• "Teenage girls are not especially known for empathy. To adults, they often seem self-involved, moody and inconsiderate. Their obsessions with what seem like trivial social slights and their desperate yearning for status and friendships, however, may reveal important truths about the development of altruism in humans and the conditions under which children's brains evolved. And oddly, that stereotypical first job of a young girl — babysitting — may be the ultimate source of our ability to understand each other. Here's how babysitting, teen cliques and empathy intersect. For centuries, human caring behavior was either ignored or dismissed. It was seen as mere self-interest; only occurring when, in fact, the goals of the self and the other happened to coincide, as in parenting. But recent research in neuroscience has complicated matters, showing that not only is altruism and a desire for fair treatment real, it shows up early in life and even in other species."
  • We are, as Mr. Freedman puts it, living in an age of "punctuated wrongness…." There are few incentives in research to acknowledge that error is to be expected and not something to be scorned or obscured…. But the current market creates the wrong kinds of incentives for doing good research or admitting failure. Novel ideas and findings are rewarded with grants and publication, which lead to academic prestige and career advancement. Researchers have a vested interest in overstating their findings because certainty is more likely than equivocation to achieve all of the above. Thus the probability increases of producing findings that are false. As the medical mathematician John Ioannidis tells Mr. Freedman: "The facts suggest that for many, if not the majority of fields, the majority of published studies are likely to be wrong.""
  • Blog accompanying the new David Freedman book Wrong.
  • As we become ever more immersed in information, we're ever more saturated with the opinions of experts, whether "mass" experts like celebrity CEOs, high-profile scientists, health professionals and consultants, or "local" experts — your doctor, stockbroker or auto mechanic. What's more, their opinions often seem to contradict each other…. Experts are driven to publish in order to secure tenure and keep their careers moving, and journals are rarely interested in publishing work that doesn't break new ground. "If a researcher proves that eating blueberries improves eyesight — that's exciting," Freeman writes. "Proving that they don't — who cares?" Publication bias of this kind creates a situation where researchers don't even bother trying to publish studies with negative results. "Researchers are essentially highly incentivized to test exciting ideas that are likely to be wrong," because on the off-chance of a positive result, publication is much more achievable."
  • "Medical, economic, and business-management researchers… have studied the reliability of published research and concluded that most of it is flawed, exaggerated, or just plain wrong. No wonder: scientists and other top-shelf experts are often highly biased, shockingly sloppy, and in a surprising number of cases outright frauds—and I’m relying on formal studies of these problems when I make these claims…. The heart of the problem is that published studies from scientists, economists, and other experts tend to falsely show that their theories are right. Surveys of these fields reveal that fraud, careerism, mismeasurement, suppression of data, lousy analysis, politics, poor self-policing, and many other serious shortcomings are fairly widespread even among the most respected researchers and institutions."
  • Excerpt from Freeeman's new book on expertise, "Wrong." Selections: "Expert wisdom usually turns out to be at best highly contested and ephemeral, and at worst flat-out wrong." "We live in a time of acute frustration with experts, even as many of us remain dependent on them and continue to heed their advice." "Putting trust in experts who are probably wrong is only part of the problem. The other side of the coin is that many people have all but given up on getting good advice from experts. The total effect of all the contradicting and shifting pronouncements is to make expert conclusions at times sound like so much blather — a background noise of modern life." "I would argue that in that sense most of our experts are paid to be wrong… Expert pronouncements are pushed toward wrongness so strongly that in the end it’s harder, I think, to explain why they’re sometimes right." And Winston Churchill: "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."
  • The Associated Press reports that while American Twitter fans use the verb "tweeting" to describe their posts—because each little post is a proud and delightful little birdsong—Japanese Twitter users refer to their activity as "mumbling."
  • Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC. A broad analysis of the climate scientist community itself, the distribution of credibility of dissenting researchers relative to agreeing researchers, and the level of agreement among top climate experts has not been conducted and would inform future ACC discussions. Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC… and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
  • In his new book, Cognitive Surplus, Shirky argues that what looked like a fact about human nature turns out to be merely an artifact of limited 20th century media technologies. Because only a small group of professional writers had access to the technologies of mass publication, it seemed obvious that writing for publication was a job for professionals.