity and replicability of the individual studies I cited. What the blog gets absolutely right is that I placed too much faith in underpowered studies. As pointed out in the blog, and earlier by Andrew Gelman, there is a special irony in my mistake because the first paper that Amos Tversky and I published was about the belief in the “law of small numbers,” which allows researchers to trust the results of underpowered studies with unreasonably small samples. We also cited Overall (1969) for showing “that the prevalence of studies deficient in statistical power is not only wasteful but actually pernicious: it results in a large proportion of invalid rejections of the null hypothesis among published results.” Our article was written in 1969 and published in 1971, but I failed to internalize its message. My position when I wrote “Thinking, Fast and Slow” was that if a large body of evidence published in reputable journals supports an initially implausible conclusion, then scientific norms require us to believe that conclusion. Implausibility is not sufficient to justify disbelief, and belief in well-supported scientific conclusions is not optional. This position still seems reasonable to me – it is why I think people should believe in climate change. But the argument only holds when all relevant results are published. I knew, of course, that the results of priming studies were based on small samples, that the effect sizes were perhaps implausibly large, and that no single study was conclusive on its own. What impressed me was the unanimity and coherence of the results reported by many laboratories. I concluded that priming effects are easy for skilled experimenters to induce, and that they are robust. However, I now understand that my reasoning was flawed and that I should have known better. Unanimity of underpowered studies provides compelling evidence for the existence of a severe file-drawer problem (and/or p-hacking). The argument is inescapable: Studies that are underpowered for the detection of plausible effects must occasionally return non-significant results even when the research hypothesis is true – the absence of these results is evidence that something is amiss in the published record. Furthermore, the existence of a substantial file-drawer effect undermines the two main tools that psychologists use to accumulate evidence for a broad hypotheses: meta-analysis and conceptual replication. Clearly, the experimental evidence for the ideas I presented in that chapter was significantly weaker than I believed when I wrote it. This was simply an error: I knew all I needed to know to moderate my enthusiasm for the surprising and elegant findings that I cited, but I did not think it through. When questions were later raised about the robustness of priming results I hoped that the authors of this research would rally to bolster their case by stronger evidence, but this did not happen. I still believe that actions can be primed, sometimes even by stimuli of which the person is unaware. There is adequate evidence for all the building blocks: semantic priming, significant processing of stimuli that are not consciously perceived, and ideo-motor activation. I see no reason to draw a sharp line between the priming of thoughts and the priming of actions. A case can therefore be made for priming on this indirect evidence. But I have changed my views about the size of behavioral priming effects – they cannot be as large and as robust as my chapter suggested. I am still attached to every study that I cited, and have not unbelieved them, to use Daniel Gilbert’s phrase. I would be happy to see each of them replicated in a large sample. The lesson I have learned, however, is that authors who review a field should be wary of using memorable results of underpowered studies as evidence for their claims. Liked by 18 people Reply 1. Dr. R February 14, 2017 at 8:57 pm Dear Daniel Kahneman, Thank you for your response to my blog. Science relies on trust and we all knew that non-significant results were not published, but we had no idea how weak the published results were. Nobody expected a train-wreck of this magnitude. Hindsight (like my bias analysis of old studies) is 20/20. The real challenge is how the field and individuals respond to the evidence of a major crisis. I hope more senior psychologists will follow your example and work towards improving our science. Although we have fewer answers today than we thought we had five years ago, we still have many important questions that deserve a scientific answer. Dear Daniel Kahneman, there is another reason to be sceptical of many of the social priming studies. You wrote: “I still believe that actions can be primed, sometimes even by stimuli of which the person is unaware. There is adequate evidence for all the building blocks: semantic priming, significant processing of stimuli that are not consciously perceived, and ideo-motor activation. I see no reason to draw a sharp line between the priming of thoughts and the priming of actions.” However, there is an important constraint on subliminal priming that needs to be taken into account. That is, they are very short lived, on the order of seconds. So any claims that a masked prime affects behavior for an extend period of time seems at odd with these more basic findings. Perhaps social priming is more powerful than basic cognitive findings, but it does raise questions. Here is a link to an old paper showing that masked *repetition* priming is short-lived. Presumably semantic effects will be even more transient. Jeff Bowers https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kenneth_Forster/publication/232471563_Masked_repetition_priming_Lexical_activation_or_novel_memory_trace/links/56df0e5708ae9b93f79a89a2.pdf Liked by 1 person Reply 1. Hal Pashler February 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm Good point, Jeff. One might ask if this is something about repetition priming, but associative semantic priming is also fleeting. In our JEP:G paper failing to replicate money priming we noted “For example, Becker, Moscovitch, Behrmann, and Joordens (1997) found that lexical decision priming effects disappeared if the prime and target were separated by more than 15 seconds, and similar findings were reported by Meyer, Schvaneveldt, and Ruddy (1972). In brief, classic priming effects are small and transient even if the prime and measure are strongly associated (e.g., NURSE-DOCTOR), whereas money priming effects are [purportedly] large and relatively long-lasting even when the prime and measure are seemingly unrelated (e.g., a sentence related to money and the desire to be alone).” http://laplab.ucsd.edu/articles/RohrerPashlerHarris2015JEPG.pdf

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Here's How You Buy Your Way Onto The New York Times Bestsellers List Jeff Bercovici , FORBES STAFF http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/02/22/heres-how-you-buy-your-way-onto-the-new-york-times-bestsellers-list/#10ee05983fd1 I cover technology with an emphasis on social and digital media. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Delivering Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia) An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey. A film deal from Steven Spielberg. A debut at the top of The New York Times bestsellers list. These are the things every author craves most, and while the first two require the favor of a benevolent God, the third can be had by anyone with the ability to write a check -- a pretty big one. ResultSource, a San Diego-based marketing consultancy, specializes in getting books onto bestseller lists, according to The Wall Street Journal. For clients willing to pay enough, it will even guarantee a No. 1 spot. It does this by taking bulk sales and breaking them up into more organic-looking individual purchases, defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to "buy" bestseller status. And it's not cheap. Soren Kaplan, a business consultant and speaker, hired ResultSource to promote his book "Leapfrogging." Responding to the WSJ article on his website, Kaplan breaks out the economics of making the list. With a $27.95 list price, I was told that the cost of each book would total about $23.50 after various retail discounts and including $3.99 for tax, handling and shipping. To ensure a spot on The Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list, I needed to obtain commitments from my clients for a minimum of 3000 books at about $23.50, a total of about $70,500. I would need to multiply these numbers by a factor of about three to hit The New York Times list. So it would've cost more than $211,000, and that's before ResultSource's fee, which is typically more than $20,000. Kaplan settled for making the Journal's list, reaching the pre-sale figure of 3,000 by securing commitments from corporate clients, who agreed to buy copies as part of his speaking fees, and by buying copies for himself to resell at public appearances. Kaplan expresses significant reservations about taking part in what is essentially a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is. "It’s no wonder few people in the industry want to talk about bestseller campaigns," he writes "Put bluntly, they allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto bestseller lists." Yet ResultSource's methods aren't exactly secret. The company's website features an endorsement from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and a breakdown of the campaign it mounted behind his book "Delivering Happiness," which included a Groupon offering of 1,600 copies. Via a spokeswoman, Hsieh confirmed that he hired the firm and detailed the services it provided. (You can read Hsieh's full statement at the bottom of this post.) Still, Amazon disapproves strongly enough of ResultSource's methods that it told WSJ it will no longer do business with the company. What about the publishers of the various bestsellers lists -- particularly the all-important New York Times list? The Times's methodology (which you can find at the bottom of this page) samples sales from a diverse range of retail outlets, a measure specifically intended to weed out books whose sales surge is a product of artificial demand. Books that benefited from bulk sales are supposed to have a dagger icon next to them to denote that fact. Yet when Hsieh's book debuted on the list in 2009, it had no such symbol. I called and emailed the Times with several questions, including whether it was aware before today of ResultSource's activities. Here's the reply I got from a spokeswoman: "The New York Times comprehensively tracks and tabulates the weekly unit sales of all titles reported by book retailers as their general interest bestsellers. We will not comment beyond our methodology on the other questions. ResultSource CEO Kevin Small did not reply to a voicemail. Here's Tony Hsieh's full message: ResultSource booked us for various speaking events in many of our cities during our 2010 book tour, where we went to 23 cities over 3.5 months on the Delivering Happiness bus. For part one of our trip, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtiIXo9Id-s At many of those events, people paid to come watch me speak and receive an autographed copy of my book. ResultSource managed the speaking, book ordering, and distribution of the books for us during the tour. We're excited that the book has continued to do well over the years since the launch, and are also excited that the paperback version of the book will be coming out next month! Since the book launch, "Delivering Happiness" has spun off into a company, and now has its own apparel line as part of its mission to help spread the Delivering Happiness message: Kenneth Rapoza 4 years ago the best seller list is nothing but a scam. Its like the author comments on book jackets; Jeff’s thriller makes Steven King look like the Mickey Mouse club circa 1950 — by some famous author who is your BFF and read a whole two chapters in your book, OR is repped by the same agent/publisher. Ive interviewed “best sellers” and they and their agents told me that they had no idea how they got there, because total sales were 20k. Admit it, we all thought that a best seller sold millions of copies, or at least a few hundred thousand. 20k? You and I have written blog posts that have had more readers than that! Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • djvanderhoeven 4 years ago At least Amazon’s process is much more transparently flawed (and I do mean that as a good thing. Don’t know if you’re very familiar with the web comics community, but one of the more popular ones, Dinasaur Comics (www.qwantz.com) inspired an anthology of short stories written by readers and compiled by various web comic artists. It was called “Machine of Death”. Anyway, the authors used their considerable web tug to tell all of their readers to make sure to buy the book on Amazon on the a certain day. Guess what? A few thousand buys quickly knocked it up to a #1 best seller, and as a bonus, pissed off Glen Beck (whose book debuted below it on the Amazon list) at the same time. For what’s it’s worth, I’m one of those readers/orderers, and it really was a very good book. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • gbooker 4 years ago Yup, the same trick can be used to make a top selling record album. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • Marianne Canter 4 years ago All best seller lists can be bought. Whether I’m in a bookstore or buying online, I avoid the Top Ten racks and search for selections recommended by friends or co-workers. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • Katherine Sears 4 years ago And yet, it is the first thing people ask about my business (Booktrope Publishing): “how many bestsellers have you had?” My answer, “that depends”. Do you mean via Amazon, Barnes and Noble/Nook, the NYTimes? The latter who, in their policies, state they reserve the right to ignore books they deem unworthy (and who all acknowledge prefer companies who give them advertising dollars). Amazon, who makes no pretense of telling anyone how their lists are calculated at all – maybe it is fair, who knows? Barnes and Noble, who just says nothing at all. But, regardless of it all, readers do not care how a book made “the list”. They just want a trusted recommendation, and they don’t want to make an incremental effort to get it. Well, until there is an impartial source for the casual reader, those of us in the business will continue to do our best to work within the current flawed system, to bring great books to market and to the public’s attention. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly 4 years ago An interesting article but a sad commentary on the industry. As an author whose book, was published by a boutique publisher, I know my chances are slim to none when it comes to making a best seller’s list. If you want to help the ‘little guy/gal’ and/or have an interest in cultural differences, check out my book Subtle Differences, Big Faux Pas, available from Amazon. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • Peter de Jager 4 years ago Ah yes Ethics – a case of “out of sight, out of mind” Welcome to the new world of marketing. I’ll pass Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • ignacio sanabria 4 years ago Meanwhile, we the authors, have to do the selling of our books by ourselves. Perhaps a book tour would be most effective. Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink • Teresa de Grosbois 4 years ago It’s sad that there are outfits like this that advocate cheating the system. It really doesn’t serve the author or the industry in the long run. A foundation built on mud won’t stand. As someone who works with authors, I’d recommend running fast from anyone who would tell you to buy your way onto a list! Top Comment REPLY Flag Permalink •

Monday, December 5, 2016

Insight The 'right' to be spared from guilt http://www.jewishworldreview.com/images/george_will.jpg By George Will Published Dec. 5, 2016 The word "inappropriate" is increasingly used inappropriately. It is useful to describe departures from good manners and other social norms, such as wearing white after Labor Day and using the salad fork with the entree. But the adjective has become a splatter of verbal fudge, a weasel word falsely suggesting measured seriousness. Its misty imprecision does not disguise but advertises the user's moral obtuseness. A French court has demonstrated how "inappropriate" can be an all-purpose device of intellectual evasion and moral cowardice. The court said it is inappropriate to do something that might disturb people who killed their unborn babies for reasons that were, shall we say, inappropriate. Prenatal genetic testing enables pregnant women to be apprised of a variety of problems with their unborn babies, including Down syndrome. It is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect that causes varying degrees of mental disability and some physical abnormalities, such as low muscle tone, small stature, flatness of the back of the head and an upward slant to the eyes. Within living memory, Down syndrome people were called Mongoloids. Now they are included in the category called "special needs" people. What they most need is nothing special. It is for people to understand their aptitudes, and to therefore quit killing them in utero. Down syndrome, although not common, is among the most common congenital anomalies at 49.7 per 100,000 births. In approximately 90 percent of instances when prenatal genetic testing reveals Down syndrome, the baby is aborted. Cleft lips or palates, which occur in 72.6 per 100,000 births, also can be diagnosed in utero and sometimes are the reason a baby is aborted. In 2014, in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), the Global Down Syndrome Foundation prepared a two-minute video titled "Dear Future Mom" to assuage the anxieties of pregnant women who have learned that they are carrying a Down syndrome baby. More than 7 million people have seen the video online in which one such woman says, "I'm scared: What kind of life will my child have?" Down syndrome children from many nations tell the woman that her child will hug, speak, go to school, tell you he loves you and "can be happy, just like I am - and you'll be happy, too." The French state is not happy about this. The court has ruled that the video is - wait for it - "inappropriate" for French television. The court upheld a ruling in which the French Broadcasting Council had banned the video as a commercial. The court said the video's depiction of happy Down syndrome children was "likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices." So, what happens on campuses does not stay on campuses. There, in many nations, sensitivity bureaucracies have been enforcing the relatively new entitlement to be shielded from whatever might disturb, even inappropriate jokes. And now this rapidly metastasizing right has come to this: A video that accurately communicates a truthful proposition - that Down syndrome people can be happy and give happiness - should be suppressed because some people might become ambivalent, or morally queasy, about having chosen to extinguish such lives because . . . This is why the video giving facts about Down syndrome people is so subversive of the flaccid consensus among those who say aborting a baby is of no more moral significance than removing a tumor from a stomach. Pictures persuade. Today's improved prenatal sonograms make graphic the fact that the moving fingers and beating heart are not mere "fetal material." They are a baby. Toymaker Fisher-Price, children's apparel manufacturer OshKosh, McDonald's and Target have featured Down syndrome children in ads that the French court would probably ban from television. The court has said, in effect, that the lives of Down syndrome people - and by inescapable implication, the lives of many other disabled people - matter less than the serenity of people who have acted on one or more of three vicious principles: That the lives of the disabled are not worth living. Or that the lives of the disabled are of negligible value next to the desire of parents to have a child who has no special, meaning inconvenient, needs. Or that government should suppress the voices of Down syndrome children in order to guarantee other people's right not to be disturbed by reminders that they have made lethal choices on the basis of one or both of the first two inappropriate principles.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Prince or Pauper? Researchers Find Functional Pseudogene in Fruit Fly Evolution News & Views November 14, 2016 2:33 AM | Permalink The_Prince_and_the_Pauper_1881_p20.jpg http://www.evolutionnews.org/2016/11/prince_or_paupe103283.html Suppose we introduced you to a friend and said he works as a pseudoscientist. You would be immediately suspicious of his white lab coat and apparent command of scientific language in subsequent conversation. After all, he just pretends to be a scientist. He's fake. He's false. He is bogus, sham, phony, mock, ersatz, quasi-, spurious, deceptive, misleading, assumed, contrived, affected, insincere, and all the other negative synonyms we associate with the prefix pseudo. But then suppose we corrected the description and said that, actually, he is a "pseudo-pseudoscientist." The double negative suddenly opens the possibility that he really is a scientist. He's faking his fakery, contriving his contrivance, mocking insincerity for some reason. Maybe he's a psychologist studying the effects of perceived pretentiousness, using you as his lab rat. Maybe he's a real MD playing a doctor on a fictional TV show, leading us to believe he is "just an actor." Think of the guards in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper who quickly escort the shabbily dressed prince off the palace grounds without noticing the royal seal in his pocket. Have scientists too quickly dismissed pseudogenes as broken genes, worthless transcripts of DNA without function? Could at least some of them be "pseudo-pseudogenes"? A surprising paper in Nature actually uses that term: "Olfactory receptor pseudo-pseudogenes." Researchers in Switzerland found a case in a species of fruit fly that defies the pseudogene paradigm. Pseudogenes are often suspected of being broken genes when a premature termination codon (PTC) is found in the DNA sequence. Obviously, such a gene could not be translated into a functional protein, right? Translation would stop before the messenger RNA is complete. Often, that is the case. What good is that? These scientists found something interesting about an olfactory receptor gene in Drosophila sechellia, "an insect endemic to the Seychelles that feeds almost exclusively on the ripe fruit of Morinda citrifolia." They looked at its Ir75a locus, a gene that encodes an olfactory receptor for acetic acid in its more famous cousin D. melanogaster, Finding a PTC in this species' Ir75a gene, they initially thought it was a broken gene -- a pseudogene. The abstract begins with the usual evolutionary rhetoric about pseudogenes: Pseudogenes are generally considered to be non-functional DNA sequences that arise through nonsense or frame-shift mutations of protein-coding genes. Although certain pseudogene-derived RNAs have regulatory roles, and some pseudogene fragments are translated, no clear functions for pseudogene-derived proteins are known. Olfactory receptor families contain many pseudogenes, which reflect low selection pressures on loci no longer relevant to the fitness of a species. [Emphasis added.] That's their setup for the surprise announcement. This pseudogene might just be a "pseudo-pseudogene"! It might be a prince masquerading as a pauper. What started them on their paradigm-breaking find was noticing that this apparent pseudogene is fixed in the population, suggesting it has a function. Taking a closer look, they found that the translation machinery is able to "read through" the premature stop codon, the PTC. How? They're not sure, but they found something else interesting: the read-though operation works efficiently only in neurons, not other types of cells. That opens up a whole new way of looking at pseudogenes: some of them might be tissue-specific regulators. It is not yet clear how the D. sechellia Ir75a PTC is read through. It cannot be because of insertion of the alternative amino acid selenocysteine (which is incorporated at UGA18). Moreover, no suppressor tRNAs are known in D. melanogaster and ribosomal frame-shifting is also unlikely because there is no change in the reading frame after the PTC. We suggest that read-through is due to PTC recognition by a near-cognate tRNA that allows insertion of an amino acid instead of translation termination. Although the trans-acting factors regulating read-through are unclear, the neuronal specificity of this process is reminiscent of RNA editing and micro-exon splicing, in which key responsible regulatory proteins are neuronally enriched. We therefore speculate that tissue-specific expression differences in tRNA populations underlie neuron-specific read-through. We might be tempted to dismiss this as a rare case of evolutionary tinkering. The gene broke, but natural selection found a way to tinker with it and get it to work. Perhaps. But further experimentation with D. melanogaster suggests that "pseudogenization" has a logical function: it works to tune odor sensitivity. The part of the gene downstream from the PTC apparently affects the type of receptor produced. What's more, this kind of regulation might not be rare. Read-through is detected only in neurons and is independent of the type of termination codon, but depends on the sequence downstream of the PTC. Furthermore, although the intact Drosophila melanogaster Ir75a orthologue detects acetic acid -- a chemical cue important for locating fermenting food found only at trace levels in Morinda fruit -- D. sechellia Ir75a has evolved distinct odour-tuning properties through amino-acid changes in its ligand-binding domain. We identify functional PTC-containing loci within different olfactory receptor repertoires and species, suggesting that such 'pseudo-pseudogenes' could represent a widespread phenomenon. Experiments showed that the Ir75a 'pseudo-pseudogene' actually yields a functional odor receptor, but not for acetic acid as in D. melanogaster. Instead, it makes a receptor tuned for similar acidic odorants unique to food sources available on the Seychelles. The tissue-specific read-through capabilities of this gene provide the fly with a way to detect food sources it needs in its environment. Perhaps nothing beyond chance mutation or neutral drift is needed to explain this. On the other hand, the research team may have stumbled onto an important function for pseudogenes. Our efforts to understand the molecular basis of the loss of olfactory sensitivity to acetic acid in D. sechellia led us to discover a notable and, to our knowledge, unprecedented evolutionary trajectory of a presumed pseudogene. Efficient read-through of a PTC in D. sechellia Ir75a permits production of a full-length receptor protein, in which reduction in acetic acid sensitivity and gain of responses to other acids is due to lineage-specific amino acid substitutions in the LBD pocket. The PTC does not noticeably influence the activity of D. sechellia Ir75a, suggesting that it is selectively neutral from an evolutionary standpoint. We propose that it became fixed through genetic drift, given D. sechellia's persistent low effective population size. They can call it an "evolutionary trajectory" if they wish. Another way of looking at this is a design feature. The premature stop codon, or PTC, may be more elegant than a stop sign. It may be a switch, telling the translation machinery to pay attention to the downstream code if -- and only if -- translation is taking place inside neuronal cell. In non-neuronal cells, the PTC might indeed say "stop," delivering the transcript to the trash. In neurons, though, environmental cues may trigger pre-existing routines to fine-tune the sensitivity to odorants available in food sources. A design perspective could accelerate discoveries along this line. We've seen the tendency to dismiss things as evolutionary castoffs when their functions were not understood, only to find higher levels of organization at work. Introns are spliced out of messenger RNAs; they must be junk. Methyl groups interfere with translation; they must be mistakes. Retrotransposons must be parasites. Pseudogenes must be broken genes. Maybe not. If scientists had expected design, maybe they would have hit upon today's paradigms about epigenetics, alternative splicing and gene regulation sooner. Intelligent design theory doesn't require everything to be designed. It does, however, prevent a "premature stop" to dismissing things as not designed.