Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Research Fraud? A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

We may be witnessing the confluence of two inherent components of the human condition: incompetence and self-interest. Nutrition has had many colossal and costly failures. The list of dietary components claimed to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD), prevent cognitive decline, and/or fight cancer that were later refuted via clinical trials is extensive. And while the self-correcting nature of science necessitates failure, the vast majority of nutrition’s failures were engendered by a complete lack of familiarity with the scientific method. This deficit is most apparent in the field’s reliance on self-reports of diet. Such information, to which nutrition researchers assign numeric caloric values, is rife with bias, and without the ability to corroborate or falsify the reports, the data should be considered pseudoscientific—outside the realm of scientific research...The National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $2.2 billion on nutrition and obesity research in the 2012 fiscal year, a significant proportion of which was spent on research that used the pseudoscientific methods described above. The fact that nutrition researchers have known for decades that these techniques are invalid implies that the field has been perpetrating fraud against the US taxpayers for more than 40 years—far greater than any fraud perpetrated in the private sector (e.g., the Enron and Madoff scandals). more

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PubMed Opens for Comment

The informal conversations that researchers have at scientific meetings look set to move online, if a new initiative by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has its way. On 22 October, the NCBI of Bethesda, Maryland, launched the pilot phase of a programme called PubMed Commons. This will allow users to comment on published abstracts on the PubMed website, which indexes some 22 million papers. For now, only a select group of researchers and their invited guests can use the system. But the NCBI's director David Lipman, who helped to develop the programme, says that soon any PubMed author will be allowed to comment under his or her real name. more

Friday, October 25, 2013

Neuroscience and its Discontents

Neuroscience—one of the great intellectual achievements of modern science—often suffers from spasms of “premature extrapolation” due to oversimplification, interpretive license, and premature application in the legal, commercial, clinical, and philosophical domains...Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld have written a marvelous book, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. Its purpose is not to critique neuroscience, but to expose and protest its mindless oversimplification, interpretive license, and premature application in the legal, commercial, clinical, and philosophical domains. more

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rewarding Engagement in Mobile Gaming

One of the concepts I teach in my integrated marketing communications class is the use of classic positive reinforcement in marketing, which has been recently reclassified as gamification by marketers in the digital era. Foursquare, with its achievement and partner badges, was an early pioneer in this era. More recently, retailers have been "combating showrooming," the phenomenon of consumers visiting a store and comparing prices on mobile devices through apps such as Shopify and Target's Cartwheel, with this technique. Shopify nudges shoppers to earn points by visiting stores more frequently and to explore more of the store once inside its doors. These points eventually lead to real-world rewards, from coffee gift cards to a Vespa Italian scooter. The downside is that consumers have to leave home or roam the city and a store for rewards; thus, the most participants will likely engage infrequently at best. more

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How Science Goes Wrong

A simple idea underpins science: “trust, but verify”. Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment. That simple but powerful idea has generated a vast body of knowledge. Since its birth in the 17th century, modern science has changed the world beyond recognition, and overwhelmingly for the better. But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity. Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis...A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties. more

Monday, October 21, 2013

Science Publishing: The Golden Club

Researchers often say that publishing in prestigious journals can make a career. And for decades, the most sought after of the bunch have been Nature and Science—broadly read journals that reject more than 90% of the manuscripts they receive. A paper in one of these journals, it is said, can bring job opportunities, invitations to speak, grants, promotions and even cash bonuses and prizes...But the publishing world is rapidly changing, and the leading titles are facing increasing competition. The push for open-access publishing has gathered steady steam...Beyond that trend, some advocates for the open-access movement have specifically attackedScience and Nature, which they label as 'glamour journals'. They say that the journals' prestige is part of a business model in which hot findings are flaunted as a way to justify their subscription rates. And many senior scientists worry that too much attention is paid to where people publish rather than to what they have done. more

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Building Feedback and Natural Reinforcement into Software Applications

The launch of a new software application is more often met with muttering and sighs than with enthusiasm. If the new application is replacing an old one, users must not only learn the new application, they must unlearn old habits tied to the application being replaced. The unlearning occurs through extinction and typically has emotional side effects. Anyone who skipped the 2007 release of Microsoft Office and made the leap from Office 2003 to Office 2010 has experienced this directly. Fluent habits that had worked for years abruptly began leading to dead ends and frustration...Building frequent PICs (positive, immediate, and certain consequences) into a software application can transform routine work into something more enjoyable or even fun. Video game designers, the virtuosos of frequent feedback and positive reinforcement, have demonstrated for years that people will demonstrate extraordinary Discretionary Effort™ doing what on the surface might seem like a mindless activity. more

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The "Be Good" Fairy

"The Be Good Fairy" addresses behavioral issues such as potty training, going to bed, behaving at school, sharing, and much more. When parents introduce "The Be Good Fairy" into their lives it helps eliminate stressful situations, and actually makes them fun, a must have for parents with young children that still believe in magical beings such as The Tooth Fairy...A journal is available as a companion to "The Be Good Fairy" and gives children a place to write down what they have done to earn rewards from "The Be Good Fairy," share their favorite Be Good memories, and spaces to draw what the Fairy leaves them as rewards. more

Monday, October 07, 2013

Science Reporter Spoofs Hundreds of Open Access Journals with Fake Papers

Alan Sokal’s influence has certainly been felt strongly recently. Last month, a critique by Sokal — who in 1996 got a fake paper published in Social Text – and two colleagues forced a correction of a much-ballyhooed psychology paper. A few days after that, we reported on a Serbian Sokal hoax-like paper whose authors cited the scholarly efforts of one B. Sagdiyev, a.k.a. Borat. And today, we bring you news of an effort by John Bohannon, of Science magazine, to publish fake papers in more than 300 open access journals..."By the time Science went to press, 157 of the journals had accepted the paper and 98 had rejected it. Of the remaining 49 journals, 29 seem to be derelict: websites abandoned by their creators. Editors from the other 20 had e-mailed the fictitious corresponding authors stating that the paper was still under review…" more

Friday, October 04, 2013

Brain and Song Structure in Zebra Finches Are Strongly Influenced by the Environment

A central topic in behavioral biology is the question, which aspects of a behavior are learned or expressed due to genetic predisposition. Today it is known that our personality and behavior are far less determined by the genetic background. Especially during development environmental factors can shape brain and behavior via so-called epigenetic effects. Thereby hormones play an important role. A shift in hormone concentrations in early life can have long lasting effects for an organism, whereas the same change in adults often may show only short-term changes. However, whether the influence of the environment has either strong or weak effects can largely depend on the individual genetic predisposition. However, it is relatively hard to discriminate the effects of the environment from that of the genes. An attempt to tease apart these effects has been conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in collaboration with an international team of scientists in zebra finch breeding pairs. more

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Carrotmob: Rewards for Going "Fair Trade"

Think BUYcotting rather than boycotting. That's the idea behind Carrotmob, an initiative that rewards businesses who make the switch to Fair Trade products. John McPahail, owner of Jonnies Sticky Buns, has made the pledge to switch all of his chocolate and some of his sugar to Fair Trade. In turn, Fair Trade Manitoba is organizing. "I see it as a celebration of what a business is currently doing and It's a good way of enticing a business to go even further," McPhail says. He's always been keen on local and organic produce but hadn't really focused on Fair Trade as much. "So this was a good opportunity to sit down with somebody and look at where we are and where we could go.""It's the image of the carrot vs. the stick, so using positive reinforcement vs. negative reinforcement to produce change," explained Lorissa Kanhai, Fair Trade outreach officer. more